What's Actually Going on When a Man Can't Orgasm
There are myriad factors that can keep him from finishing — none of them are you.
As a woman, I have a hard time not blaming myself when my male partner doesn't come during sex. No matter how much I write about sex, or how many experts I speak to, if we're having sex and he can't finish, I spend the rest of the night wondering if there was something I could have done differently. And let me tell you, it's the opposite of sexy.
If you've found yourself in this position, obsessing over the "why," know this: it may be complicated, but this issue is actually incredibly common. "There's this idea that all a man needs to do to come is to have sex, but that isn't the case," says Megan Stubbs, Ed.D, a sexologist and relationship expert. "There has to be a connection between what's happening with their body and their mind, the same way it is for women." So the idea that all men need is a tight, warm space to put their penis? Totally bunk, it turns out. (Men! They're just like us!)
While most men will experience some sort of inability to orgasm from time to time, there is a more serious condition delayed ejaculation syndrome. This syndrome is defined by an inability to have an orgasm after more than 30 minutes of penetrative sex, despite an erection. It's usually diagnosed after the problem has been happening for six months or more, and it affects one to four percent of men.
For your run-of-the-mill erectile issue, it often comes down to mind games; men are affected much in the same way that women are when it comes to their minds messing with their libidos. "Stress could be a factor, as well as lack of sleep," Stubbs says. Emotions also play a huge role in this. If you and your partner are in a new relationship, that trust level to truly let go may not have been built up yet.
Certain prescription medications can also take the air out of his libido. Daniel Olavarria, LCSW, a therapist in New York City mentions selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, like Prozac and Lexapro, as medications that list sexual dysfunction as a side effect. "This is due to the fact that as the medication is affecting neurotransmitters in your brain, it can inadvertently impact the ones tied to sexual arousal," he says. These medications are improving, and the side effects don't affect everyone, but if your partner pops these pills, that could point to the issue at hand.
Drug and alcohol abuse can also affect your partner's ability to achieve orgasm. "While some may feel that they rely on drugs or alcohol to reduce their inhibitions and their feeling of anxiety around sex, it often has the opposite effect," Olavarria says. "Alcohol, for example, can depress your nervous system, which reduces sensations and negatively affects oxygen flow and blood circulation via dehydration." It can also negatively impact the body's testosterone production, the hormone that's responsible for sex drive.
There is also a buffet of medical issues that can affect your man's ability to get off. "Diabetes, neurological issues, and cardiac conditions affecting blood circulation — like high cholesterol or high blood pressure — are a few examples," Olavarria says, adding that it's important to remember that there might not be just one thing that causes a man to not be able to climax. It can be a combination of factors, many of which are completely normal to experience from time to time.
"Most women can't orgasm every time they have sex, but they still enjoy themselves during sex," Stubbs says. "It's the same thing for men." But if you're noticing it's happening with your partner, don't be afraid to talk to about it — in the right way, of course. "The worst thing you could do is be accusatory," Stubbs says. Don't grill them on what's going on. Ask them if they want to talk about it. If they say no, and they say that they're still enjoying themselves, then feel free to proceed as normal.
Don't try to coax the cum out of them, either. Trying to pump until it finally happens can cause issues — from muscle strain to chafing. It may be tempting to play up porn and whisper, "I want you to come" in their ear. "But that might have the opposite effect," Stubbs says. "The pressure to come can take away the ability to come. Just let things play out naturally."
These things tend to come and go, Stubbs says, so the occasional inability to finish is not cause for concern. But if it happens over an extended period of time, you can start to ask some questions. "If he's able to bring himself to orgasm on his own, and not with you, then that's something you guys may need to have a discussion about," she says. If your partner has a masturbation habit that is impeding your sex life (say, if he can only come once a day and he's doing it solo), then you should be able to reach a compromise. But if he's unable to come at all, and it shows no signs of improvement, it may be time for him to talk to a doctor. And that's his conversation to have; it's not your place to suggest switching medicines or therapies. Your partner should "seek out the guidance of [their] medical provider or a therapist to begin the process of identifying and resolving the underlying causes," Olavarria says. "The great news is that with the proper support and treatment, [he] can reclaim [his] libido and enjoy sex again."
The most important thing to recognize is that there is a vast universe of what is normal when it comes to sexuality and our bodies — and anyone else experiencing difficulty from time to time has exactly nothing to do with you, your technique, or your efforts. Plus, a fulfilling sexual experience doesn't always include an orgasm for everyone involved; have your fun, and make sure he feels supported, too. If you're both enjoying the act, and no one is chafing, then you're doing A-okay.