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Why Is My Penis Going Soft During Sex?

Mary Lucas, RN

Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, MSCIS, MPhil, RN

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 10/20/2021

Picture this: Things are getting hot and heavy with a partner. You start having sex and then — hello, Lieutenant Limp. Is there anything worse?

Going soft during sex is obviously a major mood killer. Not only does it throw a wrench in pleasure plans for both parties, it can be quite embarrassing. 

Wondering why it happens? There are a few potential reasons. Keep reading to learn more about them — plus, how to make sure your penis doesn’t go soft when you’re about to go in.

You’ve Got Performance Anxiety

If you’re worried you won’t be good enough in bed, it can cause anxiety and affect your performance.

A study even concluded that performance anxiety is closely connected to sexual dysfunction in men (and women, too!). 

For some men, this could lead to premature ejaculation, but for others it could result in erectile dysfunction (ED) — making it hard to get or maintain an erection. 

Wondering what causes performance anxiety? A variety of things, really. Some thoughts that may race through your head and make you anxious are:

  • What if I can’t get hard? 

  • Will I finish early?

  • Does my partner think I’m hot?

  • Is my junk the right size?

  • Am I good in bed?

  • Can I make my partner orgasm? 

Porn may also trigger performance anxiety. Here’s why: If you’re in the middle of sex and suddenly start thinking about an X-rated flick you watched, you may start comparing yourself or your partner’s reactions to what you saw. Say hello to feelings of insecurity and goodbye to your erection.

Having negative thoughts about your body can also cause performance issues. One study of male military personnel under the age of 40 stated that a third of the participants dealt with ED caused by being focused on the way their genitals looked.

There’s actually something biological that goes on within your body when you’re anxious that can affect your erection. See, when you have those nervous feelings, your sympathetic nervous system gets sparked, which then constricts blood vessels. 

Plus, stress hormones such as epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol flood your system. This process makes keeping an erection much harder. (And that’s not the kind of hardness you want.)

You’ve Had Too Much to Drink

Ever heard of whiskey dick? It’s essentially a temporary form of erectile dysfunction caused by drinking too much. If you think about it, it makes sense — alcohol is a depressant, after all. 

Over-imbibing affects your cardiovascular and central nervous systems. The more you drink, the more it can mess with you. 

One thing that happens is there’s a lag in information coming and going from your brain to other parts of your body. Yup, this includes your penis.

One study looked at people with chronic alcohol dependency and found that sexual dysfunction was common. And while the research looked at people with alcohol dependence, it’s worth noting that over-drinking at any time can lead to temporary ED.

You’re on Medication

According to a review of research, about 25 percent of ED is caused by medication.

One type of medication particularly known for causing issues in the sack? Blood pressure meds. Specifically, these types of BP medications are known to have ED listed as a side effect: 

  • Beta-blockers: This prescription pill works by limiting certain hormones (like adrenaline) to slow the heart. Along with erectile dysfunction, tiredness and cold fingers are known side effects. Interestingly, one study found that ED caused by beta blockers may be psychological. 

  • Hydrochlorothiazide: Also called HCTZ, it works by helping the kidneys get rid of unneeded water and salt. High doses have been said to potentially cause ED. There are a variety of other blood pressure medications that don’t list erectile dysfunction as one of the side effects. 

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Treatments to Help You Stay Hard During Sex

If you find yourself going flacid, you’ll want to take action. Keep reading for ways to address your, er, soft situation. 

Therapy

If performance anxiety is at the root of your problem, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or sex therapy may help. You should expect to talk to your chosen therapist about what causes your anxiety and, together, come up with ways to address those things.

CBT focuses on unhelpful or problematic patterns and behaviors in your life. When working with a therapist trained in CBT, you’ll learn how to identify these habits and come up with coping mechanisms.

If you are interested in sex therapy, you can go solo or with a partner. When you start, you’ll likely be asked to talk about your sexual history, beliefs and concerns in the bedroom.

Erectile Dysfunction Medications

There are so many different prescription ED medications you can try. The most common are: 

These medications work by opening up your blood vessels and increasing blood flow to your penis. 

