Erections (or the absence of) are a delicate issue for those with penises, especially those who identify as men. (Yup, not all people with penises identify as men – but that is for another post). In fact, penis and erection problems are the number one reason men come to see me for individual counselling sessions.
One of the greatest myths about erection problems (sometimes also referred to as erectile dysfunction) is that the person experiencing the problem is the problem. They often feel that they are the only one in the world who has suffered this and as a result this can lead to feelings of shame, anxiety and in severe cases, depression.
Sometimes I wish I could get all the men that have opened up and discussed this with me (straight, bi and gay) into a room together to talk over their unreliable erections. All. Of. Them. Because there would be so many.
In my ‘soft conference’, they would have the chance to hear the stories of others and see just how widespread this experience was. Notice that I said experience and not problem? The absence of erections is quite simply that, an experience – perceived as a flaw. As a result, there is a multi-billion dollar industry that snags vulnerable men into feeling that their experience is unacceptable. That it is a dysfunction. And that it is essentially ‘abnormal’.
But here is the thing. At some stage in his life, every man will experience trouble with their erections. It may be a one-off, it may be regularly. This unreliability is actually the thing that is normal. But culturally we have interpreted it differently and for a lot of us, the absence of an erection suggests an absence of manliness, an inability to pleasure or worst of all, that they are simply useless in bed. None of these are true.
I have read and heard many cases of partners interpreting the absence of erection as a slight on them, the partner. That he isn’t into them enough (or anymore) and that without an erection, all sex has to stop. How often have we heard that:
- all men are testosterone driven sex machines, whose power is in their penis?
- And all men are up for sex all the time?
- That whenever the wind picks up they are ready to go.
We believe that both desire and erections are synonymous with manliness so when one of these drops away, we are left with few avenues for re-calibration. While there are pills like Viagra that can address the issue (of erections not libido and desire) and scores of late night TV ads promising a way out, eventually we are going to be required to take a deeper look at what’s going on behind the scenes. While erection issues are incredibly common, the underlying causes can have physical, emotional and psychological foundations that once addressed, can be revolutionary.
One of the reasons I found out so much about erections and penises is not only from all the research I have done on them (and that was indeed fun) but also because I am astounded and saddened at how little most of us know about our genitals and our pleasure. Men (and penises) are grossly oversimplified by narratives that tell us men don’t need touch, care, stimulation or incentive to get hard. Yet this lack of knowledge is the very thing that keeps us in the dark, finding ourselves like hamsters in a wheel going over and over the same old worries about sex time and time again. Instead, we could learn about how sex and genitals really work and how we can do things differently once we have that information.
If we simply knew more about not only how things worked, but what felt good and why, it would be much easier to communicate about sex. It would be easier to feel less shame about our experience and recognise that what we are, is in fact completely normal.
Imagine if we were surrounded by messages about sex, our bodies and in particular erections, that meant we could feel more in control of our pleasure and our ability to desire and be desired. Imagine if a world of opportunity was opened up to us that was based on inquiry, choice and freedom rather than obligation and pressure when it comes to sex.
In essence we have been tricked. Duped by crappy, ineffective sex education that has rendered most of us feeling useless and helpless when it comes to the experiences of sex that our bodies produce. But it needn’t be this way.
This is why I created The Atlas of Erotic Anatomy & Arousal. A 5 part video series designed to help you get back to the pleasure within your body and drop the shame and stigma of not understanding what your body does, how it does it and why it does it. The sex education most of us got at school was wrong. It was based on reproduction and avoiding infections, which while valuable, does nothing for the reasons we have sex – which are most often some variation on pleasure, connection and fun. Yet tragically, we were never taught sex through that lens – so we simply do not think about it like that. But we could. We really could. Starting from today.
The problem is not our bodies, it’s the knowledge withheld from us about them.