A lot of people worry about getting and keeping a hard on. This is about erections, what makes them happen, why they might disappear, erectile dysfunction and what might actually help.

The Hard On

A lot of people worry about getting and keeping a hard on (aka erections). This is about what makes them happen, why they might disappear, erectile dysfunction and what might actually help.

What is a hard on?

How do penises get hardThere’s no bone in the penis. There are two tubes of sponges each surrounded by a thick wall of tissue. Nitric oxide is released in the penis which widens the blood vessels. Then blood rushes into these sponges along the length of the penis (corpus cavernosa). As these fill up and expand they press against the surrounding tissue and, hey presto, the penis starts to gets a bit bigger, longer and harder. Sometimes it gets a bit bigger, sometimes it feels really big, tight and throbbing, often it’s somewhere in between.

They come and go right? Why?

Erections can happen at any time, whether you want them to or not. It can from be a physical sensation (like touching it, rubbing against your bed sheets, or the vibrations from a bus), it can be from a sexy thought or image, or it can be when you are turned on and want to have sexy times. However, the annoying thing is that none of those things guarantee a hard on happening or staying. And like I say here, wanting sex and being turned on are very different.

Sometimes hard ons happen and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they happen when people want them to but often they don’t. They’re easier to make disappear than to make appear. If everyone could just accept this, then there wouldn’t be a problem. It’s just not normal for people to have full control over their hard ons all the time. Honest.

So Bish are you saying my problem isn’t a problem? That’s annoying tbh STFU.

Okay okay. Let me explain it a bit more.

Why are hard ons so important anyway?

Think about what you have learned about ‘proper’ sex from TV, porn, school, parents, friends, religion. Think about all the sex scenes in TV and film, most porn clips, all the sex ed about condoms and contraception, parents worrying about pregnancy and what (many) religions say about why we should have sex.

What counts as proper sex? Entry sex??. Usually with a hard penis and usually in a vagina. This is a problem because it excludes people who don’t have sex with penises, which isn’t cool obvs. But it also puts a lot of pressure on the penis and the person with a penis.

society makes it hard to be hard because everyone teaches us that to have sex, you need a hard penis. That's a lot of pressure

So what society says about sex is a) you need a penis (at least one) and b) it has to be hard. If you have a penis it has to be hard or you’re not good at sex. Society says soft dicks aren’t sexy – if you have a soft dick you can’t have sex. It ignores the person and focusses on their penis. This places a lot of pressure on a penis to do a thing, that we often have no real control over.

Pressure makes getting hard hard

How really wanting a penis to be hard can make it hard to be hard

People with penises (usually men, but sometimes not) can find it really hard to ignore all of this and can’t help believing this for themselves. They might worry about staying hard for long enough. They might worry that their partner will think they don’t fancy them if they can’t get or stay hard. They might really want to last longer when they have ‘sex’ because they know that their dick goes soft after ejaculation.

That’s a lot of pressure that we can place on this one body part. We don’t know much about how we can make penises hard on demand but we do know that stress and anxiety makes them go away. Just like anything else, most people find it too difficult to perform under pressure – the penis is just the same. The more we try to make erections happen, the harder it is.

So just to recap.

? Hard ons are random and we often can’t control when they come or go.
? But society says they are essential for sex.
? Because of this folk with penises, who want to have sex, want them to get hard a LOT.
? This pressure makes hard ons harder to get.
? This makes people sad, anxious and inadequate.
? This makes hard ons even harder.

If we just accepted that sometimes penises are hard and sometimes not, people with penises might be a lot happier about their penises. The sexperts among you might also have spotted an irony too: the more people can accept that hard ons come and go, the more likely they will get hard, and stay hard, when they want.

Mind blown right? So what can you do to help your erections?

Try these (not weird) tips for getting and staying hard

Just being chill about a penis sometimes being hard and sometimes not is really hard to do (even though, it’s the best advice). If you struggle with this (most people with penises do) these tips might help.

