The CSPH: Difficulty Maintaining Erection with Condoms

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It’s a common tale: the minute a condom goes near a penis an erection is gone! Some just use this as an excuse to not practice safer sex, but for others it’s a genuine issue interrupting their sex lives. Difficulty maintaining erection with condoms is a common problem, but doesn’t have to get in the way of great sex.

There are plenty of options and this article by The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health (The CSPH) goes into depth to talk about:

  • How the problem is more common with newer partners or when engaging with others who may have comparably less sexual experience.
  • How worry or unease may be causing the issue.
  • The need for the condom to be the right fit and how you can go about finding that with condom samplers.
  • How a drop of lube inside the condom helps increase stimulation of erection.
  • Letting your partner put the condom on.
  • Accustoming yourself to wearing a condom by using it during masturbation.
  • Using a internal condom (aka female condom) as an alternative to the penis condoms.
  • How suitable partners may be able to engage in condom-less sex if they are fluidly bonded and regularly tested for STIs.

This article was originally published on The CSPH website.

BY The CSPH | theCSPH.org

Each week, The CSPH answers questions that have been submitted through Formspring and Tumblr. This week’s question is:

So…”sexual pleasure & health” – How does a guy get both, if he wants to — or, more accurately, needs to have unprotected sex (no condom)?  No cop-out/excuse; but, the moment I or my partner even begin to try and put a condom on me – my erection is gone … for the rest of the night – gone! How do I/we get around that … and we’ve already tried all the basic “remedies”?

You may be surprised to learn that this issue—losing an erection when putting on condoms—is not so uncommon.  A quick survey of sex advice message boards reveals that many penis-owners encounter this, especially with newer partners, when engaging with others with comparably less sexual experience, and with those who have experienced some sort of change in their lives and/or sexual encounters, leading to nervousness and unease in sexual situations.  Fortunately, one does not need to choose between having sex and using protection.

To begin, I’m curious as to what “basic remedies” you and your partner have already explored.  Without knowing this, I cannot safely assume what you have attempted, since what is deemed “basic” by some may be less obvious to others.  Therefore, I am going to discuss a number of options that I hope will be helpful.

There are a few basic aspects that I attribute to your difficulty maintaining an erection while putting on a condom: ill-fitting condoms, a momentary loss of focus, the relative novelty of using condoms at all, and nervousness.  These issues may be related, but they also may not be;  what’s important here is that you take a moment to consider the root of your difficulties, which will help you narrow down potential solutions.

My first suggestion is that you make sure you are using condoms that are appropriately sized for your penis.  While most condoms are sold as one-size-fits-all, the fact of the matter is, penises come in a variety of lengths and girths, so what fits one person may not fit another.  Indeed, personal fit is essential to solving a number of condom-related issues, such as discomfort and even minimized sensitivity.  To find out your condom size, visit The Condom Review by Lucky Bloke.  The Condom Review also sells a fantastic array of condoms and sampler packs, which will allow you to better determine what brands and styles suit you and your needs. Furthermore, another condom trick is to place a dollop of lubricant inside the condom before placing it on your penis, providing extra stimulus for your erection.

Assuming your condoms fit well, my second suggestion is very simply for you to not put on the condom, but rather that your partner put it on for you.  Doing this may help circumvent potential nervousness and the momentary loss of focus that leads to softening erections.  What’s great about this option is that it can be incorporated into existing play, after it’s already been agreed upon that sex will be happening.  For example, while kissing and touching each other, perhaps with your penis being continually stimulated, your partner can roll a condom onto you.  Your partner may also want to try to put the condom on you using their mouth.  You can find instructions at the bottom of our article, Q&A: Yeast Infections & Sex.  YouTube also has a number of videos you can turn to if you’re a more visual learner, such as this one by Angel Walker.

Another recommendation is that you grow more accustomed to condoms in general by incorporating them into your masturbation.  This may help increase your comfort with this barrier method and/or otherwise desensitize you to its role in your sex life, in that rolling one on prior to partnered sex will no longer be new and strange.  Additionally, this may help if the reason you have difficulty maintaining an erection when putting on condoms is due to anxiety over what the condom represents, such as partnered play and/or the risk of pregnancy.  By re-navigating what your brain associates with condoms, you may find yourself more easily able to use them for sex with your partner.

That said, should you find yourself unable to maintain erections even after attempting these suggestions, you can also look into another barrier method: vaginal condoms, more commonly known as “female condoms.”  Vaginal condoms are contraceptive devices that fit inside the vaginal canal and over the vulva, covering a greater external surface area than condoms that fit on penises.  This makes vaginal condoms better for protecting against sexually transmitted infections such as herpes and HPV, which can be transmitted through skin to skin contact, regardless of penile condom usage.  You may find vaginal condoms to be more suitable for you and your partner, since they can be inserted up to several hours in advance of sexual activity and therefore allow for barrier-protected penetration without disrupting play time.  With that said, vaginal condoms may feel different than penile condoms for both you and your partner, so experimentation is encouraged.

Finally, depending on your relationship with your partner, it may be worthwhile to discuss having sex without barrier methods.  Partnered sex without barrier methods is best when limited to individuals who regularly get tested for sexually transmitted diseases, are otherwise using contraception (as to limit the chances of unintentional pregnancy), and who are in relationships in which bodily fluids are shared only between partners who practice safer sex.  You can read more about this in the Q&A: Sex Without Barrier Methods.

When it’s all said and done, however, just remember that sex should be enjoyable and fun, and is frequently more than a little silly. Try not to worry about the condom, and just focus on getting down with your partner!

csphThe CENTER for SEXUAL PLEASURE and HEALTH (The CSPH) is designed to provide adults with a safe, physical space to learn about sexual pleasure, health, and advocacy issues. Led by highly respected founder and director, Megan Andelloux, The CSPH is a sexuality training and education organization that works to reduce sexual shame, fight misinformation, & advance the sexuality field.