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If They Can't Get It Up, Is It About Me?

Erections are pretty simple. Someone feels turned on or attracted to someone or something, and the penis gets hard in response, right? At least, that’s what I used to think, which ended up affecting the way I had sex with people. When I was in a situation where someone wasn’t getting hard, or they’d get soft mid-sex, I’d start thinking that it had to do with me and what that partner thought of me. But Tara Suwinyattichaiporn, PhD, sex educator, tells Betches that it’s not as black and white as that — there’s more than just attraction that leads to erections.

When it comes to how our bodies respond to feelings of attraction, the process is a little more complicated than you’d think — especially when it comes to penises. “Erections are partially related to one type of attraction, primarily sexual attraction, but not a significant indicator of overall attraction,” Dr. Suwinyattichaiporn explains. “In other words, erections can communicate sexual attraction but not much more than that, as there are other types of attraction such as emotional attraction, intellectual attraction, spiritual attraction, and more.”

So erections don’t really tell the whole story about how much someone is attracted to someone else — mainly because you can still get an erection even when there’s no attraction at all.

men in bed upset
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“It can be through certain arousals, such as physical stimulation (e.g., someone stroking their penis), viewing sexual scenes on screens, or hearing sounds of people having sex,” Tara says. When these things happen, it’s more about someone’s senses being “perked up” but might not have much to do with any particular attraction.

And then the opposite can also occur — sometimes you’re super attracted to someone but fail to “get it up.” Your mind might immediately go to erectile dysfunction, but the issue isn’t always that extreme.

Think about how anxiety-inducing sex can be sometimes. And when you think about the social pressures involved with penis size and pleasure (thanks for that, Porn Industry), having actual sex can be intimidating.

“Men often consume porn from a young age, and many perhaps have visuals cemented in their minds of what ‘hot sex’ should look like,” Tara explains. “Since porn is acting, real-life sex can seem inadequate or hard to keep up with, hence contributing to anxiety around sex.”

Plus, there can be so much more going on with someone than you know. Sexual trauma is so prevalent that you don’t know what possibly could have caused a partner not to be able to perform sexually in the heat of the moment.

“There are so many variables that go into [people] being able to get and maintain their erections throughout a sexual encounter, so it’s important that their partners can look past it and focus on other sexual activities like oral, fingering, anal, breast massage, etc.,” Dr. Suwinyattichaiporn says.

It should only be a cause for concern if you notice it’s happening consistently for a long time, like over a month. In that case, it might be time to book an appointment with a urologist. Otherwise, if someone’s having difficulty “getting it up,” odds are it’s not about you and how much they find you attractive. So calm the fuck down and enjoy other forms of intimacy instead.

Syeda Khaula Saad
Syeda Khaula Saad
Syeda Khaula Saad is a sex & dating writer at Betches despite not remembering the last time she was in a relationship. Just take her word for it.