Hello, all you galloping Internet sex weasels. Welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating column that’s part animal, part machine.
This week, we’re talking about those niggling anxieties that plague us in our dating lives. We all have those fears that plague us in the long dark nights of the soul, whether it’s of not being able to perform in the moment, the fear of being somebody’s consolation prize, or the worry that you’re about to do something wrong and ruin everything.
Let’s drag ‘em into the light and toss ‘em behind us, shall we?
Hello Dr. NerdLove,
I hope you are having a good holiday season.
I’ve been following your columns on and off for the past several years, gaining what knowledge that I can. It’s been a big help to me and I want to thank you for that.
However, the success I’ve achieved with women has raised a new problem. I’ve wanted to ask you for a while, how does a young man deal with erectile dysfunction? I manage to get with girls, but I have trouble maintaining an erection/entering. It’s been causing me to feel inferior and like I am falling behind other guys.
Yeah, nasty I know. I’ve been thinking about asking someone and thought it would be a good way to ask someone to help deal with my anxiety about the issue. Any advice or insight you have on the issue would be most helpful.
When it comes to erectile dysfunction, there are two main causes. One is a mechanical issue - usually either a hormonal imbalance or something restricting blood flow to the spongy erectile tissues. The other is psychological.
And since your issue tends to arise (or, y’know, not) at the moment of penetration, then it’s pretty clear what’s going on here. The problem isn’t between your legs, FD. It’s between your ears.
Fun thing about penises: they’re fucking prima donnas. We like to talk about dicks like they’re constantly ready to go, rampant and ready at the merest hint of sex. They’re so powerful that they can overpower people’s good sense and drag them into trouble against their own will.
In reality: they frequently need everything to be perfect or they’ll refuse to perform. If you have even the slightest doubt, it’s going to shrivel up and you’re left trying to shoot pool with a rope. For a lot of guys, regardless of age, anxiety is the boner-killer par excellence. And to add to the cruel irony of it all, that anxiety is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You worry that you can’t perform in the sack, which causes you to lose your erection, which makes you worry next time that you won’t be able to perform…
In your case, FD, I suspect part of the problem is that you have some self-limiting beliefs that are still dragging you down. A lot of people who’ve made long strides to improving themselves often deal with imposter syndrome. Intellectually, they know that they’re doing better but deep inside they feel like nothing has actually changed. All they’ve done is put a new coat of paint over a flawed exterior. They still have the same self-image that they had before and confirmation bias makes them look for signs that nothing has actually been fixed. And then as soon as something goes wrong, they take it as proof.
Case in point: you’re worrying that you’re falling behind because your anxiety makes you go soft. And since that anxiety flares up at the time when you want to perform the most, it happens again and again, reinforcing that belief.
So how do we break this cycle? Well, it’s actually pretty simple: you take the emphasis off your penis and have sex anyway.
One of the mistakes that many, many people make is that they define sex as the penis penetrating the vagina. Guys especially tend to see their penis as the end-all/be-all of the sexual experience and if the cock’s not involved or penetration doesn’t happen, then it doesn’t “count”. This also tends to makes them lousy lovers, not only because dicks tend to be one-trick ponies and most women can’t orgasm from penetration alone, but because it cuts off all these other amazing ways for people to fuck and be fucked.
Right now, FD, you have an opportunity not just to break this cycle of anxiety and poor performance but to start building the habits that will make you an amazing lover. The next time you’re going to hook up with someone, you save your erection by leaving penetration off the table. Penetrative sex just isn’t on the menu for now. Instead, you’re going to use the tools you have that never go soft. You’ll use your fingers. You’ll go down on your partner until you spontaneously grow gills. You’ll start learning about all of the various erogenous zones—necks, bellies, wrists. You will learn to be a master of oral, a hierophant of handwork. Do they want that feeling of being pounded? Cool, that’s what sex toys are for.
And while you’re at it: you’ll start learning how to communicate with your partner. Do they like this? What about that? You’ll learn how to read their body and find the patterns, pressure and stimulus that they need that will get them off like a rocket.
By taking the emphasis off penetration—and thus, making any erection issues irrelevant—you’ll help ease those anxieties around sex. So you can’t get it up this time. That’s fine, you’ll still be able to give an orgasm so mind-blowing that anyone you’re in bed won’t be able to see straight.