If you’re interested in going on an ED medication, speak with a healthcare professional about which medication may work best for you.

Premature Ejaculation Treatments

It’s not uncommon to have anxiety around finishing too early. And if your anxiety is intense, it can cause you to go soft. This is actually more common than you may think. 

According to research, thoughts about premature ejaculation and sexual performance anxiety are very much linked.

If this resonates with you, speak to a healthcare professional. They may suggest you try taking a prescription medication from the class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). 

This type of prescription medication is often used to treat depression, but it’s been found that SSRIs can also help with premature ejaculation. 

Another option: Anesthetizing cream or spray. If you apply these to your penis, it can lead to desensitization, allowing you to last longer. This Delay Spray for Men is meant to be used 10 minutes before sex.

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Better Sex Is Possible 

If you’ve been dealing with losing your erection during sex — or right before you’re about to go in — there’s no reason things can’t change for you. 

The first step is figuring out what’s causing your penis to go soft. Is it performance anxiety? Or perhaps you had a bit too much to drink? Another possible culprit could be a medication you are taking (like blood pressure pills). 

It’s always a good idea to speak with a healthcare professional about your experience. He or she will be able to guide you in finding the right treatment for you. 

Potential treatments include therapy, ED medication or premature ejaculation treatments. 

Ready to figure out what’s going on with you? Make an appointment to speak to someone now. 

16 Sources

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.

  1. Rowland, D., van Lankveld, J., (2019). Anxiety and Performance in Sex, Sport, and Stage: Identifying Common Ground. Frontiers in Psychology, 10: 1615. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6646850/
  2. McCabe, M., (2005). The role of performance anxiety in the development and maintenance of sexual dysfunction in men and women. International Journal of Stress Management, 12(4): 379-388. Retrieved from https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2006-01347-006
  3. What is the difference between sexual performance anxiety and erectile dysfunction (ED)? International Society for Sexual Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.issm.info/sexual-health-qa/what-is-the-difference-between-sexual-performance-anxiety-and-erectile-dysfunction-ed/
  4. Wilcox, S., Redmond, S., Davis, T., (2015, June). Genital image, sexual anxiety, and erectile dysfunction among young male military personnel. J Sex Med, 12(6): 1389-97. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25929693/
  5. Ayada, C., Toru, U., Korkut, Y., (2015). The relationship of stress and blood pressure effectors. Hippokratia. 19(2): 99-108. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4938117/
  6. Alcohol and Temporary Erectile Dysfunction. SMSNA. Retrieved from https://www.smsna.org/patients/did-you-know/alcohol-and-temporary-erectile-dysfunction
  7. Arackal, B., Benegal, V., (2007, April-June). Prevalence of sexual dysfunction in male subjects with alcohol dependence. Indian Journal of Psychiatry. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2917074/
  8. Keene, L., Davies, P., (1999). Drug-Related Erectile Dysfunction. Adverse Drug React Toxicol Rev. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10401520/
  9. Beta blockers. NHS. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/beta-blockers/
  10. Silvestri, A., Galetta, P., Cerquetani, E., (2003). Report of erectile dysfunction after therapy with beta-blockers is related to patient knowledge of side effects and is reversed by placebo. European Society of Cardiology. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/eurheartj/article/24/21/1928/450074
  11. Hydrochlorothiazide. Medline Plus. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682571.html
  12. Treatment for Erectile Dysfunction. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/treatment
  13. What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? American Psychological Association. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral
  14. What Happens During Sex Therapy? International Society for Sexual Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.issm.info/sexual-health-qa/what-happens-during-sex-therapy/
  15. How do pills for erectile dysfunction work? International Society for Sexual Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.issm.info/sexual-health-qa/how-do-pills-for-erectile-dysfunction-work/
  16. Rajkumar, R., Kumaran, A., (2014, July). The Association of Anxiety With the Subtypes of Premature Ejaculation: A Chart Review. The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders, 16(4): 10.4088/PCC.14m01630. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4318671/
What’s next?

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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