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A young man with his head in his hands

I'm a young man, so why can't I keep an erection?

I’m a 22-year-old guy, and I feel really embarrassed. I can’t get a hard on, or if I get one it goes away before I come. I feel like this shouldn’t be happening to me since I am so young. Isn’t this normally a problem for older men?

Expert answer

Men of any age can sometimes find it difficult to get or maintain erections. Few of us have bodies that always “perform” exactly as we want them to, and it is perfectly normal for erections to come and go during any period of sexual play.

If you’re concerned about your ability to get an erection, I would suggest that you first see a physician to rule out medical problems. Your doctor will likely ask you questions such as:

  • Do you get erections in your sleep? When masturbating alone? With a partner?
  • Do you drink alcohol, use recreational drugs, or take prescription medications?

Alcohol and other drugs sometimes make people feel less nervous about sex, but they can get in the way of being able to get and maintain erections. Some prescription drugs have sexual side-effects, and some medical conditions affect erections, as well.

If your doctor rules out medical causes, you might want to explore mental or emotional reasons that you are having trouble getting and maintaining erections.

  • Are you attracted to your partner(s)?
  • Do you feel nervous, anxious, or guilty about sex? About getting an erection? About pleasing your partner(s)?
  • Do you know and trust your partner(s) well enough so that you feel comfortable around him or her?

If you are anxious, nervous, or feel guilty about getting an erection or having sex, this can make it more difficult to get turned on physically. Your penis might be “shy,” even when your mind is aroused, especially if you feel pressure to “perform” sexually, you don’t know your partner(s) well, or if something happened in the past which left you feeling that an erection was unsafe or morally unacceptable.

Because our culture tends to have narrow ideas about what it means to be attractive, you may need to take some time to figure out what it is that attracts you. Do you enjoy looking at, smelling, touching and talking to this person, whether or not s/he looks like the ideal in your head? Would you prefer to be having sex with someone of another gender? Do you like and respect your partner(s)? Do they like and respect you? Many men find that they need to know, trust, and feel very attracted to their partner(s) before they can maintain erections with them.

I would also suggest you explore ways of giving and receiving sexual pleasure without an erection. Your hands and mouth can give someone a lot of pleasure, and every inch of our skin is sensitive to touch. (See more on foreplay on this page)

You may consider talking with a counselor or therapist who specializes in sexual issues, such as those at:

The American Association of Sexual Educators, Counselors and Therapists
The Society for Sex Therapy and Research

—Amy Stapleford, M.Ed.