Your penis is your friend

You're not going to make your penis harder by getting angry and frustrated with it. Treat it like a fun but unreliable friend.

If you find yourself staring at your penis and getting angry that it’s not getting or staying hard remember to be gentle with it. Think of it as that friend of yours who is great fun when they’re around but sometimes just disappears for a bit. They’ll come back, they always do. Just accept it and chill with your other friends for a bit – like your hands, lips, nipples, legs ….

You are not just your penis
Think about all the people in the world who have the most amazing sex without penises. You can do that too even though you have one! If you think about the different parts of your body that may feel pleasurable to you and to another person you will have much more fun. There are lots of tips about how to have amazing sex without an erection here.

Ignore hard ons now and again
So imagine you’re doing sexy things with another person and you get an erection. It doesn’t mean you have to immediately reach for a condom and put your penis inside them. Remember, lots of things count as sex. Maybe it might be a good idea (and really hot for your partner) to ignore your erection. Remember that most people with vulvas don’t orgasm from just penetration with a penis. If you took this off the table it might be a lot hotter for everyone.

Spectrum of hardness
Remember in the first paragraph I was saying that the hardness of dicks varies? Sometimes it can be like a 2 or 3 on the HardOn Scale™, sometimes it might be an 8 or 9. There might be some things that are more difficult to do with a 2 or 3 for sure (like entry sex ??), but you can still do some very enjoyable stuff with a not very hard penis. If you can start to enjoy how hard you are, rather than getting annoyed at how hard you aren’t then you might enjoy sex more.

Booze and drugs
Booze and other drugs can affect erections. Sometimes people say it makes them really hard, other times it makes it hard to get hard. There’s more about booze and sex here.

Try to feel and not think
In addition to worrying about erections there are lots of worries we can have if we have sex with someone. Worries about our bodies, what they think of us and what this means can be well distracting. Add to this all the crappy sex advice about positions, lasting longer and magic techniques.

If this is you, try to slow down and pay really close attention to your body. Go through all of your senses: smell … sounds … touch … taste … what you can see…. Go through a map of your body, what can you feel where? How are you breathing? Compare your in breath to your out breath. It’s about being present and just really noticing everything that’s actually happening for you (as well as what’s happening for the other person/people).

It can be really difficult to do this during sex. There are so many messages about what we should and shouldn’t be doing when we have sex it can be really difficult to actually enjoy it. However it does get easier with practice, particularly if you practise when you are alone.

Trying for a baby?
Remember that in order for a pregnancy to begin you need a penis to ejaculate inside a vagina (although there are other options of course). It might be that entry sex ?? doesn’t help you to stay hard, but there might be other stuff that does keep you hard. You can do that kind of stuff and then, as you feel ejaculation might be imminent, you could insert the penis into the vagina at the last moment.

Mostly having problems staying hard?
If you have problems staying hard for most of the time you want an erection (and find that you don’t get hard at other times either) then you might have what a clinician would call erectile dysfunction. So it is a good idea to see a doctor. Sometimes some illnesses can affect erections, but also erection difficulties may be a sign of illnesses. So if you visit a doctor they can see if it is more of a physical issue and can give you treatments that might help e.g. viagra or cialis.

Be an expert on your own body
If you keep tuning into your own body and your sexual experiences you will get a much better idea of what does and doesn’t work for you. The more established this idea gets the more confident you can be in negotiating what you want, but also you can become more chill about what your dick does and doesn’t do. More about how to communicate and stay in the moment here.

Learn even more about sex!

The Penis – here is a guide to the rest of the penis

Balls and Cum – ever wondered what happens when you come/cum?

Staying Hard With Condoms – some advanced user tips for staying hard with condoms

Big Ups – remember you aren’t only attractive to people because of your penis

© Justin Hancock, 2016

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I've written "Can We Talk About Consent - A Book About freedom, choices, and agreement." It's about how to choose your perfect pizza, what to watch on TV, who plays in goal, politics, rights, and yeah also a bit about sex. The illustrations are beautiful and hilarious.

Out in January but please.....