Then I Realized That’s BS.
“Oh, we don’t need a condom,” my new lover informed me the first time we hooked up. Delicately, he explained that he couldn’t actually finish inside a woman—vaginal sex just didn’t do it for him. “Well, you gotta wear one anyway,” I said, trying to hide my skeptical reaction. “Even if you can’t knock me up, you can still give me an STI.” He reluctantly put one on, and our evening of passionate love-making began. Turns out, he wasn’t just making up some BS excuse not to put a sock on it: Just as he’d predicted, he wasn’t able to finish.
Whether you’ve been in this situation or not, you can imagine, I’m sure, that this is a hit to a gal’s ego. It’s hard not to take this personally—or, at the very least, as a challenge. I finally tapped out when I was on the verge of carpet burn, and the pain became stronger than my desire to prove him wrong.
“So how do you finish then?” I dared to ask.
For the next 20 minutes, I became essentially a stripper (without any take home wads of cash), shaking my ass round and round and giving him my most seductive glances while he pleasured himself on the bed. Part of me felt sexy, but most of me felt cheap—an objectified woman to be consumed from five feet away, not a partner entangled in an intimate act.
This was my first introduction to what would soon become a regular occurrence: feeling rejected by guys who find themselves unable to finish via my warm cozy vagina or mouth, preferring their hand instead. It’s an experience officially dubbed “delayed ejaculation,” which experts say is becoming more common. Just like erectile dysfunction—an inability to get it up or keep it up—the causes behind DE can be physical or psychological, neither of which have a damn thing to do with how good you are in bed.
Women have this bad habit of internalizing and blaming ourselves for everything people do, especially men (thanks patriarchy!), and I’m no exception. It’s my default. Especially in situations like the one with my striptease hookup, it’s nearly impossible not to feel like you and your vagina aren’t at least a teensy bit to blame. It took speaking to sex experts and about a dozen brave men I know who have this problem to finally realize that the self-blame is bullshit: It’s almost never about you.
Porn Isn’t the Real Problem
Porn and the death grip (the pseudo-scientific idea that masturbating too hard can leave a dude desensitized) have been blamed almost entirely for the spectrum of sexual dysfunctions plaguing anyone with a penis. While too much porn can absolutely cause problems, it’s an oversimplification of the issue, according to the experts. Porn is usually only a problem if men are watching too much of it—like every day, several times a day, says Cathline Fernet-Quinet, a French sexologist. The truth is that delayed ejaculation can be caused by a number of factors that have nothing to do with porn (or with you): depression, anxiety, certain medications, alcohol. Jenni Skyler, Ph.D., a certified sex and relationship therapist in Colorado says the problem is often a psychological one. “It’s almost always an issue involving shame or anxiety,” she says.
Porn isn’t totally blameless though. “Porn convinces men that great sex is dick-centric—that it’s all about how big it is and how hard it is,” says Cindy Gallop, founder of Make Love Not Porn, a social sex video-sharing site that features content from real couples, not actors. When men don’t fit into the sexual stereotypes often portrayed on screen (no matter how effed up or outdated), it’s damaging for both them and their partners.
Almost all the men I spoke with about DE talked about feeling nervous, dealing with anxiety or combatting shame—not a single one said that their inability to finish had anything to do with how attracted they were to their partner. One dude I spoke with said it always takes him forever to finish. In the process he gets so worried about hurting his partner that he gets too much into his head, which then made it even more impossible for him to finish. “Sex is absolutely impacted by mindset for men,” Gallop says. “Just the way women are impacted by it.”
I couldn’t have orgasms well into my 30s because I had a trauma I hadn’t dealt with. “Orgasm is about surrendering,” Skyler says. “With women, the vaginal walls will close down. Sometimes it’s guarding and protecting her from either the person in the room or from someone in her past.” I get this: I never trusted men enough to surrender, so it wasn’t until I dealt with my issues head on with specialists that I could finally let down both my vaginal and metaphoric walls.
It’s not just about some hidden sexual trauma or deep-seated phobia, however, Skyler adds. Something as commonplace as a fear of commitment can create a roadblock to orgasm. I was terrified of commitment until my 30s, which might explain why I never had a problem orgasming with a one-night stand but couldn’t seem to finish once a fling showed signs of turning into a relationship. It never occured to me that the men in my life might be having the same issue. With one old hookup, I used to have marathon sex (the kind that left me barely able to walk the next day), but once we became closer, he started to have issues with ejaculating inside me. At the time it baffled me, and I blamed myself. But now it makes sense—his body, like mine years ago, was saying a hard no to surrendering.
So What Do We Do About It?
All of the specialists I spoke with, as well as the men I interviewed, made one thing clear: A dude’s inability to finish is much more likely to be about him than it is about you.
So what’s to be done? Most men who struggle with delayed ejaculation can benefit from talking to a pro, Skyler says. “This is one of those issues they could explore on their own and if it’s a light issue, that can work. But I find that delayed ejaculation is one of the trickiest,” she says. “The body has to be retrained.”
When I told her about my striptease, she said my hookup’s behavior wasn’t all that strange. ”With DE, the [treatment] protocol is for a man to have sex, and when he’s close to having an orgasm, to pull out, then keep at it.” Eventually, she says, he’ll pair the two actions, making it easier for him to finish the old fashioned way.
When you’re in this situation with a partner, don’t internalize it or blame yourself: This is not a negative performance review.Instead, stop focusing on orgasm as the goal, Skyler says. “If we don’t make sex a performance and orgasm the goal, and instead enjoy it for the experience that it is,” she says, “then we don’t have the pressure and anxiety.”
In my last several years on Tinder, I have realized that a lot of men avoid in-person hookups. If I send them a sexy picture or engage in sexting, they’ll almost always stay home and masturbate instead of meeting up. I thought this was because they’re lazy (and some are!) or because my vagina can’t compete with their death grips, but that’s far too simplistic. Men are dealing with a lot of pressure, self-doubt, shame, fear and insecurities that get in their way—just like the rest of us.
Despite encountering this issue with almost all the men I’ve dated, it never once occurred to me that I should talk to them about any of it. So that’s my resolution: Instead of taking it personally and blaming myself or being resentful and biting my tongue, I can try to support them by encouraging them to talk about it. And hey, same goes for my issues in the bedroom: I’ve always had issues with lubrication, and yet I’ve never once told a partner it’s not about him. Perhaps the best way to support men and ourselves is to face our fears of talking about sex with the person we’re naked with.
Melanie Hamlett (a comedian, writer, and storyteller from New York City who’s now living in Europe)