And thus we get the great paradox of anxiety-induced ED: the less you focus making your cock work, the more it will work. Having hands, a mouth and a can-do attitude is going to do more to make you a fantastic lay than a dick so hard it could shatter concrete.
By realizing you don’t need a steely erection to be amazing in the sack, you’ll start being less concerned about whether or not it’s going to be a problem… and that lack of concern will give you the erections you want.
Dear Dr. NerdLove
First off I just want to say I am big fan of your column on Kotaku. I think this is why I feel comfortable enough to email you about the situation I am in. I have been dating a girl for about 4 months now and she recently disclosed to me that she was sexually assaulted in college. She said she wanted to tell me because she really liked me and in order for the relationship to progress it was something I needed to know.
I was pretty shocked. I’ve known this girl since we were kids, I understand it can happen to anyone but it was kind of a reality check to find out my love interest experienced that. I thanked her for telling me, it meant a lot to me that she would share that. I’m sure it was not easy. She did tell me that through therapy she has resolved most of the issues with it except certain situations can trigger PTSD.
We have not been intimate in any manner other than kissing so far, there was one time where we were making out and things were getting hot and heavy and she told me she wanted to take it slow. I obviously listened and cut out the funny business. When she told me about the assault she told me she appreciated my response to her request. So I think I’ve handled things well so far.
I think what I am hoping you can help me with is:
A. Am I handling things right so far? I felt so dumb after I thanked her, but I didn’t know what to say and I was shocked.
B. What can I do going forward to have a happy and healthy relationship with this girl I really care about?
Dating a Survivor
Here’s something you need to realize about your relationship with your girlfriend, DAS. First of all: it says something about how she feels about you that she wanted to share this information with you. She’s committed to this relationship and wants you to know not only what she’s been through, but the things that you should be careful of. That’s pretty damn intimate. So yeah, I’d say that “Thank you for sharing that with me” is appropriate.
The second thing you need to realize is that she’s one of the strongest people you know. She’s had something terrible happen to her and not only has she survived, but she’s adapted. She’s got her scars, but she’s kept going and she’s all the stronger for it.
That’s why, if you want this relationship to work, you have to realize that while being sexually assaulted is something that was done to her, it doesn’t define her. She’s not The Girl Who Was Attacked, she’s your girlfriend, and treating her like a victim or like she’s made out of spun glass is going to be an insult to her and her strength. She’s a person, same as anyone else, with desires and hang-ups, appetites and neuroses, just like the rest of us.
With that in mind: for the most part, you’re doing everything right. You’re listening to her, you’re showing that you care about her emotional security and her desire to take things at a pace that she’s comfortable with. Those are all the right moves, so keep it up. Just don’t be so hesitant that you treat her like she’s fragile. If she wants to slow things down, don’t pull back like you just touched a hot stove. Dial things back, yes, but don’t recoil in horror. Instead, ask what she’d prefer and switch gears.
Keep those lines of communication open. Listening to her, checking in, prioritizing enthusiastic consent and making sure to steer clear of those emotional landmines are all best practices for dating in general, but especially here. The more you get to know one another and the more you communicate, the more you’ll both be able to read one another and find the rhythms that will let you shift in whichever direction works best.
Otherwise: you treat her like a person. She’s the same woman she was before she shared this information with you. Giving her that respect will do more for making this relationship work than anything else.
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I’m a woman in an awful bind. Last summer, I met this fantastic guy, Jim. He had just joined the security team where I work. It was a laid back job, for both of us, so we had time to chat on a regular basis. After a couple of weeks, I was completely smitten, and I thought I was getting vibes off of him, so I sucked it up and asked him for his number. He gave it gladly, and we started texting, and flirting, and eventually we went out and it was fantastic. The chemistry that we had chatting translated into equal chemistry dating, and intimately.
About a month and a half after we started dating, he told me about his ex. We’ll call her Sam. Sam and Jim had been dating for almost three years. They had been looking at getting a place together, and he had bought a ring. Then she disappeared. Poof. Gone. He tried finding her and even contacted her family, and her brother told him to just let her go. This had been about 3 or 4 months before we had started dating and he had stopped looking for her a bit before I asked for his number. He was still kinda off balance, so he wasn’t able to do a full commitment at that time. Cool, I said, I’m not in a rush. Take the time you need.
