Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Dinner went well, she invites you upstairs, the clothes come off and things are off to a great start. You're moving, you're grooving, your head is in the game and then next thing you know, you're as soft as the pillow you're laying on.
Bummer man, but don’t sweat it quite yet. Just about every guy will fail to perform at some point in life, and losing an erection is nothing you should feel ashamed or embarrassed about.
Feeling concerned, however, is totally appropriate — especially if the problem happens more than once.
You can lose your erection during sex for a lot of reasons, from sexual performance anxiety to alcohol consumption. Sometimes even an underlying health issue may make it hard for you to maintain an erection — yes, even when you’re hot and bothered and feel sexual desire in your heart and loins.
Getting this problem solved is a multi-step process. Below, we’ve explained how to get from where you are to full mast by understanding:
How and why erectile dysfunction can occur
The symptoms of ED you might experience
Reasons you may lose your erection during sex
Options for treating weak or inconsistent erections, improving your sexual performance and enjoying more satisfying sex with your partner.
Okay, so here’s some hard news that we’ve got to get out of the way: technically, losing your erection during sex is a form of erectile dysfunction.
We know most guys think full flaccidity is what ED is about, but ED can vary in severity. Men with severe erectile dysfunction might not be able to ever get any erections, while men with mild ED may be able to get an erection that just doesn’t last for long enough to have satisfying, fulfilling sex.
Don’t panic! ED is extremely common. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, around 30 million men in the US have some degree of erectile dysfunction.
Failed erections happen to all of us, and reacting the right way can make dealing with them (and preventing them) a much easier process for you.
The right reaction to ED starts with asking questions — questions like “why can’t I stay hard?”
A variety of factors play a role in causing you to either lose your erection during sex or get an erection that isn’t quite firm enough for penetration, including:
Physical health conditions
Medications and recreational drugs
Factors related to your lifestyle
Psychological issues like common mental health disorders
Sometimes, a combination of factors can affect your erections, as well as other aspects of your sexual health and function.
We’ve dug into each group of factors in more detail below, starting with medical conditions that can cause trouble with erections.
Getting hard may seem easy when you’re younger, but there are actually a number of complex processes that go into every boner — it involves your sex hormones, your nervous system, and your cardiovascular system.
An erection begins with stimulation, either sensory (something you see, hear or touch) or mental (a sexual thought). This triggers your nervous system and increases blood flow to your penile arteries.
Several health issues can interfere with this physical process, namely:
Diabetes and kidney disorders
Cardiovascular health issues like heart disease, atherosclerosis (clogged arteries) and hypertension (high blood pressure) may affect your blood vessels and stop your penis from getting adequate blood flow for a consistent erection.
Chronic health conditions like diabetes and chronic kidney disease can affect your cardiovascular system and harm the nerves around your penis, potentially affecting blood flow and nerve function.
Nervous system disorders like multiple sclerosis (MS) can also affect your ability to get an erection and maintain it while you’re having sex.
Sometimes, physical issues that don’t directly affect your blood flow or nerve function can also have an impact on your ability to maintain an erection by affecting your sex drive and everyday level of interest in sexual activity. In particular, maintaining adequate testosterone levels is important for keeping your sex drive healthy and consistent.
Although low testosterone doesn’t cause ED directly, it can reduce your sexual desire and may play a role in some forms of sexual dysfunction. This could affect your level of sexual enjoyment and desire for sex in general, making it more difficult to keep an erection.
Yes, it’s possible to break your dick. Injuries that affect the function of your penis may make it more difficult for you to get hard and stay hard while you’re in bed with your partner.
Peyronie’s disease — a condition caused by fibrous scar tissue in the penis that can cause painful, curved erections — can affect your erections. Similarly, nerve damage from surgery or injuries may increase your risk of losing your erection during sex.
Some people say sex on drugs is great, but statistically, we’d argue that sex on drugs can also be failed sex. But it depends on the “drugs” in question.
Many medications can affect your sex life in different ways, including dulling sexual excitement or reducing your general level of sexual function. Sometimes, these changes can make it more challenging to maintain an erection during sexual intercourse.
Medications that may cause you to lose your erection include:
Medications that affect androgen levels or cause hormone imbalances
Prescription drugs used to promote sleep
Appetite suppressants and/or weight loss medications
Antihistamines used to treat colds and allergies
Medications for Parkinson’s disease
Blood pressure medications
Medications for stomach ulcers
If you’re prescribed a new medication and notice that you’re now losing your erection during sex, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider. They adjust your dosage or prescribe a different medication with a lower risk of causing erection issues.
