Healthy lives for young people
Sex

Erections and staying hard

Most people with penises will have problems getting or staying hard at some point in their lives. It doesn’t necessarily mean a loss of interest in sex or that there is something wrong. Most of the time, these difficulties are due to stress and are temporary.

An erection is when the spongy tissue of the penis fills with blood and becomes hard. Erections can happen if you are thinking about or experiencing something arousing, and also if erogenous zones are stimulated.

Erections during sex

It’s normal for erections to come and go during sex. When having any kind of sex with someone, there can be pressure to maintain an erection, but in reality penises are soft most of the time, and erections can fluctuate during sex, regardless of how aroused you are.

There is no need to feel bad about not having an erection, because it is natural, and there are lots of ways to have sex which don’t require an erect penis. It’s important to remember that erections are not the only indicator of whether sex is enjoyable for you or your partner(s) – the best way to know if someone is enjoying sex is to listen to them and, if you’re not sure, ask. Read more about sex here.

Erections and porn

Porn is often not representative of how most people’s penises look or function; they are often much bigger than average, and the videos may give the impression that the actors are able to sustain an erection for a very long time and can last a long time before orgasming. 

For most people, this is not how their penises work, so while it can be tempting to compare your penis to those of actors in porn, this can be harmful for your self-esteem and understanding of how to have healthy sex and relationships. 

In reality, porn actors are not necessarily staying erect/hard for the whole shoot. They will often have breaks and may need help getting or maintaining an erection during filming.

Things that affect erections

There a lots of things that can affect erections. Many people find that difficulties getting or staying hard happen at times when they are experiencing stress or pressure in their lives, and that these difficulties go away when other things in their life change.

However, if you find that you are regularly having difficulty maintaining erections, often referred to as ‘erectile dysfunction’, and this is affecting your mental health then you may want to seek help. Erectile dysfunction can have various causes, including medical and psychological reasons. If you are concerned, you can speak to your GP, a counsellor or a trusted adult. 

Some things that can affect erections include:

  • Stress
  • Stress caused by any reason, even if it is nothing to do with sex or relationships, can affect your sex life and can make it difficult to get or maintain and erection.
  • Performance anxiety
  • If you feel anxious or nervous about pleasing another person during sex this can make it hard to get or keep and erection. Remember: sex should be enjoyable and pleasurable for everyone involved and you shouldn’t feel forced to do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Read more about sex and consent.
  • Worry and pressure
  • Worrying about times in the past where you haven’t been able to get an erection can make it difficult to get and stay hard. Putting pressure on yourself or someone else to have an erect penis can cause anxiety and shame around something which should be enjoyable and comfortable. You have nothing to be ashamed of, and it is important to remember that there are plenty of ways to bring yourself and other people pleasure.
  • Alcohol and drugs
  • Alcohol and drugs can affect erections. This includes prescription medications and sometimes it might be listed as a known side-effect.
  • Illness or tiredness
  • If you are unwell or very tired chances are you won’t be feeling great in general, so it’s no surprise that your body might show signs of that and that you might find it difficult to get or maintain an erection.

What can I do?

If you find you worry about your erection during sex, try taking deep breaths to relax yourself and really focus on the fun that you’re having.

Talking to your partner can help by making it less stressful. This also allows you to explore your likes and dislikes, making the whole experience more enjoyable for everyone involved.

You can also see your GP or visit a sexual health clinic such as Brook for more information.

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