About 3 weeks later, he told me she had come back. Apparently, she had had a health scare, decided she didn’t want to put him through it, so ghosted him. It was a false positive, so, she came back and asked where they stood.
He had no idea where he stood at all. He knew he had feelings for me, and he still had feelings for her, so he didn’t know what to do. I was hurt, and confused, and after a bit, we decided to continue our relationship while he figured it out. It was a little rough, and about 2 months after that, he broke up with me because he couldn’t figure it out. That was also the first time he said he loved me.
We continued to talk, partly because we still saw each other at work, and partly because we just got along so well. Soon, we slipped back into sleeping together, even though nothing had been resolved. We broke up again, and then got back together, and broke up, and are now back together again.
It’s been over a year since I first found out about this ex. He’s told me he has talked to her, and there was a point where they made out, but that had been as far as it goes. He wants to do well by both of us, knows there is no way he can and that the longer he draws it out, the worse it gets. I can see that it’s ripping him apart, and it’s been hard for me too.
I’ve never been to his place, never met his friends, I can’t bring him out with me when I go out with friends, I don’t even know how to talk about him when he comes up in conversation. I can see a future with him if he sorts his shit out, but I know that may well never happen. I love him dearly, and everything else in the relationship is great, but we’ve been stuck in this limbo for so long.
I know there’s nothing I can do to change his mind. I don’t want to let him go, but I also know that I’m not satisfied with things as they are. When we are together, or talking, or holding each other, it’s fantastic, but it’s always lingering in the back of my head.
So, what do I do? Is there any way out of this mess?
Thank you so much for your time,
Stuck in the Middle
OK, just so I’m clear here: leaving the drama of his Gone Girl ex aside (more on that in a second), you’ve been dating for a year, yet you’ve never met his friends, he’s never had you over and he won’t meet your friends?
Are you sure you’re actually dating? Because, frankly, the way you describe this makes me think you’re less his girlfriend and more his dirty little secret. It sounds far more like he’s keeping you on the hook as his side-piece than continuing a relationship in good faith.
And let’s be real here: dude’s story about his ex is fishier than the dumpster at behind Nobu. His girlfriend of several years up and disappears out of the clean blue sky—with her family’s support, at that—because of a false alarm with her health and shows back up like nothing happened and expects to pick up where they left off? First of all: OK, yeah. Sure. Second of all: even if he’s telling the God’s honest truth, why in pluperfect hell would he want to date her again?! That’s an unbelievably shitty way to treat someone you supposedly love and are getting ready to share your life with.
(And this is without going into his timeline; 3 to 4 months after his girlfriend fucking vanishes, he’s ready to move on? Sure, everybody processes shit on their own time but damn if this doesn’t set off my Spidey-sense.)
Anyway. I don’t think he’s being straight with you and his behavior ain’t helping. But even if he’s telling the truth, then it’s very simple. He’s trying to have it both ways. As long as you and his ex/current/whatever are going along with things, he has no reason to pull the trigger and pick one of you. So at best, you’re getting half a relationship.
So, it’s time to call the question. As with Hopeless and Confused last week, if you are going to insist on trying to make this work, then you need to draw a line in the sand. You didn’t sign up for a polyamorous relationship. Either he makes up his mind or you do it for him. He picks you, or you leave. No in between. No hemming or hawing.
But before you do that: look at how he’s treating you. Even if you take him at his word, he’s giving you the bare minimum at best. You’re a casual hook-up, not his girlfriend. It’d be one thing if that was what you wanted. But it’s not.
Don’t wait for him to make up his mind. Take the initiative, just as you did when you started dating and dump his ass already.
Have you successfully dealt with sexual anxieties? Did your partner try to keep two relationships at once? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments, and we’ll be back in two weeks with more of your dating questions.
Ask Dr. Nerdlove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you’d like answered? Write email@example.com and put “Kotaku” in the subject line.
Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove and the Dr. NerdLove podcast. His new dating guide New Game+: The Geek’s Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is out now from Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.
He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove.