Steve came to see me about his low sexual confidence. He wasn’t really called Steve and his wife wasn’t called Nicky, but he was happy for me to share his story with changed names.
Steve had a technique for dealing with his PE. When he and Nicky had sex, he would watch out for the familiar sensation of his approaching orgasm. When he felt close to coming, he would pull out and silently count to 20.
Steve would pause all movement during these precious seconds. Closing his eyes to shut off stimulation, he counted, deep-breathed and willed his arousal to subside. He went into plank mode, suspended in time above his wife.
When he felt sufficiently cooled down, Steve would go again for another 30 seconds or a minute until he felt close. He would repeat until he couldn’t hold back any longer, and would finally let himself come.
In terms of prolonging the time that Steve spent between Nicky’s legs, this approach worked. But Nicky wasn’t feeling it.
The interludes of waiting for Steve to cool down were frustrating and a bit boring. It was difficult for her to stay aroused and she would usually have her own private orgasm later with her vibrator.
For a long time, Nicky didn’t say anything. She knew that Steve was doing his best and she didn’t want to hurt his feelings. This was how Steve and Nicky’s sex life muddled along.
Finally, Nicky did say something. This is when Steve came to see me.
The stop-start technique for premature ejaculation was developed by urologist James H. Semans in 1956. It requires the man to stroke his penis until he feels the urge to ejaculate, then stop until the sensation passes. This is repeated multiple times before finally ejaculating.
This approach remains popular today, and you may well know it as edging.
By masturbating this way, the idea is that we become more aware of physical sensation and recognise when we’re reaching the point of no return. It’s a way to train ourselves to get used to stimulation and to delay all that orgasmic gratification.
Semans suggested that our partners could lend a hand, to get us more used to cooling down during partnered sex. In the 1970s, sex researchers Masters and Johnson adapted stop-start into stop-squeeze, or the squeeze technique. During the pauses, the partner squeezes the glans of the penis to soften the erection a little.
Note that we’re not talking death grip here; just a gentle application of pressure will suffice.
Of course, the stop-start technique can be used during sex too. Guys do this naturally, when we change position, remove clothing or reach for the lube. Even if just for a few seconds, we’re giving our excitement levels a chance to reset.
Steve was using stop-start to make sex with Nicky last longer. He’d always felt that he reached orgasm too easily and quickly, and he was determined not to repeat those previous experiences.
The trouble is, he was preoccupied with cooling down. When he paused, he completely disconnected from Nicky. Sometimes, if he’d let himself get really close, he would freeze in fear that the slightest movement or body contact would tip him over the edge.
The whole routine was awkward and riddled with performance anxiety.
Let’s see this from Nicky’s point of view. Here are some quotes from partners, lifted from a Reddit discussion on this very issue:
If I’m about to cum, I’d be annoyed.
For women who struggle to cum during PIV, I imagine it would be more frustrating.
I have my own concerns during sex, like not drying up or getting cramp. And what exactly am I supposed to do while he’s talking down his hard-on?
I enjoy a quickie and orgasm quite soon, so I don’t really see why my bf feels the need to keep stopping. He says he wants to get the most pleasure he can which I suppose is a compliment.
Remember that for many women, the duration of penis-in-vagina intercourse isn’t a big deal. They might not reach orgasm from intercourse alone, and enjoy different forms of stimulation. Guys have a tendency to fixate on lasting longer as the ultimate badge of sexual achievement. But if our partner isn’t going to orgasm from PIV anyway, we need to get creative.
Of course, plenty of women do enjoy sustained intercourse to reach orgasm. A steady build-up of friction, with variation in speed, depth and angle generally works best. The stop-start approach is a way of training ourselves towards that goal, but what if we’re not there yet. This might be personal development for us guys, but it can be super-tedious for our partners. Welcome to Nicky’s world.
Update: this 2023 Super Bowl commercial is jokingly alluding to premature ejaculation, of course. But wives and girlfriends across the nation will have been quietly nodding during the fishing scene.
How to do the stop-start technique
So how to cool ourselves down without killing the moment? We can begin by noticing her arousal levels as well as our own. Observe her responses: her breathing, the direction of her gaze and the movement of her body. Sometimes it’s so obvious where she is at and what she wants more of.
Use your words during sex, and don’t be afraid to take the initiative. When you stop and pull out, smile and ask her what she wants. Pull out and gently tease her vagina with the head of your penis; this lowers the stimulation for you and teases her in a good way. Or ask her to get on all fours, or to climb on top.
