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4 Reasons Men Go Soft (and How to Stay Hard) During Sex

Katelyn Brenner FNP

Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP

Written by Rachel Sacks

Published 10/19/2021

Updated 09/22/2023

Imagine this: You’ve had a great date night, and your date invites you back to their place. Things are heating up in the bedroom when all of a sudden…Lieutenant Limp Penis reports for duty.

Ah, the dreaded rise and fall. The often unpredictable — and always inconvenient — experience of going soft during sex. 

It’s a frustrating encounter for all involved.

Although a flaccid penis can be embarrassing, know that erectile dysfunction (ED) is most often a multifactorial condition with many treatment options. It’s also more common than you might think, affecting 30 million men in the U.S.

And if you think ED is an older man’s problem, that’s simply not the case. While there’s an association between ED and age, it can affect men in any season.

Right now, men of all ages and backgrounds are asking, Why do I get soft during sex?

Sudden ED is awkward, but understanding the root cause(s) is the first step toward a solution. Let’s unravel the possible triggers of losing an erection so you can get back in action with confidence.

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4 Causes of a Soft Penis During Sex

Losing an erection during sex, or not being able to get it up at all, probably makes the list of the top five worst nightmares in the bedroom for men.

But don’t panic — there are many possible explanations for impaired erectile function. We’ll outline four of the biggest reasons for getting soft during sex.

You Have Performance Anxiety

Think about the last time you were preparing an important presentation. You probably repeated what you were gonna say in your head multiple times, imagining how it would go.

While a few butterflies may improve your focus, overthinking things can do the complete opposite. A similar thing can happen with sex.

So if you’re wondering, Do guys get soft when they’re nervous? The answer is that it’s possible.

If you’re feeling self-conscious or worrying about what your partner’s thinking to the point that it interferes, you may have sexual performance anxiety

Nervousness before sex is normal, but being so overcome with fear and anxiety that it prevents you from enjoying it or maintaining an erection is not. It’s a form of psychological ED.

This demonstrates the link between mental health and sexual health — and it’s not uncommon. In fact, sexual performance anxiety affects an estimated nine to 25 percent of men, with a high prevalence of ED among those with anxiety disorders.

Left untreated, sexual performance anxiety can lead to problems beyond a limp penis, like a total avoidance of sex. Understandably, it may contribute to depression and vice versa.

You’ve Had Too Much to Drink

Alcohol has a reputation for lowering inhibitions and making us feel much more attractive than we really are. It’s also known to lead to sex in some scenarios. 

However, some sexual side effects of alcohol aren’t so pleasurable. For example, drinking in excess can leave you either too sloppy to take someone home or too inhibited to perform when you do. 

There are countless nicknames for the penis that men take pride in, but “whiskey dick” probably isn’t one of them.

Drinking too much is known to lead to temporary alcohol-induced erectile dysfunction. This happens for a few reasons. 

First, alcohol affects your central nervous system by binding to receptors in your brain. Initially, this boosts the neurotransmitter dopamine, giving you all the good feels. But it also slows everything down, which makes it difficult to stay hard. 

As many of us learned in college, alcohol also acts as a diuretic. Remember when your friends warned you not to “break the seal” too early? Frequent bathroom visits have a dehydrating effect that reduces total blood volume, a key factor in getting (and keeping) an erection.

Furthermore, when you’re dehydrated, your body releases a hormone called angiotensin. It narrows your blood vessels and raises blood pressure, restricting blood flow to your penis. Not exactly a recipe for a good boner. 

The bottom line is that alcohol in moderation can be totally okay. But when you take it too far, it’s like the boundary-free roommate who ignores the sock on the doorknob and totally blue-balls your evening. 

Go home, limp dick, you’re drunk.

You’re on Medication

Medication can be a necessary part of life, particularly as you get older. Many drugs work by acting on your nervous and cardiovascular systems to treat various health conditions. 

Unfortunately, their involvement in these pathways or interaction with other conditions may lead to ED as a sexual side effect. Many medications can also lower your libido.

Some common medications that cause ED include: 

  • Antidepressants. Many people have success with antidepressants for mental health. However, some can result in antidepressant-induced sexual dysfunction, with symptoms like reduced sex drive, delayed ejaculation and ED. 

  • Recreational drugs. Whether they’re used legally or illicitly, drugs like nicotine, marijuana, meth, heroin and cocaine can restrict blood vessels, raise blood pressure, limit blood flow to your penis and reduce libido.

  • Blood pressure medications. Healthy erections require healthy blood flow to your penis, which is limited when you have high blood pressure. Some antihypertensives can actually promote ED by lowering the amount of blood available to the penis.

  • Chemotherapy drugs. While chemo drugs target cancer cells in the body, some of them can block the activity of testosterone, increasing the risk of ED.

  • Antihistamines. Antihistamines like Benadryl (diphenhydramine) help alleviate allergic reactions by reducing the production of the chemical histamine. Since histamine also helps relax smooth muscles, increasing blood flow to your penis, drugs that counteract its activity can increase ED. 

Don’t let the potential risk of ED with certain medications prevent you from using something prescribed for you.

That said, if you experience erectile dysfunction or other sexual side effects from a medication you need, tell your healthcare provider. They can help you identify the cause and may be able to make a medication adjustment.

You Have a Medical Condition Causing ED 

Going soft during sex is annoying, but ED is a blood flow issue and may also indicate something more serious going on with your health. 

