As a woman, I understand that a man’s main point of pride hangs between his legs. And trust me: Straight women love it as much as you do. Which is why it’s definitely disappointing for all of us when your main man sometimes fails to show up for duty. But before we all go holding a funeral for your manhood, let’s recognize that erection failure is part of nature and life, and as such, can happen from time to time. We know this is embarrassing for you, and we are more than sympathetic. Trust us. There’s absolutely no reason to cry over the occasional flaccid penis. Should you fall victim to this more-regular-than-you-think occurrence, here’s how I, as a woman, would like you to handle the situation. (For a comprehensive guide to what causes erectile dysfunction and how to fix it, check out The Men's Health Guide to Erectile Dysfunction.)
Tell us it’s not about us
(Unless it is. But if you’re trying to sleep with a girl you’re not attracted to, it calls into question some of your greater life choices.)
But on the whole, let’s assume you are sleeping with a woman whom you find attractive. Women (all people, really) are insecure, especially when it comes to sex and being intimate. So if you’re having sex with us and then all of a sudden you’re not, we might become a little self conscious. But the first thing you can do is assure us that you are, in fact, attracted to us, our bodies are banging, our minds and plethora of educational degrees rev your engines, etc. Assuring us that this is not our fault is something many of us might need to hear.
“A frequent mistake women make when their partners experience erectile dysfunction is to assume it’s about her,” says Holly Richmond, a somatic psychologist and certified sex therapist. “Ninety-nine percent of the time it has nothing to do with her. What I hear from my male clients who have experienced ED is that they are, in fact, very turned on by their partners.”
Richardson explains that the majority of the time ED is because of anxiety, maybe because this has happened before and they’re afraid it will happen again, or he is situationally anxious, meaning he is overwhelmed by the moment and is doing too much thinking with the big brain, and not enough with the little one.
Don’t over-internalize it
We know you are going to be embarrassed, and that’s an okay feeling to feel. We can’t stop that. But you shouldn’t be embarrassed, or at least, not for too long. Getting overly depressed about it, apologizing excessively, or, even worse, stopping sexy time altogether, are some of the worst things you can do.
“Many see intercourse as the go-to gold standard and view anything different as second-class sex," says Jennifer Valli, a certified sex therapist. "They don't realize that most men can orgasm with a semi rigid or moderately rigid penis, and most women don't orgasm with intercourse. Because of a fear of failure, the man and his partner end up missing the whole intimate connection. The more relaxed the man's partner is sexually, the easier it will be for him to relax, and anxiety is contagious.”
Don’t let the pleasure stop
To my earlier point, the worst thing you can do is end the whole interaction all together. You might have lost the wind in your sails (and we really do feel for you), but we certainly haven’t. You still turn us on. We still want to get off. There are many, many other ways for us to enjoy being together without actual penetration. And, more importantly, you might find yourself getting re-aroused in the process.
“We have hands, fingers, tongues, toes; we are all erogenous beings from head to toe," says Lawrence Siegal, a clinical sex therapist. "It can also be a good opportunity for both partners to learn to pleasure each other without the driving imperative of orgasm, when the focus should be on pleasure.”
If it becomes chronic, don’t shy away from seeking help
The fact of the matter is every man will experience ED at some point in his life, and as you guys get older even more so. It's one of the many unfortunate things that happen to your penis as you age. But if this keeps happening, there’s nothing wrong with seeking medical or psychological assistance to figure out (and cure) ED.
More often than not, ED in younger guys is situational, says Ian Kerner, a licensed psychotherapist and nationally recognized sex counselor. “If a man in his 30s is experiencing ED and it’s not situational, it could be a side effect of medication or an indication that something else might be going on in terms of health. For example, men with heart disease often show erectile disorder as one of the first symptoms. Some men that over-masturbate may also experience situational erectile disorder. Lifestyle also plays a factor: smoking, drinking, diet, exercise.” There are several treatment options out there, so talk to your doctor to see if you can pinpoint the cause and a solution.
This article originally appeared on MensHealth.com.