When you finally plunge back into her, her anticipation will be heightened and you’ll feel good to go again.
If you follow her cues and notice what she enjoys, there are many ways to keep up the sexual momentum. You might go down on her, or reach for her favourite toy. Suck on her breasts while your finger circles her clit. Run your fingers over her body.
This isn’t about frantically trying to excite her or ‘give her an orgasm’ by any means possible. It’s about both of you enjoying the spontaneity of sex.
Pause without pulling out
When you pause, does it need to be a complete withdrawal? Perhaps if you are sensitive or close to orgasm, but stopping inside her is recommended. It’s an opportunity to stimulate her clit and let her enjoy that filled-up feeling while you get a break from thrusting.
I like when he stops deep inside me while I’m orgasming. But it can’t be too often throughout sex or it would kill the buildup for my orgasms.
How to stop yourself from cumming? Slow down by all means as I like that too. But let me continue to enjoy the penetration, OK?
This might be too much stimulation for you right now, but pausing inside her is definitely something to try out and work towards. Remember that you can always mix this up with pulling-out pauses too.
Actively relax your lower body
It’s possible that the Masters and Johnson squeeze technique is too clinical. Your partner might be happy to go along and deliver that squeeze, but she’s unlikely to get off on it.
Some guys effectively use it on themselves during the breaks. With practice, it can become a cue for slightly softening the erection and building up arousal again. It helps with confidence when we learn that our erections can naturally ebb and flow during sex.
Another approach is to fully relax your glutes and PC muscle when you pause. If you’re not sure where your PC muscle is, try to pause the flow when you’re taking a pee – that’s your PC muscle contracting right there. If you’ve ever tried doing kegels, that’s also the PC muscle you’ve been working out.
Just contract your PC muscle and let it fully relax once. Feel the relaxation spreading down your lower body, all the way down to the floor. You can easily do this while changing position or stimulating her in some other way, and you’ll cool down much more effectively.
Find your connected state
As a psychotherapist, I’m always mindful of how so many of our problems are responses to a perceived threat. This is just as applicable to sexual worries as any other form of anxiety.
Steve’s approach to the Semans stop-start technique was a response to his fear of coming too soon. And just like all guys who struggle with premature ejaculation, this fear has deeper roots. The threat of disappointing our partners and ultimately finding ourselves alone. Not only does our relationship security feel under threat, but our status, competence and masculinity itself.
Some guys react by trying too hard, by frantically trying to bring their partners to orgasm every which way but through intercourse. In neurological terms, I see this as the fight-flight response to threat. There’s a nervous energy and desperation in their movement.
Other guys get by with a form of intercourse that doesn’t satisfy but is considered better than nothing. Steve’s freezing and counting makes me think of the hunted animal, staying as still as possible until the threat goes away. This is the shutdown response to threat, constantly activating and deactivating during intercourse.
When we’re not running, fighting or freezing, there is a third state that is the most conducive to social connection and most definitely sexual connection. In psychological terms, we call this the safe and social state. Sex in this mode is a playful mixture of arousal and calm. We are physically and sensually engaged with our partners, aware of our arousal and soaking up pleasure.
By the time Steve spoke to me, his fear was palpable. Nicky had expressed, as sensitively and delicately as she could, that she wanted things to be different. Steve heard it as another relationship ruined by his inability to perform.
To overcome premature ejaculation, misconceptions and fears around performance have to be addressed. Steve and I discussed the realities of partner’s desires and expectations, and how he could communicate with confidence to understand Nicky’s needs. Steve learned how to use these insights to be more open to intimacy and connection.
We also reflected that Nicky’s honesty was an opportunity rather than a threat. Their sexual routine wasn’t really sustainable; this was a chance to grow.
Steve could still use stop-start at times, just like every other guy does. Steve was introduced to other methods of relaxing into sex such as micro-pausing, pacing, different positions and angles. It was essential for Steve to learn how to move with less tension, especially after all that nervous freezing.
Semans stop-start technique for conditioning and creativity
I view stop-start during sex as a form of conditioning just like the solo version that Semans originally prescribed. We can get used to the intense sensations of penis-in-vagina for longer. And just as importantly, pauses are an opportunity for us to be sexually creative and understand exactly what our partners enjoy.
Ultimately, this switches our mental focus away from ‘OMG I’m cumming already’ and opens us up to the shared experience of pleasure.
For Steve, gone are the days of hovering over his wife in limbo. He’s ditched the performance anxiety too, realising that satisfying sex is a joint effort after all.