Language Note: This article and the terms used within are intentionally gender non-specific, as we intend for this piece to be broad in gender application. We would like to acknowledge that not everyone with these general demonstrations of physiology uses the same words to describe their parts and that not all bodies appear the same or function in the same way. It is our intention to be mindful and inclusive of trans, enby, GNC, gender expansive, 2 Spirit, and intersex experiences as we want the information contained within to benefit as many expansive identities as possible.
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How To Maintain An Erection
To most people with penises, an erection is about more than just whether we’re aroused. For a long time, men with penises have (wrongly, in my eyes) conflated their ability to hold an erection with their level of masculinity.
As an intimacy coach, I do a lot to work with men around maintaining erections. I help them to get an erection, figuring out why they struggle to produce and/or maintain an erection and coach them to improve their sexual stamina.
In doing this work, my first port of call is unpacking what most men take loss of erection/inability to maintain to mean about themselves. So, let’s clear this up now:
Whether it’s sometimes, often or all the time, struggling to maintain an erection doesn’t make you less of a man, less masculine or less manly.
For a lot of people with penises, the inability to maintain an erection is less about masculinity or yourself and more about pressure and stress. It’s a vicious cycle, as the very pressure around maintaining an erection is one of the main reasons people find it difficult in the first place.
Sexual performance anxiety, stress & getting an erection
Anxiety and stress can cause erectile difficulties, as well as premature ejaculation. When you feel anxious or stressed, your body activates its sympathetic nervous system resulting in constriction of blood vessels and an increase in the production of stress hormones such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol. This leads to an increase in blood pressure levels and a subsequent reduction in blood flow to parts of your body such as the penis.
Put simply, if you want to get harder erections and stay harder for longer, you need to relax and let go of your negative thoughts.
Ways to reduce stress, anxiety and negative thoughts:
- Talking about your fear, worries and concerns with a friends, partner or professional
- Try something new sexually with no expectations
- Slowing down in life and in sex
- Exploring your body with mindful touch
- Delaying penetration, if that’s part of your sex life
- Adjust your sexual expectations
- Focus on what you can control (and let go of what you can’t)
- Be in the moment
- Focus on the sensation, not on the outcome
How to get harder erections
A big part of people with penises’ ability to get and maintain an erection is what is happening in our heads, but there is also a physical aspect that is within our control.
PC muscle pumps
A practice that I first learnt from studying tantra is pubococcygeus muscle pumps, or PC muscle pumps for short.
It is very similar to Kegels and pelvic floor exercises; your PC muscle stretches from the pubic bone to the bottom of the spine. It’s the muscle you use when urinating, when you try to stop the flow with a quick muscle contraction.
I would recommend starting by doing 20-30 PC muscle pumps (while keeping the rest of your body relaxed) a day, it is a great way to strengthen the muscles in the pelvis and to strengthen your erection.
Deep belly breathing
We often carry a lot of tension in our pelvis, and this can cause tightness in that area and that tightness affects our ability to get and maintain an erection.
Practising breath work or deep belly breathing is highly recommended as a way to consciously relax the muscles around the penis.
Food and drink
Cutting down the amount of alcohol you consume, as studies have linked erection difficulties and alcohol.
The food that we consume has a huge impact on your ability to keep an erection. High BMI has also been linked with struggling to maintain an erection.
But one’s diet can always help you with your erection too. Foods like oysters, clams, and scallops have been known to boost testosterone, a hormone that plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy erectile function.
Food such as salmon, tuna and garlic will improve blood flow and you definitely want a good amount of blood flowing to your penis if you’re aiming for erections.
Non-ejaculation & edging
Non-ejaculation is a sexual practice of avoiding ejaculation. It has long been practiced within tantra and Taoist traditions as “sexual technique designed to increase a person’s sexual energy and to retain it. This is because our sexual energy is life-enhancing”.
One of the side effects that I have found personally is an increased ability to maintain my erection for longer periods during love making.
Edging is a practice of stopping yourself from reaching orgasm right when you’re on the cusp or “edge” of climax. This is something you can do alone or with a partner.
Practising non-ejaculation & edging together can give those with penises far greater control over coming and bring you more in tune with your arousal rates. Edging can also be a really beneficial practice for those with vulvas looking to explore their pleasure.
How to keep your erection
It is important to remember that losing your erection during sex is perfectly normal. It’s not a sign that you aren’t enjoying the sex, or that you don’t find the person you are with attractive. Losing an erection is just something that happens to penises, sometimes.
From my experience, the times that I have lost my erection has been due to my mind wandering. I’ve ended up thinking and worrying about my own performance, and rather than focusing on the sensations that I am feeling.
If this is something that you have experienced, it’s a good practice to start your play time slowly and gently. Focus on the sensations of touch, heat and texture of your body touching each other. Try not to worry about what your penis is doing, and immerse yourself in the sensory experience of pleasuring yourself or being with a lover.
What to do if you can’t get an erection or you often go soft
When we are in the middle of having sex with our lover the last thing we want to happen is for our erection to go. However, it doesn’t have to be the end of the lovemaking if it does. Sex doesn’t have to end when the erection stops, just as it doesn’t have to begin if and when an erection arrives, either!
Soft Entry Sex
In the insightful book, Tantric Sex For Men by Diana Richardson and Michael Richardson, they suggest trying soft entry sex. This is starting penetration with a soft cock.
The penis can be slowly eased into the anus or vagina, or taken in the mouth. You want to use plenty of lube for this, and also to have patience. Most of us are not used to this practice, and so it can take time to get used to the new sensations.
You would be surprised at how pleasurable this can be for both parties when you let go of the idea that the penis needs to be hard for you to experience pleasure.
After play & massage
Another alternative is to enjoy some after play. This can involve anything you would like, for example sensual massage, caressing, talking, cuddling or getting out some sex toys.
Want to learn more about maintaining erections?
Make sure you check out our upcoming workshops and masterclasses for more chances to learn about how to maintain an erection.
David Chambers (he/him) is a Men’s Dating & Intimacy Expert, who forged his experiences of human connection and romance in a time before dating apps took over. He is passionate about helping men find a better connection with themselves, their feelings, and understanding how to create beautiful relationships.