The Science Behind an Erection and Performance Anxiety
aving trouble getting it up? Let’s talk about the intricate inner workings of the male erection. Understanding the basic physiology of “getting hard” can help men better navigate their sex lives and understand any erectile dysfunction they may be experiencing. Getting to the source, rather than look at the end result (or lack thereof) can be eye opening for those frustrated with issues surrounding sex drive and erectile dysfunction. It can also help patients better understand what treatment options are best for them once they understand their most basic anatomy.
The penis is an organ paired with erection chambers that have a kind of spongy tissue that is mostly muscle. To maintain an erection there needs to be blood flow to the area regulated by the smooth muscle located in the penile arteries. Without blood flow to the area causing a somewhat hydraulic occurrence it is impossible to develop a hard erection.
Erections can only be triggered by two things:
- direct stimulation of the genitalia
- brain stimuli
Brain stimuli can refer to any kind of fantasy or thinking about sex, being turned on without touch, or being aroused by any of the other senses. It is true what they say “its all in your head” when it comes to erections. Other stimuli can be just as arousing as direct touch and can often be the initial foundation for complex orchestration an erection can require.
Once either brain stimuli or direct penile stimulation occurs chemicals pass down the spinal cord to the penis. Then Nitric Oxide is released causing the smooth muscles to relax enough for blood to rush into erectile bodies. And there you have it an erection.
So let’s review:
- Chemicals pass down spinal cord to penis
- Smooth muscles relax
- Blood rushes into erectile bodies
Once ejaculation happens, the blood flows out of the penis and the penis softens as a result. During this next time period it has proven to be a little more than difficult to get back in the game. This is also known as “the refractory period”, or the time between erections.
Anxiety and Erections
Since erections depend so much on the brain’s ability to produce the proper chemicals in the spinal cord and eventually the penis, any psychological issues can deeply affect a man’s ability to get an erection. Fear and anxiety are usually the main culprits that cause a classic case of “whiskey dick”. It can prevent the right brain signals from reaching heightened enough levels to let the blood flow freely through the penis.
Stress hormones actually cause blood vessels to constrict, which is absolutely not conducive to getting or maintaining an erection. Stress and anxiety can cause erectile dysfunction. Stress can also increase blood pressure and higher cholesterol and BOTH conditions increase risk for erectile dysfunction on their own. Stress is considered by some to be the number one killer and a flaccid penis is just one way stress can be damaging.
Some different things that men worry about that causes performance anxiety in bed are:
- Fear of poor performance
- Bad body image and self-esteem
- Penis shame
- Not being able to last
- Interpersonal issues
The irony of these situations being, that when men become so concerned about their performance they actually become completely unable to perform. This can cause further shame and emasculation that definitely won’t help to produce future erections. Anxiety can create a negative feedback loop that is difficult to escape without a plan. Our bodies use anxiety as a “fight or flight” response evolutionary to situations that may present danger or threaten us in anyway. When men can’t sustain erections it is because their internal alarm system is sounding.
Instead of releasing the necessary chemicals stress creates cortisol and adrenaline, which is the opposite of the relaxed state that is need for an erection. This can become a pattern men become trapped in, a sexual self-fulfilling prophecy if you will. Time and time again men meet their own expectations of poor bedroom performance. They set the trap and then walk right into it with their pants around their ankles.
So what are some ways to overcome this cycle of fear and frustration?
- Practice mindfulness
On a daily basis meet thoughts and emotions that are negative with a non-judgmental perspective. Pay attention to your emotions and what causes fear and anxiety aside from the prospect of having bad sex. There may be patterns you haven’t noticed that are directly related about what causes you to feel stressed or self-conscious.
- Regular meditation
Having a regular meditation practice for just 10 minutes a day can lower cortisol levels. Meditation rewires your stress responses and can improve your mood, as well as your sex drive, dramatically. All you need is some peace and quiet to get your zen on.
- Educate yourself
Knowing more about the psychology and physiology behind sex can be empowering. Learn more about the female anatomy too so you can feel more confident in the pleasure department. Knowledge is power.
Exercise will increase your circulation, reduce stress and increase self-confidence. You will become more aware of your body and just feel fitter and sexier. Exercise is a great way to boost confidence and feel young.
- Bridge the porn gap
Most men watch a lot of porn and that is well and good, but what isn’t is comparing yourself to professional porn stars. A porn star’s job is to have sex, your job might be working in sales, you are probably really good at sales hopefully… just like a porn star is really good at having a big dick and have sex for an hour and sixteen minutes with an entire camera crew on site.
- See a sex therapist
There is nothing wrong with seek professional help to break the negative feedback loop, especially if it is impeding your ability to have long-lasting relationships. You would see a doctor if you had an arm that wasn’t functioning properly, why not see a sex therapist if your penis isn’t doing its job?
- Lay off the booze
Some use alcohol to loosen up a little and relax to achieve an orgasm, but this is line that is easy to cross. One or two beers might be okay, and then that third drink might put you into the flaccid zone. It is better to work on becoming comfortable soberly, since you cannot always guarantee you will be drunk every time you have sex.