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Can’t Get Hard? 8 Tips for a Steamy, Sexy Good Time Anyway

Published: JULY 28, 2016 | Updated: JANUARY 12, 2022
Think that you can't be intimate with your partner because you can't get an erection? Think again.

One of the most common fears and frustrations I hear from clients is that they can’t count on an erection to show up when they want one. That very fear makes it even more likely that their erection will be shy. Anxiety, fear, and self-consciousness do nothing to enhance sexual pleasure. So what can you do? Well, a visit to the doctor is often the first step, just to make sure there aren’t any underlying medical concerns. For some people, pills can be an option. Sometimes just knowing they’re on the shelf sets the mind at ease. Yet, there’s a lot more to sex and intimacy than penetrating someone with a penis, and feeling confidant in your other options can make sexual encounters much less stressful - and much more fun. Here's how to have a hot, satisfying time, even without an erection.


Examine Your Views of Sex

Our mainstream cultural view of sex can be pretty narrow, and also very goal oriented. Pressure to “get laid” and “get off” leaves people thinking that without penetrative sex that culminates in an orgasm, a sexual encounter is somehow lacking. This narrow view isn’t doing anyone any favors, and it’s vastly limiting the possibilities for intimacy and pleasure. Consider expanding your view of what "sex' means, and you may end up getting a lot more of it.

Remember That Intimacy Isn't Just Sex

That said, you don’t need to have any kind of sex at all to cultivate intimacy with a partner. Taking sex entirely off the table often helps make time for other activities. When you’re not just trying to make it to the bedroom, you can focus on savoring a meal and a long conversation without watching the clock or wondering what comes next or when to make a move. Other activities, like partnered yoga or massage, or even some kinky adventures like rope bondage, can be an excellent way to engage with someone’s body and be up close and personal, without ever engaging in genital touch.

Try Oral Sex

Even when it comes to sex, there are still a lot of options that are often overlooked, or considered foreplay rather than the main course. Oral sex is a fantastic option that many people consider even more intimate than penis-in-vagina sex. Oral sex is a great way to provide pleasure to a partner, or even orgasm, while also getting to closely explore their body. What you may not know is that fellatio can still provide a great deal of pleasure to a person with a penis, even when that penis is not erect. As a result, it's an option that's often overlooked. (Get some tips; read 6 Superstar Oral Sex Positions.)


Consider Hand Jobs

Hand jobs are another alternative that seems to be considered less-than, which is unfortunate. The degree of dexterity we have with our hands makes them an ideal choice for sexual acts. Our hands can touch our partners with a great deal more precision than our genitals or our mouths, making them a perfect tool for both exploration and providing pleasure. Again, there is no need to have an erection to enjoy receiving genital touch. Male genitals are still exquisitely sensitive when flaccid.

The penis doesn’t have to be the only focus. Many people enjoy touch to their scrotum or perineum. If being touched when soft feels too vulnerable, incorporating that touch as part of a full body massage, rather than the focus, can be a more comfortable way to start.

Don't Overlook Anal Play

Anal exploration is another often-overlooked option. Massaging the exterior of the anus can be very pleasurable for any gender, and avoiding penetration can be a safer way to begin exploring this form of play. For people open to anal penetration, especially those with prostates, there are even more options. It is possible to have an orgasm from prostate stimulation that doesn’t require an erection and doesn’t lead to ejaculation - making multiple orgasms possible. (Not sure what to do? Read sex educator Ducky Doolittle's explanation about how to massage prostate.)


Experiment With Sex Toys

Sex toys are going more mainstream and more couples than ever have a dildo or vibrator in the bedroom. These options are a fabulous go-to in a variety of circumstances. You can use toys on your partner, or simply watch them pleasure themselves. Watching the way someone touches themselves is one of the best ways to learn about what they like, so you can incorporate that information into the way you touch them. (Read more in 10 Ways Sex Toys Can Help You Drop Guilt and Sexual Shame.)

Breaking the Association Between Intimacy and Sex

While mutual pleasure and simultaneous orgasm are goals for many people, getting away from that pattern at least some of the time can be helpful. Although both partners in a relationship should have their needs considered and catered to, that doesn’t mean that every encounter has to be equally about both people. For many of us, learning to be the center of attention and to simply receive touch and pleasure can be incredibly difficult and powerful.

If an erection isn’t present, that can be a fantastic time to focus on other methods of pleasuring a partner. Then, each person has an opportunity to shift their focus and experience new things. For the person receiving touch, they have an opportunity to focus on their own body and their own pleasure without the pressure to reciprocate touch at all times. For the person touching, they have a chance to really witness their partner receiving pleasure, to enjoy their reactions, without the distraction of their own body or pleasure at the same time. As a side benefit, when you stop trying for an erection and focus on other activities, sometimes an erection will show up.


Get Intimate - By Talking About It

One of the most intimate activities you can engage in is simply talking. That’s a great place to start before trying any of the above suggestions. Taking time to discuss what each person likes, and being brave about revealing your interests or kinks, can build a great deal of trust and can be a valuable exercise all on its own. It’s also helpful to talk in advance about the range of activities you’re interested in engaging in, so that when you need or want to switch to a plan B or C, you already know what your options are and can make a smooth transition.

When we move beyond a narrow view of sex, our options for creating intimacy are limited only by our imaginations.

Stella Harris

Stella Harris is a certified intimacy educator, coach, and mediator, who uses a variety of tools to guide and empower her clients and she teaches everything from pleasure anatomy, to communication skills, to kink and BDSM. Stella has appeared at conferences across the US and Canada, and regularly provides workshops and guest lectures to colleges and universities. Stella’s writing has appeared widely, including a weekly sex advice column in her local paper. Highlights of her...

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