In addition to over-the-counter and prescription medications, many recreational substances and illicit substances can cause erection difficulties and affect your general sexual function, including:
If you use illegal drugs and think you may have a substance use disorder, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider as soon as you can.
Fellas, if you’re waking up every morning with a hangover and washing down a cheeseburger with a pack of cigarettes, you probably already know a little about how your lifestyle can harm your body and health. Hardening your arteries isn’t going to make your erections harder — it’s just going to make living harder.
The following habits and lifestyle factors may cause you to lose your erection during sex:
Drinking alcohol, especially to excess. Alcohol and erectile dysfunction can go hand in hand — after all, we’ve all heard of whiskey dick. You may find it harder to maintain an erection if you’ve had a few drinks before going to bed.
Using steroids. Although testosterone is linked to a higher sex drive in the short term, research suggests that the use of testosterone and other steroids may increase your risk of developing ED later in life.
Finally, some psychological factors and mental health concerns may affect your ability to remain hard while you’re having sex.
Sometimes, even stress — about your sexual function specifically or from your career or relationships — can affect your erections and ability to properly connect with your sexual partner.
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Losing your erection in the middle of sexy time can be something of a frustrating experience, to put it mildly. Not only does it kill the mood, but it may also lead to an awkward conversation with your partner.
The good news is a variety of treatment options are available to help you more easily maintain your erection during sex, ranging from lifestyle changes to medication.
For the most part, promoting healthy erections is all about living a healthy, balanced and active lifestyle.
If you’re flaccid due to some obvious physical causes, you should look at your body for solutions. After all, small, simple changes can have a huge impact on your sexual performance — often without even involving medication.
Science generally agrees. In a meta-analysis from 2011, researchers found that aerobic exercise correlates with a measurable improvement in the symptoms of erectile dysfunction.
In our guide to naturally protecting your erection, we shared several approaches to try for better erections naturally. They basically boil down to the following medical advice:
Keep your body weight in the healthy range
Pay attention to your blood pressure, and treat it if it’s elevated
Eat a diet that’s built around fruit, vegetables and other nutritious foods
Keep track of mental health concerns and don’t be afraid to seek treatment
Make aerobic exercise part of your daily routine (even if it’s just a little bit)
If your sex drive feels weak, get your testosterone levels checked
Improve your sleep habits and aim for seven hours or more per night
Limit your consumption of porn, as it may affect your erections
While these techniques aren’t guaranteed to improve your erections, they can have a noticeable impact, especially if you only lose your erection occasionally.
We’d also like to point to two common habits you may want to sacrifice to the better sex gods:
Avoid smoking cigarettes or consuming nicotine in other ways. One study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2008 found that men given nicotine showed low erectile response to erotic material — a factor that may make it harder to feel aroused during sexual activity.
Reduce your alcohol intake to no more than two servings per day. In one study from 2007, researchers found that the amount of alcohol a person consumes is the most significant predictor of developing sexual dysfunction.
If any one of these pieces of advice stands out as particularly relevant to your life, focusing on it can often lead to immediate improvement.
If you think that a psychological problem could be contributing to weak, partly flaccid or inconsistent erections, talk to a professional, dude.
Seeking psychotherapy could be beneficial, as it can be used to treat performance anxiety, stress and other factors that can contribute to erection problems and loss of erection when you want it most.
Contrary to popular belief and advertising campaigns, ED medications like sildenafil aren’t just used by middle-aged and older men (not that there’s anything wrong with being one of either).
Data shows that about 40 percent of men experience some level of erectile dysfunction by the age of 40, with an increasing number of younger men using sildenafil and other drugs to deal with ED as it develops.
Medication works. Currently, the FDA has approved four prescription medications for erectile dysfunction. All of these medications belong to a class of drugs referred to as PDE5 inhibitors, which make getting and maintaining an erection easier by increasing blood flow to your penis.
Avanafil (sold as Stendra®)
Each erectile dysfunction medication is slightly different — some drugs last for longer, while others produce fewer side effects. You can learn more about the key differences between these ED drugs in our guide to the best medications for erectile dysfunction.
Men’s health is an emergency light problem for most guys — it doesn’t get much attention until a problem puts you in park. Dealing with a lost erection can be a serious blow to your confidence, but it doesn’t need to be something you experience often.
To get back on the road, remember the following:
It’s completely normal to occasionally lose your erection during sex.
You should absolutely seek treatment, however, if you often lose your erection during sex.
It might signal a bigger problem that needs treatment like obesity, addiction or a mental health issue.
Interested in learning more about factors that can affect your sexual performance? Our detailed guides to the causes of erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation (PE) talk about two of the most common male sexual issues, as well as the steps that you can take to deal with them.