How to Revisit Sex With Someone After You Couldn't Perform
When I asked on social media for people to share stories about a time they failed to perform sexually, I was surprised to receive a Facebook message from Aiden, a 35-year-old sportswriter from Vallejo, California, who I'd gone on a couple of dates with in 2018. Searching my memory before our interview, all I really remembered about Aiden (a pseudonym) was that we hooked up on our second date and I never got an invitation for a third.
Intrigued, I managed to get Aiden on the phone, calling him from a crowded hip-hop concert in Houston (it was late and it was my birthday, but Aiden said it was the only time he could chat). I asked (practically shouted): "Do you have a particular story in mind about a time where you couldn't perform during sex?"
"Yes," he said. "It happened with us. Do you remember?"
I didn't. Quickly scanning my brain for what I recalled of that night, I couldn't remember much beyond the sulky Uber ride home and the lack of a follow-up date request.
I pressed Aiden for details, but he, too, was a little foggy. He told me he couldn't remember whether he'd struggled to get hard or had come too quickly, but admitted it was "probably a combination of both."
"I honestly probably just got overexcited and overstimulated," he said. "Meanwhile, what's also going on in my mind is: I don't want you to think that because I can't get hard it means you're not turning me on. I want you so bad that I can't get this thing to work right now.
"We didn't talk again after that," he continued. "And I always felt like, 'I hope she doesn't feel like I'm just blowing her off.' It was more just me being ashamed of myself."
Reflecting on the pressure he felt to perform that night—and with sex in general—Aiden said, "There's a lot of societal expectation of what sex really looks like based on what you see in popular culture, and porn doesn't help."
But he had grown since the incident, he told me.
"From there, I made a promise to myself with every other girl I met moving forward. I'd tell them, 'I like to take things slow and get comfortable,'" he said. "That resulted in better experiences."
Why we sometimes don't get it right
Aiden wasn't the only person I heard from who had a failure-to-perform story. In fact, every time I mentioned the theme of performance failure to an interviewee, I was met with nods and misty eyes as they told me of a missed opportunity with a college crush or supposedly-out-of-their-league Hinge date.
Across each story, I picked up a few common themes: There were usually intoxicating substances involved, they were frequently first times and rarely were they followed up with another date. More often than not, these incidents involved failure to get hard or premature ejaculation—but not always.
According to Chicago-based sexologist and pleasure coach Tyomi Morgan, failure to perform can happen to anyone of any gender and take many forms, from an inability to get or maintain an erection to vaginal dryness to a general lack of enthusiasm.
"It's really just any experience that doesn't meet your partner's or your own standards for pleasure and connection," she said.
Just as it takes many forms, performance failure arises for many reasons.
"There could be physiological issues like high blood pressure, cholesterol or other health issues that negatively impact blood flow," Morgan said, adding that psychological drivers are equally common—if not more so. "Mental health issues like depression, anxiety and stress can really impact the body's ability to be able to show up in sexual arousal and performance."
Specifically, in the case of vaginal dryness, Morgan said possible culprits could be medications, hormonal shifts and even the natural process of aging.
"As we age, our tissues change, our hormones change, and so the amount of natural lubrication can shift," she said.
In addition, she emphasized that vaginal dryness is sometimes due to plain and simple lack of arousal. "Sometimes there's just not enough foreplay before penetration," Morgan said.
How do you determine the real cause(s) behind recurring sexual misfires?
"Being able to pinpoint what is really going on requires people to sit down and take inventory of what's happening in their own bodies and environments," Morgan said.
Keep your pride in check
Among the people I spoke to, failure to perform was common, but brushing the ego off and trying again was not. Many, like Aiden, said they were afraid of rejection.
Morgan gets it.
"I'll say from personal experience, I had always had a 'one-and-done' attitude: If it was bad the first time, I'm not going to do it again," she admitted.
But after she had a lackluster lovemaking experience with someone she really liked, she boldly went where few foiled fornicators dare to go: She revisited sex after a disappointing first time—but not without an open, honest conversation first.
"Having a conversation with your partner about the anxiety is an important part of getting out of your head," she said. "Let your partner know that you desire them and you want to have sex with them, but you're experiencing some anxiety from the last time."
Laying out expectations is much more beneficial than silently lamenting them.
Practical tips for ensuring a successful next time
In addition to forthright communication, Morgan said many physical and mental health-related performance issues can be remedied with basic lifestyle changes such as sleep, healthy diet and exercise.
When it comes to anxiety, stress or feeling disconnected from your partner, Morgan recommended taking some time to check in before intercourse.
"Sit together and take some deep breaths, share appreciations with each other, do some eye gazing," she suggested.
"One of the major things that people need to do when having these conversations is to just drop the ego," she added. "Realize that if your partner is saying that something wasn't pleasurable or something didn't work, that's not a knock or diss to you as a person."