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Problem maintaining an erection with a new partner? How to handle it

Performance anxiety is more common than you think.

Written by
Kate Evans
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
April 22, 2024
min read
Problem maintaining an erection with a new partner? How to handle it
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You're giving a major presentation at work and you choke on your words — in front of everyone.

You're passed the ball in the grand final of [insert your sport of choice here], and you fumble and drop it — the other team ends up scoring the winning point, as the buzzer sounds.

You've brought someone home, but no matter how much you try, you just can't get an erection — or it's not staying hard enough, for long enough.

There'll come a time in life when you fumble the bag, the ball or the babe. Performance anxiety is more common than you think; sexual performance anxiety, specifically, affects 9-25% of men and 6-16% of women [1].

So if you have a problem maintaining an erection with a new girlfriend/boyfriend/them-friend — just know you're less alone than you think. Oh, and also, there are things to be done about it — both in the moment and long term.

Why can't I get hard with a new partner?

So you've been in the mood, only to find everything's not happening the way you'd pictured it going in your head.

Or, perhaps you've set up the date with your new girlfriend, boyfriend or new sexual partner, and you're ready to give them the best sex of their lives — but you can't stop worrying about your sexual performance ahead of time.

As it turns out, there are a few reasons you're having trouble in boner town.


You're not the first guy to go through this — even our government health website says anxiety about sexual performance is "most common" at the start of new relationships [2].


Distracted, and find your mind is taking over the (sex) scene at hand? Yep, distracting thoughts can impair sexual arousal in men [1].


Sorry to the older men out there, but as you age, it's more likely there's some physical involvement that makes it harder — excuse the accidental pun — for you to get and maintain an erection in all sexual encounters (including those on your own) [3].


Had a go at yourself today? No judgement — you do you, quite literally — but if you've watched some porn, or just let your mind run amuck and had some time to yourself, it could be that you're still in your "refractory" period [3].

Psychological causes

Suffering from stress? Going through a tough time, and having a bout of depression? This is another cause of being unable to get hard with someone new — it can even be financial issues, deadlines, moving offices or houses.

Whiskey dick

Yes, drinking can loosen up your inhibitions and make you feel like you're the king of the world but, alcohol can also cause erectile problems [4]. Whiskey dick is a real thing.

Health issues

If you're experiencing erectile issues, it could be down to medical reasons — high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or low thyroid hormone levels [5]. It may be a side effect of other prescription drugs you're on, altogether.

Regardless of the cause, it may be helpful to know that most people with a penis experience episodes of being unable to get, and maintain, an erection — whether occasional or more frequently.

In fact, erectile dysfunction (ED) affects over 150 million men worldwide, a figure that's expected to double by 2025 [6].

What does performance anxiety look and feel like?

Performance anxiety often acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy, where you're accidentally your own worst enemy.

When you've got sexual performance anxiety, it starts a vicious cycle of anxiety resulting in "sexual malfunction". This brings up more sexual anxiety, which then worsens your sexual function and...you get the idea [1].

Going a bit deeper into it — when anxiety interferes with the inability to maintain an erection, it's known as psychogenic erectile dysfunction. Young men tend to focus on the firmness of their erection, or lack thereof (you're probably wondering why you can't get rock hard anymore).

With so much intent focused on one part of their sexual performance, it leads to feeling self-conscious when it doesn't happen. Add to that cognitive distraction (your mind wandering, or freaking out), that not only interfere with arousal but contribute to poor sexual performance [7].

When that happens — once, twice or multiple times — you tend to lose sexual confidence. In turn, you develop more fears leading up to your next sexual encounter.

You've gotten in your head so much that it increases the likelihood of failure, and you've reinforced the pressure on yourself to perform in future sexual encounters. See what we mean by self-fulfilling prophecy?

As for what it looks like? It's not only erectile issues — getting hard or maintaining hardness — but also premature ejaculation [1].

What else could be causing performance anxiety?

If you have any issues going on in the bedroom, it can impact your quality of life for the negative — which, if you're reading this, you might already know.

Not only will it exacerbate anxiety related to sexual performance, but it can also result in depressive symptoms and avoidance of engaging in your sex life altogether. Rates of depression in men who experience ED are reported to be as high as 56% and your sexual desire may decrease as well [7].

