Why can't my boyfriend stay hard?

Written with
Amanda Barge

Does my boyfriend have erectile dysfunction?

Let’s start with a definition from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). They tell us that if your boyfriend hasn’t been able to get or keep an erection for at least 6 months (and experiences erection issues in almost all sexual encounters), he probably has something called erectile dysfunction (ED).

Your boyfriend may fit the criteria for an official ED diagnosis, or he may just struggle to get it up on the odd occasion. Either way, if you feel like it’s impacting your sex life or your relationship, Mojo is here to help you both.

Before we dive in, we want you to know that erection issues are very common for both younger and older men. So, if your boyfriend can’t stay hard, you're not the only partner out there looking for answers. 

Why does my boyfriend have erectile dysfunction? 

Erections can be affected by a pile of possible causes.

These may include: 

  • Psychological reasons (such as the stress of starting a new job, or struggling with low self-esteem)
  • Physical reasons (anything from blood flow issues to a hormone imbalance)
  • Lifestyle reasons (perhaps a boozy night out or too many greasy take-outs)

There are some relationship-related issues that could lead to psychological ED.

These may include:

  • A recent argument or conflict, which means sex isn’t the top of the agenda
  • Performance anxiety, where your boyfriend actually wants to impress you so much that he may be putting a little too much pressure on his penis 
  • Going through a stressful time as a couple, such as moving in together, getting a new dog, or trying for a baby
  • The ‘C’ word: communication (or lack of). This could impact anything from discussing sexual issues to sexual preferences
  • The other ‘C’ word: cheating (or other trust issues), which could see you wave goodbye to libido

But we’re here to reassure you that it’s much more likely to be one of many other potential psychological, physical, or lifestyle reasons. 

Still don't believe us? Check out this post about all the possible ED causes. It’s a long list, so you’ll want to grab a cup of coffee first.

My boyfriend can’t stay hard. Is it my fault?

If your boyfriend can’t get hard, it’s not surprising that your mind will jump to the worst case scenario: 

  • Have I lost my sex appeal?
  • Am I bad in bed?
  • Does he not enjoy having sex with me?
  • Is he no longer attracted to me? 
  • Does he no longer want to be in this relationship? 

These are all perfectly normal thoughts. 

But now we’ve taken a look at all of the possible causes of ED, we know that the reason your boyfriend can’t stay hard is very unlikely to be your fault. 

To recap: 

  • A physical reason? Not your fault
  • A lifestyle reason? Not your fault
  • A psychological reason? Also not your fault. And, even if their psychological ED has been triggered by a relationship challenge, it doesn't mean you’re to blame

My boyfriend has ED and won’t touch me

If your boyfriend is avoiding sex (or any physical touch), he could be trying to avoid his erection problems. 

As a partner, this may leave you feeling confused, frustrated, or even rejected.

Meanwhile, he may be feeling everything from guilt and embarrassment, to failure and vulnerability. He might also be in denial – figuring out how to acknowledge or address the problem. 

It’s obvious that an explosive mix of emotions will be bubbling away behind the scenes, so communication is a vital first step. We’ll touch more on this soon. 

ED in a new relationship

Starting a new relationship is an exciting time. Date nights, butterflies, kissing in the rain. Okay, maybe that last one is just a scene from The Notebook. 

But if the honeymoon phase is full of excitement, arousal, and sexual exploration, how can erection issues creep in? 

Excitement versus anxiety

We spoke to Mojo’s Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist, Amanda Barge, who explained that it doesn’t take much for your body to mistake the excitement of a new relationship as anxiety:

“Excitement and anxiety trigger very similar processes in the body. Sometimes it’s quite difficult for people to differentiate between the two.

If the body is in an anxious state, it goes into fight-or-flight mode. When this happens, the brain prepares the body for defense by directing blood to the muscles (and away from the penis). 

We can see through evolution that there are very good reasons why a man in fight-or-flight would be very unlikely to have an erection.  A boner is not going to help a man running away from a saber-toothed tiger!”

Amanda Barge, psychosexual and relationship therapist

Sexual performance anxiety

Performance anxiety is when a man feels stressed and anxious about performing during sex.

This can creep into new relationships for a number of reasons, including:

  • Pressure to satisfy and pleasure his partner 
  • Proving that ‘he knows what he’s doing in the bedroom’ and that ‘he can last for the right amount of time’ (what is ‘right’, anyway?)
  • Worries about his penis or body image

So, if you’re sweating over whether he’s not into you, it’s most likely the opposite thing going on: 

“Men often have ED because they care too much. They want to satisfy their partners more than anything.

It’s not a lack of desire, it’s that they’ve gone into an anxious state.”

Amanda Barge, psychosexual and relationship therapist

When performance anxiety creeps in, your boyfriend will be experiencing the same fight-or-flight reaction, and he simply won’t be able to get hard.

ED in long-term relationships

If you’re in a longer-term relationship, it’s natural to experience ups and downs together, and this will naturally have an impact on your sex life, and more specifically, your boyfriend’s boners.

External stresses

External stresses can come from anywhere and everywhere, and they can have a bigger impact on your boyfriend’s libido and erections than you might first realize. 

These stresses can be a build-up of smaller daily stresses, such as missing the train to work or burning your toast. And they can also be bigger life stresses, such as:

“The stress of moving house, taking out a loan, change or loss of jobs, family bereavement, or trying to conceive.”

All of these external stresses, no matter how big or small, can all have an impact in the bedroom.”

