Swat Ed is The Phoenix’s biweekly sex education Q & A. We accept all questions and they are kept completely anonymous. If you’re looking for medical advice or a diagnosis for that weird thing on your genitals, get in touch with a medical professional! For everything else, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Today’s subject matter is physical pleasure during sex and difficulty with erections.
My boyfriend and I (we’re both guys) have been dating for about four months but we only recently started getting physical. I’ve been having a really good time but I’ve gotten the feeling that he isn’t experiencing the same level of enjoyment from it that I am. I asked him about it and he said that he likes sex but it’s not a huge source of physical pleasure. I kind of don’t know what to do with that information, since it’s never been a problem with any of the other guys that I have dated. I know that he masturbates so enjoying sexual stuff in general must not be a problem. What do I do? I’m not sure how to talk to him about it without putting pressure on him or making it seem like I’m taking it personally.
— Confused Dude
This is a really good question and it’s a difficult one to answer. There are a lot of reasons that people don’t experience the same levels of pleasure from sex. I’ll go ahead and list a few, but it’s really important to note that they do not necessarily apply in your situation. Without talking to your partner, the best I can do is talk in the abstract about why these things happen, so please don’t jump to conclusions and use this as a general framework.
One reason can be comfort with a partner. This doesn’t in any way mean that he doesn’t like you or doesn’t feel comfortable with you now. Comfort with a sexual partner is something that naturally grows over time. Like you said, you’ve just recently started getting physical and as relationships grow and strengthen emotionally, so does attraction. There’s a practical learning aspect to it too: you figure out what makes the other person tick and incorporate it accordingly.
Another reason can be desensitization. This can be psychological, if one person is used to heavy porn or erotica usage, where they essentially train themselves into associating pleasure with that sort of stimulation. That is associated with literal physical desensitization — relying on stimulation to masturbate that another person can’t replicate very easily. Easing off of masturbation and porn usage can be really helpful in this regard. If you’re using condoms you could also try different sizes or types.
Another is performativity. It’s something that I usually see in heterosexual women, but there’s no reason it shouldn’t apply to other people. Essentially, it means that instead of focusing on what’s happening in your body, you’re putting on a performance for the other person based on what you think they want. Removing or reducing expectations about sex helps with this, as does communicating about what feels good for your partner and emphasizing that their pleasure makes you happy.
Another is that sex might feel less like an act for their own pleasure and more like a bonding experience with a partner, which is perfectly valid. Sometimes people prefer to focus on the intimate and comforting aspects of sex rather than physical pleasure, and they don’t necessarily need to orgasm or experience mind-blowing pleasure to have satisfying sex. That might be the case for your partner. Of course having an intimate and comforting experience and physical pleasure are not mutually exclusive, and you’re probably waiting for me to talk about how to pull in that physical pleasure. Fair enough.
Before you go to this step, make sure that you’ve had a big enough sample size of experiences to rule out you two just getting used to one another. If that’s the case, then ask your partner what things they find to be personally arousing and work that into your routine. Ian Kerner, a sex therapist that I am a big fan of, has a very interesting theory about getting out of your comfort zone (just into the growth zone — not the panic zone). He theorizes that you can find the most erotic experiences by doing something that is novel to the partnership and exciting. It doesn’t have to be really kinky or out there. Examples in his book “Passionista” include telling one another about dreams, going sans underwear, fantasizing together, and going to new locations. If your partner has had experiences (or fantasies) that were unusually exciting or physically pleasurable, see if you can figure out what made them that way. It might have been a sense of closeness and affection with his partner, it might have been a sense of giving or receiving, it might have been that his left knee is insanely sensitive and his partner kissed it in just the right way. Hopefully these recommendations give you a framework to think about this. Good luck!
I hooked up with a guy at a party about two weeks ago and when we tried to have sex he experienced an … equipment malfunction. I was kind of pissed off and I let him know it. I told my friends about it and one of them thinks that he didn’t like me, someone else thought that he was really drunk, and everyone else just thought it was funny. I was upset then but now I’m wondering if I was too harsh.
—What’s Up? Not Him
The answer is yes. You were definitely, definitely too harsh. I’m not even sure what you’re angry about. I assume that “equipment malfunction” refers to an inability to get hard, which is totally normal for people that are nervous or under the influence. It pops up (or doesn’t) a lot with first times, new partners, or unusually stressful situations. It’s not a big deal unless you make a big fuss over it and make your partner feel bad. The appropriate reaction is saying that it’s okay and proposing alternate activities. Don’t linger on it, don’t act as though anything is out of the ordinary. This can be a sore spot for a lot of people and a source of embarrassment, so your job as a good partner is to assure them that you are on their side.
The appropriate reaction definitely does not include telling your friends so that they can laugh about it (especially at a school this small) or “letting them know” how annoyed you are about it. In general, if you want to tell someone embarrassing details about another person’s sex life, don’t. At the very least, don’t use their name or identifying details. It’s simply not anyone else’s business and it’s frankly pretty cruel of you. If you’re not mature enough to deal with a situation as minimal and commonplace as a flaccid penis you probably aren’t mature enough to be sexually active. If you’re interested in growing as a person from this experience, I would recommend reaching out to this person with a sincere apology that identifies how you acted wrongly in this situation, how you regret it deeply, and how you won’t do it again. Since you have demonstrated an inability to act appropriately in tough situations and you don’t know this person well at all, this is an instance where texting an apology is appropriate. It will also allow you to word your apology carefully and kindly. I hope that you will learn from this experience and bring more kindness and sensitivity to any subsequent partner you might have.