by Niall Doherty

In this article I’d like to discuss something many men will experience at some time in their life (often before the age of forty), but few are willing to talk about.

That something is erectile dysfunction.

If you’ve ever experienced premature ejaculation, problems getting it up, or the inability to maintain an erection before climax, this article is for you.

Now don’t go getting too excited. I won’t be revealing any kind of magical remedy to fix your ding dong, because…

a) I very much doubt there is one, and
b) I’m not a doctor.

But what I may be able to offer you is some hope and peace of mind.

(And for any ladies reading this, here’s a follow-up article in which I share some tips for helping your man through such an experience, and how to handle it yourself.)

I’ve experienced erectile dysfunction on two separate occasions. The first lasted a few weeks, the second eighteen months.

The Wisdom of the Penis

Back in 2008 I began dating a girl casually. I guess you could say we were fuck buddies. We didn’t spend much time together outside the bedroom. This arrangement was fine by me but I got the impression that she wanted more. Rather than sit down and talk about the relationship, I opted to avoid that topic of conversation as best I could. Soon enough we began having problems between the sheets. We’d start fooling around and I’d get an erection, but then I’d lose it as soon as I paused to put on a condom.

It was humiliating.

I was still very sexually attracted to this woman and wanted to have sex with her, but the little man wasn’t cooperating. After the first couple of malfunctions, every time I got an erection I worried that I would lose it, and that anxiety just made things worse.

This went on for a couple of weeks. During that time I noticed that I was able to maintain an erection just fine while masturbating. It was only when it came to having sex that the problem arose. (Or rather, nothing arose.)

After doing some research online, I suspected that the underlying issue was my dishonesty in the relationship. I knew my partner was looking for more commitment, but I kept stringing her along on my own terms, getting what I wanted from the relationship without much concern for her well-being. Deep down, I realized that I wasn’t okay with this arrangement — I was being a selfish asshole — and that my subconscious discontent was likely manifesting itself as a limp dick.

Sure enough, once I sat down and talked it out with my partner, things got better. I told her that I wasn’t the best man for her if she was looking for a committed relationship, and she in turn opened up to me and shared her feelings.

Although it was then apparent to both of us that we wanted different things from the relationship, we continued sleeping together for a while. With my conscience clear, I found that I was back to my old self in the bedroom, no more problems.

Broken, lonely, unworthy

All was good for many years after that. I made it a point to be very open and honest in my relationships, and always tried to ensure that my intentions and expectations were aligned with those of any sexual partner I had.

It wasn’t until 2013 that I again began to have issues. I was living in Bangkok at the time and found myself more sexually active than ever before. (White guy in Thailand, go figure.)

At the first hint of trouble, I assumed the problem was the same old issue resurfacing. I had fallen into the habit of sleeping with women I didn’t really care for, trying to get my rocks off without much concern for what their needs were.

But then I began dating a woman I really liked and eventually fell in love with. The problem persisted, despite the fact that I cared deeply for this girl, was extremely sexually attracted to her, and we opened up and communicated with each other better than I had experienced in any previous relationship.

Add to that, during the same period I noticed that I wasn’t able to maintain an erection while masturbating. And even more worrying, I rarely experienced morning wood anymore.

When I moved up to Hong Kong for a couple of months, I seemed to lose my mojo almost completely. I had no desire to go out and meet women, and very little urge to masturbate. I would make myself lie down and jerk off once a week, but found it difficult to stay aroused even for fifteen minutes.

It seemed clear to me that the cause this time must be physical rather than psychological. So I began experimenting with diet and exercise. I tried many different things to try boost my testosterone, but nothing seemed to work very well. I even went and got my testosterone levels checked at a hospital but they came back within the normal range. It was a frustrating mystery.

Guys who have been through similar will know the feeling.

When you have these kinds of problems, you feel like less of a man. You lose confidence in your ability to satisfy a woman sexually. You begin passing up opportunities to date women you’re interested in, worried that you’ll be a disappointment in the bedroom. You feign apathy to protect your ego. Even your relationships with other men suffer; you believe you’re the only one with a wonky weener and can’t help but feel inferior. The world looks less colorful. You have less bounce in your step, less gleam in your eye, less life in your voice. It doesn’t just affect your sex life; it affects everything!

We are after all sexual beings. Our primary evolutionary purpose is to get jiggy and spread our seed. That urge is a massive part of being human. And when you find that urge suddenly lacking, it’s like being locked outside in the cold when everyone else is inside around a log fire, ringing in the new year with big smiles and warm hugs.

You feel broken and lonely and unworthy.

It’s only within the last couple of months that I’ve come in out of the cold. I persisted in experimenting with my diet, and those efforts eventually paid off. I can’t say with 100% certainty what the solution was, but my best guess is that a more carb-heavy diet did the trick. I began eating a primarily paleo diet back in 2013, right around the time I started experiencing erectile dysfunction. For eighteen months I largely avoided eating bread, rice, pasta and the like (somehow never seriously considering that there might be a connection). It’s only since I’ve incorporated those types of foods back into my diet consistently that my libido has returned to normal.

Erectile dysfunction and you

Okay, enough about me. Let’s talk about you. I’m assuming here that you have some kind of erectile dysfunction and would like not to have that anymore.

First thing: go see a doctor. Preferably one you know and trust and who won’t just prescribe pills to try fix the problem. You want a medical professional who will help you uncover and treat the cause rather than the symptoms. You don’t want to rely on viagra the rest of your life (unless you’re at an age where your libido is naturally expected to decline).

