By the time he reached out to me, Nathan’s PE worries had escalated into full-on despair.
It was my secret, pathetic weakness. A two-pump chump. On the outside, I was confident, masculine and jacked. Inside, I had literally given up on myself.
Nathan had no problem attracting girls. 26 years old, he’d already achieved significant career success. His Instagram was inspirational and much followed.
But his insecurity and self-loathing around sex was threatening all of this. His struggle to make sex last had become a relentless source of anxiety.
Nathan explained that he’d pretty much turned celibate. He wanted sex, needed it even, but it caused him too much stress.
Trying all the things to last longer
He’d tried to fix the problem. During downtime, he fixated on finding the cause of PE, reading books on how to last longer, signing-up to self-help methods and techniques.
Nathan became an expert on kegels and edging and anything else he could do to somehow reprogram his body. He’d been on Reddit and the forums, scouring for any further insights that might explain what was wrong. He’d studied the reviews of creams, wipes and supplements.
But nothing had helped Nathan last longer. On the increasingly rare occasions that he hooked up with a girl, he became gripped by performance fears.
If I try to chill out and forget about it, I ejaculate too soon. If I try really hard to stay in control, I ejaculate too soon. No gains… stuck like this forever.
Nathan’s PE anxiety wouldn’t let up.
Overthinking and obsessing
At the gym, out with friends, watching Netflix. Thoughts of his perceived inadequacy would strike at any time.
Even at work, Nathan felt fake. An impostor, a secret failure. His imagination would spin up terrible outcomes of further failed romances, of being permanently alone.
He fretted that somehow women would see right through his confident game and mock his shortcomings behind his back. He harboured intense resentment towards the men who took their sexual abilities for granted, able to have sex for hours and do all the positions.
Nathan knew he wasn’t the only man with this problem – all those PE books on Amazon were testament to that. But this didn’t give him any respite.
It didn’t stop him from constantly ruminating on all the sex he would never have.
PE vs our emotional needs
To the uninitiated, it’s hard to believe that PE worries can have such a negative impact on men’s lives. But they often do.
Premature ejaculation is frustrating and embarrassing, but it tends to run deeper. Sexual struggles threaten our emotional needs.
Here are some of the fears that I frequently hear in my therapy sessions with men:
- Threat to intimacy: Sex is a fundamental part of relationships. If I can’t perform, I will always be alone.
- Threat to our sense of our own competence: I can’t get the basics right. Some men go for hours, I can only last for seconds.
- Threat to privacy: Every time I have sex, I reveal my inadequacy. I’m sure she will tell her friends.
- Threat to our sense of autonomy: I can’t even control my own body.
- Threat to status: Most men are better at sex than me.
- Threat to our sense of meaning: What is my relationship without good sex – a companionship arrangement? What is she doing with me? Why am I like this?
When our emotional needs are compromised, our mental health can spiral. No wonder Nathan felt anxious; that’s a lot of threats.
When sexual opportunity came along regardless, Nathan’s performance anxiety inevitably ramped up to the max.
It’s a big ask to put sexual techniques to use in anxious state. All that research and good work goes out of the window.
PE vs using our resources
In the face of any challenge, we’re all equipped with natural resources. Thank you, two billion years of evolution.
But sometimes, we misuse our resources. This leads us into frustration and hopelessness.
Nathan applied his rational mind to possible solutions. He delved into a community to search for answers. His memory tried to understand the patterns and make sense of his sexual history.
But most significantly, his imagination latched onto his struggle at every possible opportunity.
Obsessing and ruminating ramps up the pressure
When he first came to me, Nathan couldn’t envisage being relaxed and confident in bed. He had no problem at all imaginging the opposite, in full, scary detail.
None of this is a criticism of Nathan, or any man in this situation; it’s our survival instinct to focus on threats and negative scenarios.
But he can learn to use his imagination more constructively, an essential step in overcoming lifelong PE.
As part of this work, Nathan and I discussed ways of noticing and categorising his catastrophic thoughts around sex. He devised some ‘mental buckets’ to stick them in, such as ‘cruel world thoughts‘ and ‘circus freak thoughts‘ (really).
This kind of exercise helps us get some perspective. It’s a better use of the imagination for a start.
Then we turned to missing skills. At the top of this list is the ability to completely, deeply relax.
Nathan tried to force himself to relax during sex. It didn’t work, and here’s why.
Our nervous system needs to know it
Our nervous system has two strands of operation:
The sympathetic nervous system is ‘the accelerator‘. This is the aroused, anxious, excited state. We often describe this state as ‘fight or flight‘. It’s the mechanism that protects us from danger and, most relevant to this conversation, powers our ejaculation reflex.
The parasympathetic nervous system is ‘the brakes‘. This is our relaxed, in-control state. It enables us to calmly observe situations, think creatively and put our skills to use.
Sex requires us to shift between both of these modes, and this is where things get tricky.
We need to be sufficiently relaxed to have an erection. We start out in parasympathetic, in-control mode. Then as our sexual excitement builds, the sympathetic nervous system begins to take over – to ‘accelerate’ us to orgasm.
As we get closer, our conscious awareness narrows right down. Everything becomes about getting the job done.
Our breathing quickens, our heart rate increases and pelvic muscles contract. This is the reproductive reflex, the sympathetic nervous system doing its thing.
In neurological terms, this switch is an amazingly sophisticated process. But for guys who struggle with PE, it’s switching way too soon.
That’s why anxiety prematurely drives us to orgasm, despite our best efforts to slow down.
Anxiety and sexual excitement are closely related emotions, and they’ll power us past the cruising, parasympathetic stage in seconds.
The key to lasting longer is lowering emotional arousal, on demand
I showed Nathan a breathing and relaxation hack called the cooldown.
It’s pretty straightforward: a small inhale, directly followed by a bigger inhale, and then a big exhale all the way down through the body.
With a bit of practise and direction, this effectively resets us back into a more parasympathetic mode. And it relaxes the pelvis, resetting the contractions and tensions down there too.
As he worked on this, all the previous efforts he’d put into breathing and kegels and reverse kegels started to make more sense. He soon had a doable, on-demand technique to calm his arousal and anxiety during sex.
With the right training, we are all capable of learning how to ease into sex in a relaxed and confident state. How to ride out those initial, intense waves of pleasure when intercourse commences.
Nathan worked on other aspects too. His imagination was so good at spinning up fears and dire outcomes, we utilised it during this training to build his sense of confidence and progress.
With his expectations realistically set, he consistently worked on relaxation and lowering his anxious arousal day-to-day. He stopped searching for quick fixes and focused on utilising the resources he already had.
The more he got things into perspective, the less he felt threatened by sex. Lasting intercourse felt like less of a test, a trial of his masculinity.
Nathan learned how to enjoy sex again. How to be more present with his partner and his pleasure during sex, and less fixated on outcomes.
He had more capacity outside the bedroom to get on with his life.
If any of Nathan’s over-thinking resonated with you, you can benefit from this approach too. See my other resources for more on the techniques and training that really makes a difference.