Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 8/30/2020
Losing an erection during intercourse can be a stressful, worrying experience. However, it’s also a fairly normal one. Just about every man will experience it at some point in life, and it’s nothing to feel ashamed or embarrassed about.
A variety of reasons can cause you to lose your erection during sex, from sexual performance anxiety to alcohol consumption. We’ve listed these causes in more detail below, as well as your options for treating weak or inconsistent erections and improving your sexual performance.
Losing an erection during sex is an extremely common symptom of erectile dysfunction, or ED.
Many people associate ED with men who are totally unable to get an erection(Are guys embarrassed when they can t get it up?), even when they’re aroused. In reality, ED can vary in severity. While men with severe ED may not be able to get an erection at all, it’s also quite common to get and lose an erection.
Just like more severe forms of ED, losing an erection during sex can occur for a large variety of reasons, some psychological and others physical.
Psychological causes include anxiety, depression, stress and low self-esteem. For younger men, it’s quite common to have sexual performance anxiety — a type of anxiety that can cause you to feel uncomfortable before and during sexual activity — to affect your erections.
Even watching porn could affect your ability to maintain an erection. Some research indicates that compulsive use of pornography may be linked to sexual dysfunction, affecting things like arousal, responsiveness and sexual enjoyment.
On the physical side of things, factors like your weight, blood pressure and heart health all play a role in determining the strength and reliability of your erections. If you have hypertension, clogged arteries or heart disease, this could contribute to weaker-than-normal erections.
Other physical factors that can cause ED include diabetes, hormonal issues that can contribute to a reduced sex drive, certain injuries and nervous system disorders such as multiple sclerosis (MS).
Even if you’re healthy, it’s possible for lifestyle factors to affect your erections. If you use drugs like cocaine or marijuana, or if you use anabolic steroids, it’s possible for these drugs to affect your ability to get and stay hard.
ED can also be caused by legal medications like antidepressants, beta-blockers and other drugs used to treat heart disease, hypertension and other conditions.
In short, the root cause of lost erections can vary widely from person to person. Depending on your general health, habits and usage of medication, any erection issues you face could stem from a variety of psychological or physical factors.
A large variety of treatment options are available to help you maintain your erection during sex, ranging from lifestyle changes to medication.
Before we look at treatment options, it’s important to differentiate between occasionally losing your erection and losing your erection frequently.
It’s quite normal to occasionally lose your erection during sex. If you’re feeling tired, or if you can’t fully concentrate on sex because something else is on your mind, you might notice that your erection is weaker than normal, or that it doesn’t last for as long during sexual activity.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have erectile dysfunction. Most of the time, losing an erection becomes erectile dysfunction when it becomes consistent or noticeable to you.
It may mean getting an erection sometimes, but not every time you’d like to have sex. It may mean getting hard briefly, but not long enough to actually have sex. And of course, it may just mean not being able to achieve an erection at all, ever.
It’s also important to recognize when a lost erection is due to a factor that’s unrelated to your general health. For example, if you lose your erection after drinking alcohol but find it easy to maintain your erection while sober, medication is unlikely to be necessary.
With this in mind, there are a variety of ways to improve your sexual performance and avoid losing your erection in the middle of sexual activity. We’ve listed these below, along with any relevant data on how each treatment works.
It’s often possible to improve your erections and stay hard during sex without using medication by making changes to your lifestyle.
Small, simple changes can have a huge impact on your sexual performance. For example, in a scientific meta analysis from 2011, researchers found that aerobic exercise tends to correlate with measurable improvements in the symptoms of erectile dysfunction.
In our guide to naturally protecting your erection, we list eight steps that you can take to improve your erections naturally. They are:
Maintaining a healthy body weight
Staying on top of your blood pressure
Maintaining a healthy diet
Adding aerobic exercise to your daily routine
Checking for lower-than-normal testosterone levels
Avoiding cigarettes and other products that contain nicotine
Drinking alcohol in moderation and avoiding drugs that may affect your ability to get an erection.
Limiting your consumption of porn
While these techniques aren’t guaranteed to improve your erections, they can have a noticeable impact, especially if you only lose your erection occasionally.
If any one step stands out as particularly relevant to your life, focusing on it can often lead to an immediate improvement.
If you regularly drink alcohol, limiting your consumption can have a huge impact on your sexual health and performance. In one study from 2007, researchers found that the amount of alcohol a person consumes is the most significant predictor of developing sexual dysfunction.
Likewise, the nicotine in cigarettes may contribute to erection issues. A scientific study carried out in 2008 found that men given nicotine showed reduced levels of erectile response to erotic material — a factor that may make it more difficult to feel aroused during sexual activity.
Put simply, focusing on healthy living can go a surprisingly long way towards enhancing your sexual performance and helping you maintain your erection, especially if your erection issues are caused by a specific, treatable factor.
If you think that a psychological factor could be contributing to weak or inconsistent erections, seeking psychotherapy could be beneficial.
A variety of methods are used to treat performance anxiety, stress and other factors that can contribute to erectile dysfunction. Depending on your needs, your therapist may suggest an approach such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to overcome negative thoughts.
If you have persistent erectile dysfunction that causes you to frequently lose your erection in the middle of sex, the most effective treatment option could be the use of ED medication.
Currently, a variety of medications are used to treat erectile dysfunction. One of the most well known is sildenafil (Viagra® or generic Viagra), which works by inhibiting the enzyme that regulates the flow of blood to your penis.
By increasing blood flow, sildenafil makes it easier for you to get and maintain an erection when you’re aroused.
Contrary to popular belief, medications like sildenafil aren’t just used by middle-aged and older men. Data shows that about 40 percent of men experience some level of erectile dysfunction by the age of 40, with a growing number of younger men using sildenafil and other treatments.
Each erectile dysfunction medication is slightly different, with certain drugs lasting for longer or producing fewer side effects than others. You can learn more about these key differences in our guide to the best medications for erectile dysfunction.
Currently, all ED medications sold in the United States require a prescription. If you believe that medication could be effective for treating your erection problems, you can schedule a free online consultation with a healthcare professional to discuss using these medications.
It’s completely normal to occasionally lose your erection during sex. However, if you often lose your erection during sex, find it difficult to stay hard, or think that your sexual performance isn’t as good as it used to be, it’s often worth seeking out an option for treatment.
In certain cases, sudden erectile dysfunction can be solved through changes to your lifestyle, such as drinking less alcohol or taking steps to control your blood pressure. In other cases, you could benefit from treatment with an ED medication, such as sildenafil, tadalafil or avanafil.
Whatever the root cause of your ED might be, it’s important not to panic. Almost all causes of weak erections can be treated using one or several of the options listed above, allowing you to restore your sexual performance and confidence.