Joe’s story: I can’t last longer than 30 seconds in bed
Joe’s orgasms had a tendency to take him by surprise.
I’ll be trying to stay relaxed, and then it’s game over already. It’s like my penis goes from 20 to 100mph in about 30 seconds. The tingling, tightening feeling just happens in an instant and I’m there.
His girlfriend Amy would detect his alarm and desperation to prolong the action, making sex a stressful calamity for them both.
Joe had tried everything to stop himself from coming. He’d pull out, freeze, try to eliminate any touch or sensation, pinch himself to calm down. He tried to fix his mind on unsexy thoughts.
Whatever he tried, control felt impossible and ejaculation was imminent. Sometimes he would try so hard, he would lose his hard-on and still ejaculate in a limp, non-orgasmic whimper. All Amy could do was try to assure him that she was still having fun.
But it kept happening. “I would just tell myself that I’d do better, I’d somehow try to relax more next time”, Joe explained. He could see the pattern, of course, but something seemed to prevent him from breaking out of it.
Sometimes, Joe’s ejaculation would happen so quickly that he would try to power through it. But thrusting away with a soft penis wasn’t doing it for him or Amy, and his frustration made it impossible to get hard again in time.
So sex usually ended with apologies from Joe and assurances from Amy. But Amy couldn’t help wondering why, if Joe was so disappointed and sad, he didn’t do something about it?
But any attempts to steer the conversation this way clearly embarrassed Joe, so the issue got parked until the next time.
What’s going on?
Have you ever tried to contain a sneeze or stop yourself blushing? These are reflex physical actions and our ejaculation response is just the same. Once the process begins, no amount of self control can wind it back.
When sexual excitement peaks, ejaculation has to happen. Freezing in mid air, holding our breath, clenching our muscles, pillow biting, mentally combing Donald Trump’s hair into place; ejaculation will still happen. Such desperate measures might even speed it up.
There are ways to cool down and last longer, but they are only effective before reaching the point of ejaculatory inevitability. Well before this point, in fact.
So why was Joe leaving it too late? Why do so many of us struggle to notice the onset of orgasm, over and over again?
Interoception: the lost art of feeling
In physiological terms, we are talking about a lack of interoception. This is the sense that helps us to feel and understand what is going on right now inside our own bodies. This covers the whole range of internal feedback, from hunger to tiredness to sexual arousal.
Some experts believe that our powers of interoception are in decline. In our daily experience of distraction and information overload, we are less aware of what we’re feeling and experiencing down below. If you take your smartphone into the bathroom, you’ll be familiar with this disconnect.
This has implications for men’s sexual performance. If we habitually ignore our levels of physical arousal during sex, how can we possibly expect to function optimally?
Of course, there’s more to premature ejaculation than simply being distracted. Some men last longer than others, for a range of physiological reasons. Some men need to put in a bit more effort and attention to make intercourse last. This is difficult if we can’t recognise and feel the fundamental physical sensations.
I’m not anti-porn, but…
If we routinely masturbate to the distraction of a zillion porn clips, we’re numb to our internal experience. In this trance-like state, our own bodies are an afterthought.
Then we have sex with our partners, and we want to be able to effortlessly perform just like the guys in porn. This problem is somewhat chicken and egg.
I’m not anti-porn, by the way. But I’m not a fan of psychological passivity which does nothing to develop our sexual abilities – and keeps us stuck in a loop.
Fears and anxieties get in the way
Another common reason for leaving it too late is fear of going soft. This is particularly common in older guys, who might have experienced the stress and frustration of losing their erection during sex.
Keeping going becomes their top priority and as long as they still feel hard, that’s all the internal feedback they want. Trying to stay hard and last longer is an overload of pressure.
If you identify with any of the above, cut yourself some slack; stress affects us all.
Engage your awareness to last longer
When I’m talking about the fundamentals of sexual arousal and awareness, I like to talk about cars, gearboxes and automatic transmissions. I grew up above a garage, so that’s my excuse.
Joe and I discussed how even though he felt himself speeding to 100mph in no time at all, there were subtle, biological gear changes going on.
Our bodies don’t come with ejaculatory brake pedals. But with a bit of focus, we can learn how to sense which gear we are in, right in the moment. And how to smoothly change down when necessary.
The more we get to know our own gearbox, the more instinctive this becomes. When you’re driving around, you don’t pay a great deal of attention to gear changes; you just do it. Adjusting your arousal levels can feel similarly natural and instinctive. You can get on with enjoying the scenery.
Here are the four phases of sexual excitement that lead to ejaculation, and a helpful way to envisage them:
First gear: moving and idling
In first gear, erection can come and go. Remember that the penis undergoes normal, natural fluctuations of firmness during sex. If we go soft, we’re back in first gear and we can shift our attention back to sexual stimulation in order to change up.
