There’s been a fair bit of research into this, and sometimes the findings make headline news. Let’s take a quick tour of the discoveries so far.
PE genetic research, against the odds
The familial link was first suggested back in 1943 by German urologist Bernhard Schapiro. He observed that men who struggle to make sex last usually have male close relatives who experience the same problem.
Now this wasn’t really investigated again until 1998 by Dr Marcel Waldinger. His work highlights the awkwardness and difficulty in studying this very private matter.
Dr Marcel Waldinger was a neuropsychiatrist and probably the most eminent researcher into premature ejaculation. Throughout his career, he explored the causes and various options for treatment. Dr Waldinger was massively respected in his field and his passing in 2019 is a significant loss.
In his 1998 study, 237 men who experienced lifelong premature ejaculation were evaluated. As part of the study, they were asked whether they would be prepared to speak to their male relatives to find out whether this was a shared experience in the family.
Due to the usual embarrassment and difficulty around this, only 14 of the guys in the study complied. Out of this much smaller sample, 10 found that they had close, first-degree male relatives (fathers or brothers) who ejaculated within one minute of penetration.
Another way that we can study genetic influence is by looking at twins. In 2007, a study examined the prevalence of premature ejaculation in male twins in Finland. Researchers concluded that there was a moderate genetic effect on premature ejaculation.
It’s worth noting that the Finnish study was questionnaire based, so it might not be hugely reliable. Guys don’t relish ticking boxes and answering questions about their darkest and deepest sexual discomforts.
If PE runs in the family, what does this mean?
Well, by 2009 advances in DNA analysis enabled a study that looked at men who experienced PE and their serotonin neurotransmission. Serotonin enables our brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with each other, to pass messages along the body.
When it comes to serotonin and premature ejaculation, the current thinking goes like this: when we’re having intercourse, sensory input from the movement of the pelvis drives us towards the ejaculation reflex. That input is constantly regulated by excitatory and inhibitory centers of the brain; the accelerator that’s motoring us along to orgasm and the brake system that tries to enjoy the ride for longer.
All of this is happening subconsciously, while we try to keep up the balancing act of arousal and intense pleasure for as long as possible. Deep down, the regulating process relies on serotonin and the way that it transmits from one cell to another.
Crucially, there is a strong genetic impact on this excitatory-inhibitory system. The 2009 study found that men with one specific serotonin genotype ejaculated a lot faster than guys with a different serotonin genotype.
This also affirms what was already known by this point: taking SSRI medication, which raises serotonin levels, has a significant impact on how long guys can last.
The myth of PE and genetic abnormality
To complicate matters a little further, it’s not all about serotonin. The Daily Mail article mentioned above was based upon another bit of research that looked at the relationship between dopamine and the timing of the ejaculatory response. Dopamine is another type of neurotransmitter that plays a major part in how we experience pleasure.
This research found that even though SSRIs can increase the duration of intercourse, guys taking this medication tend to report lower levels of sexual satisfaction – even though they’re lasting longer.
The Daily Mail described this finding as a genetic abnormality and that’s a bit misleading. These studies found variations in well-known genes. There’s nothing abnormal or defective going on here.
All of these studies concluded that more research is required. Hopefully this will lead to further insight, more understanding and better solutions for premature ejaculation in the future.
Family attitude is a PE factor too
Awkwardness and self-consciousness around sex tends to run in families too.
Let’s say that mum and dad regularly experience the frustration and low satisfaction of premature ejaculation or another sexual difficulty. This can generate a sex negative vibe in the household and kids will pick up on it.
When kids are curious about sex and ask questions, they might receive a negative or dismissive answer from their parents. If something vaguely sexual pops up on TV, this family might be even quicker to change the channel than your typical British family.
Children and adolescents absorb these messages. It happens subconsciously and can set up their own discomfort and awkwardness around sex further down the line.
We know that anxiety, negative sexual feeling and shame are significant contributors to premature ejaculation. The underlying cause may well be genetic or physiological, but such worries get in the way of seeking help and tackling the problem.
Conclusion: is premature ejaculation genetic?
Yes, there does appear to be a genetic predisposition to premature ejaculation and it relates to hormone levels and neurotransmission.
But this doesn’t necessarily account for all experiences of premature ejaculation.
There are so many other factors, including our sexual habits, expectations, levels of performance anxiety and relationship communication. It’s worth noting that the SSRI medication that changes serotonin levels doesn’t make any difference at all for quite a significant number of men.
A positive takeaway is that whatever the causes might be, there are plenty of things we can do to overcome premature ejaculation and last longer. Gaining skills is key to embracing and enjoying sex. And not handing down that negative vibe to our future generations.