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What does a lost erection during sex mean?

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Human beings are meaning making machines. Nothing inherently has meaning, but human beings give things meaning, and based on how they interpret and apply meaning will determine how the react to something.

Nothing can be more emotionally charged then when a couple is about to have intercourse (the only form of sex that requires an erect penis BTW) and the man loses his erection, either temporarily or for the rest of the session. It is interesting how couples will choose to interpret and deal with this development during sex.

The meaning either person gives to a lost or soften erection has serious implications for a couple’s sex life. Too often I see couples in my office, depressed, unhappy and worst of all, experiencing a diminishing sex life because of how they have interpreted their what their husband's penis is doing. Some believe the penis behavior means their husband no longer finds them attractive, other believe it’s telling them their husband is cheating on them or other still believe their husband now has Erectile Dysfunction (ED).  In reality it may be one of these, but more likely it is not.

Some Considerations

Here are some considerations to take in before you go interpreting what you or your partner’s penis is telling you.


The penis not behaving the way you or wife want it to does not qualify as a penis problem. Instead it may mean that your expectations are unrealistic in general or specific to that circumstance. Many people create a problem because they want their body to react and behave in ways it was not designed to. If you are exhausted, mentally or physically, under tremendous amount of work or financial stress, perhaps drink too much alcohol and smoke or are not in a satisfying relationship, your penis is not designed to work under these conditions. It may be that you are asking your body to do something in conditions that it is not designed to operate.

Age, Stress, Fatigue

A lot of what people learn about sex and how the body works is based on a 16 year old body. As many men can remember and women may also remember, it takes very very little for a young teenage boy to get an erection. However, as we get older, life get more complicated and sex becomes more easily accessible as well as complicated (unlike when you were young), what gets people arouse and keeps them aroused changes. A 30 year old body responds differently than a 40 year old body, than a 50 year old body and so on. If you are still using a 16 year old body model to interpret your penis' behavior or your husband’s penis behavior, you may get it seriously wrong.

Your Mind

The most important sex organ in the body is the mind! That’s right, it’s the mind not the penis or vagina or breasts. As we get older there are many more things that are competing for our mind’s attention such as work, finances, parenting, aging parents and even our own health issues. Then you throw in lack of sleep and all things make it harder to perhaps wants sex or even have the physical or mental energy to do sex.

As we get older and our lives get more (not less) complicated, our vision of what is “normal” in your sex life needs to be modify and adapt to fit your current situation. If you are still comparing your current sex life to what it was like at the beginning of your relationship is that helpful or even realistic? These type of assessments are not helpful and limit important conversation and turn more into finger pointing. So consider how your life has changed and that means your sex life will change too. So before you interpret a what a lost erection means, consider if you are basing it in the context of your life situation.

Relationships Quality

It is so surprising how people will come to see me for a sex problem. They will tell me how they are not having any sex. When I start to ask them about the quality of their relationship, they will proceed to tell me that they fight and argue, they are not happy and they have a lot of anger and resentment towards each other that they haven't been able to resolve. After tell me about how poor their relationship is they then want to know how to have sex. The reality is that in intimate sex, you cannot disconnect the quality of your relationship from the quality or even ability to have sex together. If you do not like your partner or are mad at them, sex is going to be difficult. Very few people can disconnect from how they feel about their partner to be able to have sex. Part of intimate sex is connecting mentally as well as physically.

If you want better erections or better sex, you need to examine the quality of your relationship. If it is really poor outside the bedroom, you will need to fix that in order to help your sex life. It's important to note too that Viagra will NOT fix erection problems that are related relationship issues. So if you take Viagra or another erectile drug and it doesn't work, it is a sign of a relationship problem. Viagra is not an aphrodisiac, it will not make a penis erect if the mind is not into it. So be warned.

Hierarchy of Sex

For some people, they make sex more complicated than it needs to be by creating a hierarchy of sex. The most unhelpful term is “foreplay.” This term implies that nothing other than intercourse really counts and if we don’t do IT then sex is  a failure. The only type of sex you need an erection for is intercourse, all the other types of sex do not require an erect penis. I love Gottman's definition of sex: "sex is any kind act you do to your partner throughout a 24 hour period." Wow that is a great definition that allows people to make love all day long!

Creating a hierachy of sex creates a very narrow way for people to express and enjoy all aspects of their sexuality. In fact, for most woman they cannot achieve orgasm through intercourse, so by over focusing on intercourse you may be missing some pleasure. By removing hierarchies you can enjoy sex in all of its forms and it is all good!

This also removes the pressure of is my body working right...yes your body is working right! There is no right or wrong way to do or enjoy sex!

Perhaps you may want to think about what is the purpose to set Sex up with a hierarchy. Perhaps, a better way to think about sex is to emphasize your pleasure and that of my partner? There are sorts all forms of sex, such as oral, anal, manual even the use of sex toys. By focusing on pleasure and connection, you don’t need just intercourse, but rather intercourse is just 1 tool in your tool box of sexual enjoyment.

Why stop sex?!

Another interesting reaction I find couples have is that that view sex like a bullet train that they cannot get off until they reach their destination of intercourse. So when the man looses his erection, I’m amazed at how many couples just stop their sexual encounter! I ask why and they say because he lost his erection…like it’s a requirement to stop? But as discussed earlier, that is only way to be intimate, there is absolute no need to stop but just do something else!

Another thing to consider is that sex is more like the MRT in which you can start and stop and get on and get off and change your mind where you are going given how things are developing. When people, by their own choosing (sometimes unconsciously) chose to put these criteria about sex, it limits their fun and enjoyment of sex.

So the next time one person isn’t able to do intercourse, consider the possibility of continuing by doing something else you both like. Remember that you don’t have to stop but rather do something else. Do you really need to make a big deal out of it? Do you really need to stop?

Health & Alcohol Use

Another factor that can affect erection performance is if a person is suffering from a cardiovascular disease. The penis works on blood flood and constriction. If your veins and blood pressure are not working well in your whole body, this can create problem with your erection and you would want to see a medical provider right away.

Alcohol abuse also contributes to erectile dysfunction. If you are abusing alcohol it will definition affect how well you can get and maintain and erection. If you are concerned about your drinking you would want to seek professional help for that.

Making Meaning

One of the saddest things I see is when a wife makes the meaning that her husband’s lost erection means her husband doesn’t find her attractive or even worse. Once the wife has decided that her interpretation is true, nothing the man says can change her reality. This sets sex up to be very anxiety producing for the man because he starts to really worry that if he loses his erection his wife will get up-set and see it as proof of loss of love or worse infidelity, even if it is not true. Then as he becomes more anxious he starts to avoid sex and this gets further interpreted by the wife. It becomes  vicious disconnecting cycle all based on misinformation and misinterpretation.  So again, slow down on how you apply meaning to this event and consider where you got your information.

Professional help

A lot of couples can benefit from learning how to talk about sex and develop one version of a sex life they both want. As you can see there are many possibilities of what erection or loss of erection can mean. Our marriage counsellor is a trained sex therapist and she can help you navigate this marriage challenge. Give us a call at 90307239

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