When we find it difficult to make sex last, it feels like our body (and in particular, our penis) is doing its own thing.
It’s like we control everything in the run up to intercourse (conversation, kissing, undressing, foreplay). But as soon as we make that intimate connection, our automatic pilot takes over and comes in to land as quickly as possible.
Is this just a perception that guys with PE have, or are there control issues going on? We’ve all heard stories of guys (porn actors, tantric gurus, genetically blessed men) who say that they can come on demand. What’s the deal?
We’ll consider some of the bodily functions that are truly involuntary and some that we can control, and some that are actually both. I’ll explain how this relates to sex and lasting longer and how control actually works.
Let’s take our eyes, for example. I can consciously shut my eyes and open then again, cutting off visual input. I can make myself blink, but blinking happens automatically too. Throughout the day, my autonomic nervous system monitors hydration and muscle fatigue around my eyes and makes me blink with no conscious awareness on my part.
Pupil dilation, on the other hand, is completely instinctive. I can’t say to myself “pupils contract now”. But I can hack this by moving myself from a dark to a light room. Or I could take a drug like cannabis; we all know that big pupils is one of the telltale signs.
Interestingly, studies have shown that watching porn can influence our pupil dilation. The more we’re aroused by the scene, the more our pupils dilate. So here we see an attention shift setting off a cascade of brain chemicals and influencing parts of us that aren’t under direct control. Take note of that for now.
Another interesting phenomenon is blushing. Again, I can’t tell my face to flush on demand. Some people tend to blush more than others, but it happens automatically and usually when other people are around. So if I wanted to bring it on, I could go out into the world and do something embarrassing. Or I might be able to close my eyes and imagine some cringeworthy episode from my past, or possibly recall something sexual, or quite likely both. So a deliberate attention shift can trigger an instinctive physical response.
So let’s jump straight to erections and ejaculations. Can I tell myself to get an erection right now? No. Can I tell myself to ejaculate on demand, or more usefully when I’m having sex, to not ejaculate right now but a bit later, maybe in ten minutes time OK? No.
So erections and ejaculations, at least for the 99.9% of us who aren’t porn stars or tantric masters, fall into the out of our control category.
Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story. Consider driving an automatic car. Some people say “oh I couldn’t drive an automatic car, I wouldn’t have enough control”. And it’s true that you don’t have direct, manual control over the gearbox.
But if you’ve ever had an automatic car, you’ll be well aware that you are in control. The more you drive it and the more familiar you become with it, you learn all the tricks. If you don’t want it to change down a gear at the top of a hill, for example, you adjust the pressure on the accelerator a bit.
The key is getting to know the car, that way you can leave all the technical processes to the automatic transmission and still very much be the boss. Exactly the same applies to erection and ejaculation. We might invest a lot of effort and stress into trying to force the gears, when in reality we just don’t have that level of direct control.
But we do have oblique, indirect control if we get in tune with our bodies and learn the tricks.
Sticking with the automatic car analogy, our autonomic nervous system has its own equivalent of idling and acceleration. It’s comprised of two parts: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. Now both of these work subconsciously and regulate our involuntary processes such as internal organs, breathing, heartbeat, etc.
The sympathetic nervous system pumps the gas to make us go faster. So in response to threat, anxiety or excitement, it can instantly kick in and get us moving. It’s our classic fight or flight reflex, and it plays a big part in our sexual function too. Our sympathetic nervous system engages as our sexual excitement builds and accelerates us towards orgasm.
The other branch, the parasympathetic nervous system, generally has the opposite effect. It turns down the gas to calm everything; to dial down our breathing, blood pressure, heart-rate and, crucially here, our acceleration towards orgasm. The parasympathetic state is our rest, digest and soak up pleasure state. This is a really handy place to be when we’re having sex and want the pleasure to continue.
Now, our sexual arousal doesn’t have a convenient brake pedal. I can’t say to my body “look, I know you’re really aroused here but just hang on. Don’t come until I say so, OK?”. If I try to do just that, it ramps up my stress levels and performance anxieties. I’m more likely to come right away or shrivel up under pressure.
But I do have a process, an effective way of easing off the accelerator. And this is what I help guys to learn and understand. I break it down into three fundamental parts:
Relaxed: just as the body instinctively lets go of tensions when the parasympathetic nervous system is engaged, we can learn to make this shift on demand. The most obvious way is by consciously changing the way that we breathe.
Breathing is one of the dual-control mechanisms that happens both instinctively and can be manually overridden. There’s a good reason why meditators and athletes use breathing to effectively shift their physical state. The Wim Hof technique is another prominent and proven example, although he’s using breathwork to access the sympathetic state and release activating hormones.
It’s not all about breathing. There are other subtle physiological hacks to dial down our sexual excitement. We can let go of muscle tensions in parts of our bodies that directly relate to the ejaculatory process, for example.
Aware: it’s difficult to make these physical changes if we can’t really tune in to the difference in feeling. So it’s essential for us to develop awareness of how our body feels as it becomes more excited and turned on. We need to be able to recognise when we’re getting to the limits of our control, when we’re accelerating, without getting stressed or trying to pump away at brakes that don’t exist.
Awareness also covers our external awareness of our partners, the levels of pleasure and sensation that we are both enjoying, and the different ways that we can shift our attention without disconnecting from the moment.
Moving: in many ways, this is the holy grail of overcoming premature ejaculation – the ability to keep moving. We can be doing really well on the relaxation and awareness fronts, but if we don’t know how to move our bodies optimally during sex, we’re not going to get into flow, into the parasympathetic state, very easily. So I talk about the fundamentals of how to move, how not to move, and how to switch things up without disconnecting from the pleasure.
So relaxed, aware and moving. RAM, which sounds kind of empowering, doesn’t it?
When I talk about overcoming premature ejaculation and building our sexual confidence, all of this explains why there are no promises of ‘ultimate control’ or ‘ejaculation on demand’. The reality of how our bodies work is much more nuanced than that.
It takes a bit of patience and perseverance to learn this form of control too. A lot of guys with lifelong PE might never have experienced feeling relaxed and aware during sex, or they only experienced brief glimpses of it. So we work on visualisation and rehearsal of calm, confident movement free of performance stress.
As I said before, the more familiar we can become with the bridges, the points of influence over our bodies, the more effortless it becomes. We just need a strategy, an understanding of why we are following the strategy and a chance to observe the real benefits in our own sexual activities.
And this isn’t all about lasting longer or sharing sexual pleasure either. If we are able to achieve more insight and mastery over our own physiology, the long-term benefits for our health and wellbeing are immense.
Who couldn’t do with a bit less stress in their lives right now?