Determination to maintain 100% hardness will just stall the engine. The more we relax and let it happen, the more it will happen.
Second gear: cruising along
With a hard erection, we’re moving and soaking up the sensations of pleasure. In second gear, we are able to stay slow and change back down to first if necessary. This isn’t a race, there’s no need for speed.
Third gear: motoring towards ejaculation
We feel the tingles of approaching release. Shifting down from third gear is doable but difficult; it’s much easier when we stay in second and first gears.
Fourth gear: arrival
We’ve hit full speed and the ejaculation reflex is happening. We are coming and there’s nothing we can do about it. This is the point of no return, so embrace and enjoy it.
The takeaway: second gear is where it’s at
I can only push the motoring analogy so far, but did you notice one significant, massively important difference between sex and driving? In the car, we cruise along in top gear for speed and fuel efficiency. But in bed, we want to cruise in second gear.
In the car, we can easily change down from top gear. We need to slow down first, but that’s easy because there’s a brake pedal. During sex, the tingles and intense sensations tell us that we’re in too high a gear already – unless we’re ready to come.
Joe would suddenly find himself in the high gears. He would panic and try to change down, which is a huge ask. He needed to get familiar with second gear and get used to staying in it for longer.
Overcoming PE is not about trying to fight nature and reverse the ejaculatory reflex. It’s about becoming aware of our nature and building the confidence to cruise earlier, in a lower gear.
Changing all the way down to first gear is nothing to be scared of. In fact, it’s essential. Of course, we never see this happen in porn. The guy gets hard and effortlessly cruises for the rest of the scene. But first gear softness and shrinking does happen, I’ll guarantee it. It just gets edited out.
Interoception is a life skill
So how do we learn to notice when we’re switching through the gears too rapidly?
I have a bunch of techniques that I recommend to guys, incorporating full-body relaxation and mindfulness. One of the keys to body awareness is getting comfortable with our thoughts and fears during sex, and not letting them distract us from what’s going on down below.
With a bit of practice, we can get used to spending longer in second gear without getting fixated on it or taking away from the pleasure of intercourse or attention towards our partners.
This applies no matter how long you might have struggled in the past. I’ll guarantee you have the neurological wiring and pleasure receptors in place; now it’s a matter of figuring out how to tune in.
Deliberate breathing is a good starting point, and there’s a handy technique called 7-11 breathing. You can do this at any time to dial-down the fears in your head and observe what your body is up to.
Check in with yourself through the day: are you thirsty, hungry, hunched over a phone or screen, tense, stressed or horny? Get up and move around without distraction, noticing what your body feels right now.
We’re not aiming for zen-like transcendental bliss here, just a bit of mindfulness to reconnect with the body. Chances are, you don’t do this enough – in your day-to-day or during sex.
Masturbate without porn, with increased focus on how your body feels and responds. It’s all about slowing down and getting reacquainted with physical sensation, and not worrying that it will tip you over the edge. How does it feel to use different rhythms, angles, positions? Get used to noticing on your own, and then take the insights into partnered sex.
To reiterate: the sensations of sex are nothing to be afraid of. Guys who struggle with premature ejaculation often feel that their penises are too sensitive. A bit of numbing cream or spray can help, and you can still work on noticing how your penis, lower body and breathing feels inside.
The more internal sensitivity you develop, the more you can be in the moment and connect with your partner.
Piling all our hopes on mental distraction or strengthening our PC muscle will only keep us stuck and frustrated. Trying to move like a machine, disassociated from our bodies, makes for extended porn scenes but rubbish sexual experience for both partners. Get used to being in your own body.
Bonus tip: foreplay is your friend
Embrace foreplay to get warmed up and check your arousal levels before moving on to intercourse. Some guys rush from foreplay straight to the main event, thinking that their clock is ticking and they must devote their precious lasting time to intercourse.
Once we understand the gears, we know that it doesn’t work like that. Dropping down to first gear is not a problem when we know we’ll shift up again. We can let our arousal ebb and flow through foreplay and intercourse. And if you are past the ejaculation point of no return, go for it and enjoy.
Joe gets it
Joe learned about the gears of his sexual excitement, along with the reality of what was within his physical control. And it turned out that there was plenty he could control, when he wasn’t running too hot.
He also switched his conversations with Amy from awkward apologies to a dialogue about what they mutually enjoyed.
At our first mention of sexual mindfulness, Joe and I joked about gongs and tantric meditations. But he got it, and he learned how to put awareness into practice and felt the benefits for his sexual potency. Over time, Joe and Amy’s sexual experience was opened to humour and a more laid-back vibe.
My anxiety levels have dropped in general. It feels as if intercourse lasts longer as a side-effect rather than a massive end goal.
That’s the exactly the feedback I like to hear, and thanks Joe for letting me share it.