I got divorced a few years ago and I have twin five year old boys. I fought for us to stay together but ultimately she wanted her independence back and so I had to give up control and let her go. I have tried dating a few people but ultimately end everything before giving them a chance. I know a lot of it has to do with my fear of getting hurt again and as a result, I have found that every sexual experience I have had post divorce, I am unable to get an erection when the relationship gets to that point. I have been to a doctor and have determined that it is not erectile dysfunction so I am fairly confident it is psychological. I don’t know what to do and I feel like I avoid relationships now because I know ultimately that thing is going to happen again.What can I do to get over this?
Get Checked by Your Doctor
- Session 1: Kissing, hugging, talking, and being emotionally intimate are okay but no touching genitals or breasts.
- Session 2: All of the above and you are also allowed to touch breasts and touch more heavily. Still no genital touching.
- Session 3: Now you are allowed to touch genitals but only with hands.
- Session 4: Everything aside from penetrative sex is allowed, including oral sex.
- Session 5: No restrictions.
The intention of sensate focus is to help people focus intently on the sensory experience of intimacy. Slowing down and taking things step by step helps to alleviate the massive pressure that people often feel to perform during sex. It also serves as a form of exposure where you are gradually approaching the thing that you have been avoiding due to trauma, problematic relationships, or previous negative experiences. To be clear, it can feel like torture to deny yourself the kind of sex that you want, especially because people often find that they are ready to get into it after the first couple sessions, but that’s actually the point. You want to build the desire and the restraint at the same time. Whenever possible, sensate focus or any other exercises meant to tackle sexual dysfunction are best done with a trained and licensed sex therapist. The description above is just one example of how sensate focus might go. It is important to realize that there are adaptations for LGBTQ+ people, people in polyamorous relationships, and more.
Start and Stop
Another exercise that can be helpful has to do with masturbation. Sex therapists will often suggest masturbating several times per week using the “start and stop” technique. Basically this means that you start touching yourself until you get a full erection (again, this is for non-medical ED). Once you get an erection, you stop masturbating and wait for it to come back down. Then you start again. Repeat this process three or four times and then finish if you want to. The point is to help you get used to the idea that things are more fluid than we think. You can get an erection, lose it, and get it back again. This technique helps to combat the feeling of shame and defeat that comes along with losing an erection in the moment. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of black and white thinking and assume that once you lose an erection during intercourse, its all over and you ruined the experience. That does not have to be the case.
Expand Your Ideas About Sex
Here in the US, we tend to have a very straightforward, linear view on sex. What we see in movies and porn is that you start kissing, have minimal foreplay, jump into penetrative sex, pump away as long and fast as you can, and then magically have simultaneous mind blowing orgasms from intercourse alone. In reality, that’s pretty unrealistic and it can be very helpful to simply expand your mental framework regarding sex. One way that I like to do this is by listening to knowledgeable people talk about it. There are many great sex-related podcasts and Youtube channels out there. I would suggest Sex with Emily, Shameless Sex, Sex Nerd Sandra, and Sexplanations. By taking in this type of content, you can become a little more flexible in the way that you think about sex and you can expand your sexual vocabulary.
- Challenge your notions about what sex “should be”.
- Approach the problem instead of avoiding it.
- Expand your ideas and vocabulary by taking in content.
- Try sensate focus and stop-start techniques to reduce the pressure in the bedroom.
If you’d like to hear about this in more detail and learn whether it is unhealthy to show off your body sexually over the internet, check out episode 160 of the Hardcore Self Help Podcast!