Sex talk
Speaking of Performance Anxiety

Simon Sheppard,

"I'm a versatile guy," says one fellow. "But I keep having performance anxiety whenever I top."

He's not alone, of course. Many a willie will wither when it counts. Stiffies are fickle things, and even the hottest fuck can go awry, more commonly than macho myth allows. Our nervous top confides, "A partner can tell me not to be concerned, and that sort of thing happens all the time. Which doesn't make me feel one bit better."

But it does happen all the time. All sorts of things – depression, distractions, drink, drugs – can deflate a dick. And HIV hasn't helped matters, adding a whole new level of concern, and inserting a penis-defeating pause while a rubber gets unrolled. What's more, a single bout of impotence can spiral, instilling doubts the next time around.

The advent of cock-stiffening pharmaceuticals, such as Cialis and Viagra, can divert possible disaster, though it's dangerous to use prescription drugs without a doctor's supervision (and mixing poppers with penis-proppers can be deadly). Worse, pills can mask serious underlying conditions – physical or psychological – that require treatment.

There are also simple, nonmedicinal tricks to keep a trick happy. Relaxation helps, but that can be tough to achieve. One fellow who's managed to deal with his fears says, "I've learned to remember that sex isn't a contest, and that no one's keeping score. As long as my partner and I enjoy ourselves and one another, that's what counts. And if I'm less than fully hard, well...that may be the time to forget about fucking and try something else instead."

And, beyond the brain, there are physical solutions, too. A cockring can keep a guy's wood hard as...wood. And knowing that nagging details are taken care of can keep a man's mind focused on fucking. Says a safe-sex fan, "If I'm expecting a date, I'll put out condoms and lube where they can be easily reached. There's nothing less sexy than fumbling in a dresser drawer."

Performance anxiety can be equally edgy with a permanent partner. "It's inevitable that desire ebbs and flows with time," says a fellow who's in a decade-long relationship. "But I've learned not to take a temporary low point too personally. And I've come to realize that my boyfriend rarely stays hard when he gets fucked, which doesn't mean he's not having a great time."

Though the phrase "performance anxiety" implies "can't keep it up," a man's worries can be broader than that. Whatever the specifics, there's the problem of pleasing a partner. No one, after all, wants to be regarded as a sexual flop. A perceptive observer of the gay scene says, "In many segments of the gay community, we're under all this pressure to be studs, to perform like sexual supermen. Not only is that unfair, it's kind of homophobic, as though being a 'real man' means ever-erect and always invulnerable. That's even stupid – while an orgasm is great, it's not everything."

Going into a new situation always produces some anxiety, and being naked doesn't help matters. "They say that one cure for stage fright is imagining your audience with no clothes," continues the scene-observer. "Maybe a cure for sex fright is imagining your partner clothed – as though he's a fully rounded human being with fears of his own – rather than a sex machine that requires mastering."

Performance anxiety has no single cause or cure. But remember that a non-trophy-winning bout in bed isn't a final judgment on one's worthiness, and that most men are, deep down at least, pretty damn nice and understanding.

And if they aren't, fuck 'em.

Simon Sheppard is the author of Kinkorama: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Perversion

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