Amanda Barge, psychosexual and relationship therapist

Fluctuating sex drive

Your boyfriend’s libido (AKA sex drive) could have dropped lower than usual. But remember, it’s perfectly normal not to be horny all the time.

Sex drive is fluid and prone to change, even on a daily basis. Things like tiredness and stress can all have a part to play in how horny your boyfriend is feeling. 

Both of your libidos could also go up and down at different times. This can lead to a mismatch of sex drives, and it’s unlikely that you’ll always be perfectly in sync when it comes to libido. 

My boyfriend has erectile dysfunction, what should I do?

First things first, communicate with your boyfriend

It’s cliché, but communication really is key.

Addressing the issue with your boyfriend for the first time will feel like a daunting conversation, so check out our top talking tips here.

Guide your boyfriend to speak to his doctor

Talking to a doctor can help to pinpoint the cause of your boyfriend’s ED.

Getting to a formal diagnosis early on can get your boyfriend on his way to better erections as soon as possible.

Psychological ED is a key cause of many erection issues (especially in younger guys). So, your doctor can help you rule out anything physical, and instead of being prescribed pills, your boyfriend will be able to follow an appropriate plan to tackle his psychological erection issues. Mojo can help with that bit.

And, perhaps most importantly, ruling out anything more serious will save you (both) endless hours of worrying. 

Educate yourself about ED

Absorbing as much information as possible will help arm you with understanding, empathy, and knowledge for when you and your boyfriend are ready to talk about his erection issues.

There’s heaps of information out there on the web, but we also encourage you to sign up to Mojo’s trial. Here you’ll be able to learn all about erectile dysfunction and performance anxiety.  

We also have a Partners Portal on Mojo’s Community, where you can chat to other partners who have boyfriends with ED.

Take the focus off the penis and penetrative sex

Change up your sexual go-tos, focus on foreplay, and let your boyfriend know that you love being pleasured in other ways – like using his mouth and hands instead of his penis. This can take some pressure off his erection. 

Meditation and mindfulness exercises

Meditation and mindfulness can help with psychological ED. They will encourage your boyfriend to get out of his head during sex and teach him how to be more present in the moment. 

Mojo has a range of mindfulness exercises and meditations for your boyfriend to try out – including breathing exercises, mindful masturbation, and grounding techniques. 

There are solo meditations as well as partnered meditations, which you can do together when you’re ready. Take a peek here

Take things slowly and be kind to yourself 

At Mojo, we hear some guys solve their erection issues overnight, and for other guys it can take a little longer – so be prepared to work through things slowly. 

We understand that ED can take a toll on partners too, so we’re also here to support you. Ask us your burning questions here. 

How to talk to your boyfriend about erectile dysfunction

It’s not easy to talk about erections.

“Men often feel that they can’t approach their partner about ED, which is always a very sad thing to hear.

It’s about reassuring them that by being vulnerable, the partner will be better placed to understand their issues and work through it together.”

Amanda Barge, psychosexual and relationship therapist

But, we're changing that at Mojo. 

There’s a few things that can help you have a successful conversation: 

  • Pick a place and time to talk when both of you are relaxed and comfortable, like your living room. Or pick some neutral territory, like a walk in the park. 
  • Introduce insights that you’ve learned from your own research. This could include how many other guys experience ED and why it may be happening. Amanda explains that “this will help to provide some initial reassurance and relief that this is actually quite a common problem. And that it can be resolved.”
  • This one is obvious. But keep in mind how he may be feeling, and try to stay as calm and supportive as possible. Creating a safe space for any future conversations is important.
  • If you can, take a big breath and speak confidently and assertively. You can help set the tone for the conversation. As Amanda tells us: "Men are often pretty terrified when they first speak to their partner. After a few minutes of seeing how comfortable the partner is talking about these subjects, it provides men with some much-needed relief.”

If you’re not ready (or he’s not ready) to have an in-depth chat about his erectile dysfunction, then one of the easiest things you could do is send him a link to Mojo’s website in the meantime.

He can dig a little deeper, familiarize himself with ED, and hear from thousands of other guys in our community who have also opened up about their erection issues (and overcome them).

What not to do if your boyfriend has ED

We’ll keep this section short as most of these are a no-brainer, but try to remember not to:

  • Compare his erections and performance in the bedroom to past sexual partners, what you’ve discussed amongst friends, or what you’ve seen in movies (or during porn)
  • Talk about erection issues in the bedroom. This should be a place reserved for sex and sleeping
  • Play the blame game (that means not blaming yourself either)
  • Become defensive or make it all about you (even though we know it can be tough on partners too) 
  • Talk about ED late at night when you’ll be tired. Also don’t talk during or right after your boyfriend has experienced an erection issue, as emotions will be running high(er) 
  • Jump to the worst conclusions. Remember your boyfriend’s ED is probably nothing to do with you or your relationship, and don’t forget it’s common and treatable

Should you leave your boyfriend if he has ED?

Absolutely not. Countless couples have overcome erectile dysfunction together, so erection issues alone shouldn’t be the reason you break up with your boyfriend.

You’ve already taken the first step

You’ve got this far so you’re already nailing it.  

If you or your boyfriend would like to find out more about erection issues, try our trial to access our expert-led video courses, meditations, exercises, and techniques.

Mojo aims to provide useful wellbeing resources to its users; however, you should not solely rely on opinions or advice available on the Website or given by the Community. Always seek advice from a qualified medical doctor or other healthcare professional before acting.

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