And if you're in a relationship, whether a new relationship or an existing long-term one, when one partner is experiencing issues sexually, it affects both people involved — which can lead to distress, partner issues and further exacerbation of the original problem [7].

There's also the fact that, particularly with a new girlfriend, boyfriend or partner, you put yourself in their head — worrying about their expectations and perceptions, worrying your performance isn't adequate, that it could detrimentally affect any potential burgeoning relationship.

It could be something more internal — you're worried about your body image, your "man's ability" (to perform), that each stage won't last long enough. And stress can impede your sexual activity — elevated cortisol can diminish your likelihood of finishing [8].

And, the irony is, the more you get in your head — the more you're likely to mess it up. Everything from erection to lubrication, orgasm to ejaculation, also involve your autonomic nervous system and isn't strictly under your control...you can't always "will" the next step in sex.

What to do if you can't maintain an erection with a new partner.

What to do if you can't maintain an erection with a new partner

As we've learnt when this happens, most men get into their own heads, and self-focus on the problem at hand — something referred to as "spectatoring". This means you can miss erotic cues, and arousal is lost or not achieved at all.

And then you're more likely to catastrophise the situation — seeing this incident as far worse than it actually is [8].

If you're affected by performance anxiety, both you and your partner are likely to observe this — an erection, or lack thereof, is noticeable physically. In saying that, according to research, performance anxiety is the most important nonmedical contribution to erectile dysfunction [9].

One of the first things to do in the moment is to communicate what's happening. Erectile problems happen, it's a fact of life...well, of sex life anyway.

Your partner, particularly in heterosexual relationships, may have an emotional response — doubting your attraction, or responding with anger, blame or belittlement. To avoid that, talk.

Talk to your partner and explain the situation at hand — that you were overly concerned with impressing her, got into your own head, and are having issues maintaining an erection. Reassure them that it has nothing to do with their sexual desirability; don't let it impact their self-esteem (even if your own may have taken a small hit).

And remember, sexual intercourse isn't just about penetration — there's more than one way to set the mood. Other forms of intimacy can lead to pleasure for your partner, and help them achieve orgasm. The sustained blood flow to your penis isn't the only measure of pleasure.

If this is more than a one-night stand, and something that blossoms into a new relationship — and the sexual dysfunction continues to occur — continued communication is so, so important. A survey of 441 Aussie men with ED found that 94% of them felt their partner's support was important [10].

And honestly, if your partner isn't understanding, or has a bad attitude towards your issue — is that someone you really want to be having sex with on a regular basis? It's been found that when your partner is involved with treatment, outcomes may be improved [9].

Also, something that is strangely comforting to know — if things aren't functioning with a new girlfriend, but were functioning fine with whomever prior — it turns out that these problems are actually more amenable to treatment [9]. It's situational, and our clinical erectile dysfunction treatment can help you.

How to tackle erection problems (head on!)

Whether your penis just had a one-off, or there's been more than one time you've had issues with erections — well, before you go popping pills for the next round, consider having a talk to someone about it.

And no, we don't just mean having a chat with the woman, man or non-binary finery that you're dating (that comes later) — we mean having a conversation with your doctor about what's going on. This is extra important, as the fact is erectile dysfunction can be symptomatic of larger health concerns, including heart disease [11].

Our Aussie Pilot practitioner can talk to you via online consult, and recommend clinically proven treatment plans for ED. Best of all? 94% of men report improved sexual activity with ED treatment. 

If the issue is more psychological than physical, finding a mental health doctor — one that caters to young men — can help you with stress, or anything other social issues [12]. This could involve cognitive behavioural therapy, or undergoing sex therapy with a professional sex therapist alongside your partner [13].

Speaking of your significant other, "open discussion and exchange of ideas" — in regard to sex-related issues — is equally important as seeing your doctor [10]. Adapt your sex lives as needed, take part in (non-sex related) activities together, invite them to accompany you to appointments and join if need be.

Remember that treatment of ED has been shown to lead to the resolution of depressed feelings, restoration of self-esteem, and improving quality of life for you and your partner [14]. But you won't experience this until you take that first step, and seek help.

Image credit: Getty Images

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