Welcome to You Need Help! Where you’ve got a problem and yo, we solve it. Or we at least try.
Q: I am currently living abroad, and a month ago I met my incredible (now) girlfriend. Even knowing that I will not be here much longer, I trust her and feel so strongly about her that I got over my fear of sex and did the deed for the first time (and subsequently other times) with her. Thanks to some combination of instinct, communication, and advice from Autostraddle articles, I am able to make her feel really good, which feels great to me (emotionally). However, my body does not seem to be able to handle being aroused for more than 5–10 minutes at a time, after which I either just lose arousal or have a miniature orgasm (not even noticeable to her) and then lose it. I think it may have to do with the fact that I have been masturbating in exactly the same way for the past 10 years, beginning when I was a 12-year-old who felt the whole thing was dirty and so I tried to be as quick and quiet as possible, never even touching myself directly (always only through my clothing) and then falling asleep immediately afterward. Is there any way I can retrain my body to be better able to maintain arousal? I have been eating healthy foods and getting plenty of exercise, and I do not feel pressure to orgasm. She is in no way pressuring me to do so — she has repeatedly emphasized that our physical intimacy is not goal-oriented. It just feels bizarre to me that I cannot stay aroused (again, orgasming is not the goal) when the initial arousal comes so easily at first and I feel so safe and in love with her. We have talked about this — I wanted to make sure she knew exactly what I was feeling, in particular so she does not feel like it is her “fault” that my body does not always respond when we touch. The only advice I have been able to find on the internet about difficulty maintaining arousal is geared toward cis-men…
A: First of all, it’s so great that you and your girlfriend are talking about this in a way that seems super loving and healthy! Excellent job, there are so many people who are in relationships for years and years and years who aren’t able to have those kinds of conversations with their partners. Also, congrats on avoiding the tunnel-vision focus on orgasming that a lot of people fall prey to. Round of applause just generally, you seem to be doing a bang-up job.
As far as the actual question goes: I can’t be sure of how much we can help, because bodies are each their own strange rogue weather balloons sailing through the night, inciting their own unique false UFO sightings. It’s sort of asking a group how to get rid of a headache — you’ll get a dozen different answers, and maybe none will work for you or maybe all of them will. That said, here are some ideas! Maybe one of them will be helpful in some way.
First, some more immediate things to try with your girlfriend, since time is of the essence:
I may be missing something as far as how you’re describing your experience, but it seems like your level of arousal drops off after you orgasm (although maybe it’s also dropping off regardless of whether or not you orgasm). If this is in fact the case, she can focus on touching you in ways that aren’t connected to orgasm for you, and that feel good but aren’t necessarily going to make you come, like breast play or penetration. To the extent that you’re able to, try to really be aware in the moment of how those things are making you feel, how they’re affecting your levels of arousal and pleasure.
If/when you find that your body isn’t “responding” to sexual touching in the way that you’d like, your girlfriend can instead try touching you in ways that are sensual and intimate but not explicitly sexual — running her fingers down your back, kissing the back of your neck, sensitive areas like inner thighs, etc. If you’re in a space where touch meant to be sexually stimulating doesn’t feel good, this kind of touch might work better.
I’m not sure what kind(s) of sex you’re interested in having, but this might be a good chance to explore sexual play that isn’t necessarily based in the body: sexting or phone sex, teasing each other in public or semi-public, kink or roleplaying games. It’s possible that these things might be satisfying, stimulating and pleasurable to your brain and person without putting a lot of pressure on your body to perform or respond in certain ways.
Most of these things aren’t necessarily going to address your particular sexual response at its root, I don’t think; that’s probably going to take longer than the limited amount of time you have left face-to-face with your girlfriend. That said, here are some ideas to try at home on your own time:
First and probably most importantly, you have to try masturbating differently. Try lots of different ways of masturbating! A new one every day! Including ways of masturbating that don’t seem likely to bring you to orgasm! Use toys, positions, movements, stimulation, locations, audio/visual components or not, any combination of them that isn’t what you normally do. It would probably be a great idea to keep a diary about it, like the Sex Cure suggests. The goal here isn’t to find a new way of masturbating to replace your old way, necessarily, but to experiment with lots of different sensations and see how they make your body feel. Ideally, there isn’t really even a “goal” here; the point is the process of exploration and trying new things, not any particular end result. This is a long-term experience, not something you’re going to figure out in a week, and that’s fine. It will make for a great thing to continue discussing with your girlfriend and talking through as you transition to living farther apart! The only rule is that masturbating the same way you have been isn’t allowed (for now).
In addition to figuring out what your genitals like in terms of arousal, spend some time working on what your brain likes, too. Arousal and sexual pleasure are usually at least as much about what our brains are experiencing as our bodies. How does it make you think and what does it make you feel when you watch or read different types of porn? Or when you learn about different sexual practices or preferences? When you try to construct new fantasies? Try thinking about these things both in conjunction with masturbating and outside of that, and notice the difference. How much of your frustration with your patterns of arousal is with your body’s reactions and how much of it is based in your brain?
A not-explicitly-sexual yet maybe useful thing to try is general meditation. You know, the kind where you sit still and try to focus on your breath with no distractions for ten minutes a day. Although I personally have never succeeded at making it a regular practice, it seems (for many people) that an effect of meditation is becoming more aware of yourself, your body, and your brain, sometimes excruciatingly but often helpfully so! Sitting quietly and just sort of hanging out with your body in an intentional way can slowly make it feel less like a weird hotel room you’re staying in where you don’t understand how any of the light switches work.
Will any of this stuff help you? It’s a mystery! An exciting mystery. But the fact that you and your girlfriend are both exploring how your body works so thoughtfully can only be a good thing. Good luck, feathered friend!
Send your questions to youneedhelp [at] autostraddle [dot] com or submit a question via the ASK link on autostraddle.tumblr.com. Please keep your questions to around, at most, 100 words. Due to the high volume of questions and feelings, not every question or feeling will be answered or published on Autostraddle. We hope you know that we love you regardless.