In terms of self-diagnosis, you should try to determine whether the problem is primarily physical or psychological. If you’re still getting morning wood and can masturbate frequently and without issues, then it’s most likely the latter. Your best bet is to work on improving your self-communication and communication with your partner. Get really honest, even if it hurts. Don’t suppress anything. Seriously consider getting counseling, either alone or with your partner, to help with this process.

The problem may also be psychological even if you’re not getting morning wood or feeling the urge to masturbate frequently. Stress or depression could be the cause. Can you honestly say that you’re satisfied with your life outside of the bedroom? If the answer is “hell no!”, then your best bet may be to work on improving your career or finances or relationships or whatever. Once you feel you’re living a more meaningful and fulfilled life, your sexual problems may well disappear.

(Kim Anami had a good article about this recently.)

If you’ve ruled out the psychological (and I hope you don’t do so lightly), consider the physical. Start with the obvious. If you’re overweight or out of shape, work on that first. Develop healthy eating and exercise habits. Quit smoking. Cut back on drugs and alcohol. Quitting pornography may also help.

If those macro changes don’t have any effect, begin experimenting with the micro. That’s how I overcame my second bout of ED. I would have figured it out faster if I’d thought deeper about what changes I’d made to my diet around the time I started having problems. So I recommend you do that as soon as possible. Did you change your diet recently? Revert back to your old diet for a week or two and see if that has any effect.

You should also consider things like coffee, air pollution, sleep deprivation, medication and even that new brand of toothpaste you’ve been trying out.

I’m not saying that any of those diets or other things I mentioned are linked to ED. I’m not even sure if the paleo diet was responsible for my problems. My point is that you need to experiment and see what works. Persist and you’ll eventually stumble upon something or some combination of things that help you bounce back.

Lastly here, know that erectile dysfunction can often be a combination of psychological and physical causes. I believe my second bout of ED was triggered by something physical, but then I inevitably got all up in my head about it and made things worse. We’ll talk about how to handle that next.

Dealing with ED in the moment

Given that there are no quick fixes for erectile dysfunction (or at least, none that I’m aware of), it’s possible that at some point even after reading this you’ll find yourself getting all hot and heavy with a nice lady, only to experience yet another disappointment.

What then? How do you handle that? What if she starts crying and blaming herself? Or worse, pointing and laughing at your fallen soldier!?

I’ve been through it more than a dozen times now with three different women, and while I’ve never managed to turn it into a pleasant experience, I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be the worst thing in the world. In fact, it can often lead to deeper connection and intimacy.

The first thing you want to do, when you begin to get physical with a partner, is to try relax and breathe as much as possible. Practicing meditation regularly will help with this. 1 You want to switch off your monkey mind and focus on the physical sensations you’re experiencing. Try be present for every look, every word, every touch, every kiss.

Second, you need to accept that things may go wrong, and know that it will all be okay regardless. You should actually think this through in advance. Imagine if you can’t get it up or you lose your erection or you ejaculate almost immediately. What then? What will you say to your partner? You’ll want to keep calm and have honest words ready to explain yourself and put them at ease. If you’re truly accepting of the situation, rather than resistant, most likely they will be too.

Back in January I found myself straddled by a woman I was very attracted to on every level, yet nothing was happening downstairs. So I said to her, “You know, there’s really no reason I shouldn’t have a massive erection right now. It’s nothing to do with you. I’ve been having problems with that lately.”

We talked about it and it was fine. We continued dating and had a great time together.

Which brings me to a third point: if you’re having issues, only attempt intercourse with someone you genuinely care about and connect with. I’m all for casual sex, but if you have problems in the bedroom with someone you don’t know or trust very much, there’s less chance they’ll be cool and understanding. You want to be with someone who will give you the benefit of the doubt and not go joking with their friends about your limp biscuit.

Fourth, remember that it’s not just your penis that can pleasure a woman. If you cum too fast or can’t get it up, stay relaxed and sexual and continue pleasuring her with your mouth or fingers. I found that by forgetting myself and focusing on giving my partner a pleasurable experience, I could sometimes regain my erection and resume having intercourse.

Fifth, never ever blame the girl. It’s not her fault, and if you sense she’s concerned it might be, you need to reassure her. (This is of course easier to do if you adhered to my advice in point three above.)

Sixth, use the experience as a good excuse to open up and share more of yourself. I mentioned that I’ve experienced ED with three different women, and I would say that all three relationships ultimately benefitted from it. My struggles forced me to show more vulnerability, which made each relationship more honest and intimate.

Just like any other so-called misfortune that befalls you, you can choose to find some benefit in it. In the case of erectile dysfunction, I’ve found it a useful experience for practicing honesty, humility, acceptance and intimacy. 2

Not that it doesn’t still suck. It does. But it doesn’t have to ruin your life, or even your night.

Share your story

I’ve talked to several other men about erectile dysfunction in recent years, and it seems most of us think we’re alone in our struggles. But trust me, we’re not. I tend to believe that erectile dysfunction is a very common thing, and not just for older men.

So I encourage you to share your ED experiences in the comments below, regardless of whether you’re still struggling or have figured out a solution. You’re welcome to comment anonymously (a legit email is required but will never be published). I promise not to spam you with offers of cut-price viagra 😛

Show 2 footnotes

  1. I highly recommend Headspace for learning how to meditate. Try the first ten sessions for free.
  2. For more on developing this kind of perspective, check out Ryan Holiday’s book, The Obstacle Is The Way. It’s powerful stuff.