ED could be a sign of an underlying medical condition like: 

  • High blood pressure 

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Atherosclerosis, or the hardening of arteries due to the buildup of plaque

  • Chronic kidney disease

  • Heart and blood vessel disease

  • Multiple sclerosis

  • Peyronie’s disease, a connective tissue disorder involving the growth of plaque in the soft tissue of your penis

It’s also possible for previous surgeries or internal injuries to lead to ED. If you’ve had surgery or radiation for bladder or prostate cancer, or sustained an injury to your pelvis, bladder, penis, prostate or spinal cord, it could interfere with your ability to stay hard.

Many other potential causes of ED aren’t mentioned here. Rather than try and self-diagnose, it’s best to start with a basic check-up with your provider if you’re noticing an ongoing erectile issue.

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Treatments to Stay Hard and Prevent a Soft Penis

Many men assume soft erections are just a part of getting older or being stressed, but that’s not true. If you’re struggling to stay hard during sex, it’s important to acknowledge that something isn’t right and seek support. 

There are many treatments for ED. Your healthcare provider is the best resource for medical advice when figuring out which option to choose. 

Therapy

There’s no shame in seeking in-person or online therapy. In fact, we can all benefit from some type of therapy. Many challenges we face likely have underlying mental health components — and ED is no exception.

Sex therapy might be a good fit, as it’s designed to help treat sexual issues. This often involves helping you and your partner improve your sexual satisfaction and overall relationship.

ED Medications

If your provider determines that medication is appropriate for your ED, it may be one of these:

The drugs above are PDE5 inhibitors, which work by inhibiting the activity of an enzyme called PDE5. This relaxes blood vessels and increases blood flow, helping you maintain an erect penis.

Alternatively, you can get chewable ED meds in the form of hard mints. They contain the same active ingredients in commonly prescribed ED medications and come in customized dosages.

Premature Ejaculation Treatments

Maybe you’re able to stay hard during sex but have an untimely finishing problem. In that case, premature ejaculation treatments might make sense. 

Premature ejaculation (PE) is common, affecting 30 to 75 percent of men. 

As with ED, numerous factors may be involved. PE can be triggered by psychological issues like depression, performance anxiety, stress or having a highly sensitive penis.

Common remedies and treatments for PE include antidepressants, topical anesthetics, masturbation, sex therapy and PDE5 inhibitors — or a combination.

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Lifestyle Tips for ED

You’re ready to kick ED out of the bedroom, and we support that. For long-term success, ED management requires understanding what other aspects of your lifestyle may need to be addressed.

If you want to maintain an erection more reliably:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight. Research shows that sexual dysfunction, including ED, is more common among men who are obese than men who aren’t.

  • Choose healthy foods. Nutrition is deeply involved in every aspect of our health, including sexual performance. Try eating healthier and incorporating foods for ED into your diet, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes and lean proteins. And limit ultra-processed foods and sugary beverages. 

  • Prioritize your heart health. Men who have heart disease or risk factors for it are much more likely to have ED. Know your heart disease markers, like cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure. Consider this your reminder to schedule your annual wellness visit.

  • Get moving. Research shows that aerobic exercises, like jogging, playing tennis or biking, can help reduce ED severity. Yeah, sex burns calories, but to reap its aerobic benefits, addressing ED comes first. Aim for 20 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least four days per week.

  • Don’t smoke. Men who smoke regularly have a higher risk of ED compared to non-smokers. Smoking damages blood vessels and reduces blood flow to your penis. The nicotine in cigarettes can also reduce sexual arousal. Plus, smoking wreaks havoc on your health in all sorts of other ways. If you need help quitting, one resource is the Tobacco Quitline: 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

Just as ED is a multifactorial condition, its treatment should be too.

A combination of lifestyle changes, mental health support and medication — and honest conversations with your partner — will be the most effective long-term solution. 

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Going Soft During Sex: Next Steps

One of the last things any man wants to be known for is having a soft dick. Not only can it be humiliating, but getting soft during sex is one of the quickest ways to turn a hot night cold.

If you’re one of the millions of men suffering from ED, follow these steps: 

  • Acknowledge that something isn’t right. Men are often taught to conceal personal struggles, but emotional suppression has no place in the 21st century. You can’t receive the help you need without accepting there’s a problem — and ED is a very common one. The more we talk about sensitive topics, the less stigmatized they’ll become.

  • Let it all hang out, medically speaking. ED and sexual activity can feel awkward to discuss with your healthcare provider, but keeping your privates too private can prevent effective treatment. Your provider can also help you navigate how to know if you have ED. Discuss your symptoms openly. Disclose any prescription, over-the-counter and recreational drugs you’re using. Share the mental health challenges you’re facing. These can all contribute to ED.   

  • Talk to your person. Going soft during sex doesn’t just affect you. Talking about it beforehand can help prevent surprises in the bedroom and reduce tension. Confiding in your partner can also bring more closeness and understanding. By sharing that ED is a factor in your sex life, you can also prevent your partner from assuming they’re doing something wrong.

  • Adhere to your treatment plan. Erectile dysfunction treatments are only effective if they’re followed. ED is usually caused by multiple factors, so the solution will involve more than one thing too. A combination of mental health support, medication and lifestyle changes will be most effective. Fully commit to what’s prescribed to you and communicate any concerns or questions to your provider. 

Ready to take the next step in understanding and treating your ED? Start by taking our free erectile dysfunction quiz.

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