If you’ve tried to tackle your PE but without success, keep the faith. I’ll explain why the things we try don’t work, and what to do about it.
Joe’s story: too much, too late
Every time Joe had sex, his orgasm took him by surprise. He’d be having a good time, and then suddenly he’d find himself on the very brink of ejaculation. His girlfriend Amy could 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, force his penis to calm down. He tried to fix his mind on unsexy thoughts. Whatever he did, it felt impossible to regain control and he would ejaculate anyway. 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 really early and he would try to power through it. But thrusting away with a soft penis wasn’t doing it for him or Amy, and his disappointment and 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? Part of her started to take it personally, as partners so often do. 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 hold in a sneeze or stop yourself hiccuping? These are reflex physical actions, triggered on biological purpose, and our ejaculation response is just the same. Once the process begins, no amount of willpower can interrupt it.
When sexual excitement peaks, ejaculation has to happen. Freezing in mid air, holding our breath, clenching our muscles, pillow biting, thinking of brushing Donald Trump’s hair; ejaculation will still happen, just without the pleasure of release. Such desperate measures might even speed it up.
There are techniques for cooling down and lowering our sexual excitement, and they are effective when we adopt them before reaching the point of inevitable ejaculation. Well before this point, in fact. With a bit of practice, we can get into the habit of body awareness and relaxation before commencing intercourse.
So why was Joe leaving it too late? Why do so many of us repeatedly struggle with timing and get taken unawares by our own bodies?
A term that is popping up all over the world of health and physical performance is interoception. This is a scientific term for a simple process: 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.
One of the reasons why interoception is gaining attention is that in our stressed-out daily experience, we are losing the ability to do this subtle but essential body check. This has huge implications for men’s sexual performance. If we habitually ignore our levels of physical stimulation, excitement and anxiety during sex, how can we possibly expect to respond and regain control?
The influence of porn is a factor here. If we routinely masturbate to the distraction of a zillion porn scenes, we’re numb to our internal experience. There’s no need to check in on ourselves when the power of porn keeps us hard.
And when we have sex with our partners, a part of us expects to be able to effortlessly perform just like the guys in the scenes. Even if we experience difficulties or come too soon, we tell ourselves that next time we’ll be more like them. It’s a form of psychological passivity, which does nothing to develop our sexual interoception skills.
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.
We struggle to monitor and manage our sexual excitement due to a combination of these reasons, with anxiety thrown into the mix. If you identify with any of the above, cut yourself some slack; stress affects us all. Let’s review the fundamentals of sexual excitement and how to ride it with all of our senses engaged.
What works better?
Joe’s experience was like driving an automatic car (and a formlula one car at that, built for speed and winning races). Simply drive and park. He didn’t need any feedback from the clutch or awareness of the gears. And he was parking way too soon.
Joe and I got to work on mastering manual control instead. This meant learning how to sense which gear he was in, and how to smoothly change down when necessary. After a while, this becomes instinctive during sex just as it does for driving.
Here are the four gears of our sexual excitement:
- First gear: the perception of sexual pleasure and opportunity. In first gear, erection can come and go. Always remember that the penis undergoes normal, natural fluctuations in rigidity 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. Desperation to maintain 100% hardness will just stall the engine. The more we relax and let it happen, the more it will happen.
- Second gear: this is where we cruise along and take in all the pleasure. This includes observing our own bodily sensations and noticing if we are moving up through the gears too quickly. 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: we’re motoring towards the point of imminent 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: this is the red area on the rev counter 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.
Joe had been trying to force a change down from fourth gear, which is a physical impossibility. He needed to get familiar with second gear and get used to staying in it for longer, utilising a range of proven techniques. 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.
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 in second gear for the rest of the scene. But first gear softness does happen, I’ll guarantee it. It just gets edited out.
So how do we learn to notice when we’re switching up gears too rapidly? I teach a range of methods, from full-body sensation scanning to sexual mindfulness. One of the keys to enhanced physical awareness is getting comfortable with our thoughts and fears during sex, and not letting them block our interoception.
With a bit of practise, it’s easy for any guy to learn how to master sexual interoception without getting fixated on it or taking away from the pleasure. This applies no matter how long you might have struggled in the past. We all have the capacity to learn these new skills.
Everything from decreasing respiration to lowering your pulse to reducing the stress you carry in your body is possible with a higher sense of interoception. This is a proven biological phenomenon, and is massively useful in all areas of health and performance.
The trick when it comes to PE is equipping ourselves with a kit of useful methods, and not piling all our hopes on deep breathing or kegels or wishing the problem away. And learning the methods correctly, of course.
Takeaway tip: Embrace foreplay to get warmed up and check your excitement before moving on to more intense stimulation. 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 this and many more options open up.
And if you are past the point of no return, go for it and enjoy the orgasm.
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. He also switched his conversations with Amy from awkward apologies to a dialogue about the changes he wanted to make.
At our first mention of sexual mindfulness, Joe had envisaged gongs and silent meditations and colouring books. This perception changed as soon as learned how to put awareness into practice and felt the benefits for his sexual potency. Joe and Amy’s sexual experience was opened to humour, connection and much more confidence on both sides. It felt as if intercourse lasted longer as a side-effect rather than a massive conquest, and that’s the exactly the feedback I always like to hear.