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4 Reasons for a Soft Penis (and How to Stay Hard) During Sex

Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Reviewed by Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Written by Steph Coelho

Published 10/19/2021

Updated 05/25/2024

Picture this: Things are heating up in the bedroom, but despite wanting to have sex, you get a soft penis while getting intimate. What gives?

If this has happened to you, you probably know it can seriously impact your self-esteem.

People sometimes refer to a flaccid penis during sex with not-so-friendly terms like “limp dick,” “whiskey dick,” or “soft dick.” But the scientifically correct term is erectile dysfunction (ED), a medical condition that affects an estimated 30 million men in the U.S.

Soft sex can happen to anyone for various reasons, including psychological and physical causes. Thankfully, treatment options are available.

Like many men, you might be asking yourself, Why do I get soft during sex? We’ll answer this question, go over possible triggers for losing an erection, and offer solutions for sudden ED.

Losing an erection during sex or not being able to get it up at all can make intimacy challenging — to state the obvious.

Understanding the root cause (or causes) of going soft during sex is the first step to working toward a solution and fixing your sex life. 

Here are four of the biggest reasons for a soft erection.

1. You Have Performance Anxiety

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

While a few butterflies can improve your focus, overthinking can do the complete opposite.

The same can happen with sex.

So if you’re wondering, Why do I go soft during sex? it might be sex-related anxiety.

Do you often feel self-conscious or worry about what your partner’s thinking to the point that it interferes with your ability to get or maintain an erection? It could mean you have sexual performance anxiety.

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

There’s a real link between mental and sexual health. In fact, sexual performance anxiety affects an estimated nine to 25 percent of men, with a high prevalence of ED in those with anxiety disorders.

When left untreated, sexual performance anxiety can lead to problems beyond a limp penis, like a total avoidance of sex or depression.

2. You’ve Had Too Much to Drink

Alcohol has a reputation for lowering inhibitions and making people feel more confident. However, some side effects of alcohol aren’t so pleasurable. 

For one, drinking in excess can muddy the waters of consent. And it can inhibit your ability to perform in the bedroom by leading to temporary alcohol-induced erectile dysfunction.

This happens for a few reasons:

  • Alcohol affects your central nervous system. By binding to receptors in your brain, alcohol initially boosts the neurotransmitter dopamine, also known as the “feel-good hormone.” But it also slows everything down, which makes it difficult to stay hard.

  • Alcohol can increase your need to use the bathroom. Alcohol acts as a diuretic. Frequent bathroom visits have a dehydrating effect that reduces total blood volume, a key factor in getting (and keeping) erections.

  • Alcohol-related dehydration can affect blood flow to your penis. When you’re dehydrated, your body releases a hormone called angiotensin. It narrows blood vessels and raises blood pressure, restricting blood flow to penile tissues.

The bottom line is that drinking in moderation probably won’t affect erectile function. But in excess, alcohol and sex don’t really mix.

3. You’re on Medication

Many drugs act on the nervous and cardiovascular systems to treat various health conditions.

Unfortunately, their involvement in these pathways may lead to ED as a sexual side effect. Some medications can also lower your libido (sex drive).

Common medications that cause ED include: 

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

  • Recreational drugs. Substances 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 adequate 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 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 effect can increase ED. 

Don’t let the potential risk of ED with certain medications prevent you from using something prescribed for you. Ultimately, you should also take prescription medication as directed by your healthcare provider.

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

4. You Have a Medical Condition Causing ED 

Going soft during sex can be frustrating. But since ED is often a blood flow issue, it could indicate something more serious going on with your health. 

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

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries due to plaque buildup)

  • Chronic kidney disease

  • Heart and blood vessel disease

  • Multiple sclerosis

  • Peyronie’s disease (plaque under the skin of the penis)

It’s also possible for previous surgeries or internal injuries to impact erectile function. For instance, surgery or radiation for bladder or prostate cancer may create problems. Additionally, injury to your pelvis, bladder, penis, prostate, or spinal cord 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 a healthcare professional if you’re noticing an ongoing erectile issue.

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Many men assume soft erections are just a part of getting older or being stressed. But while ED is more common in older adults, it can happen at any age.

And 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. And in some cases, ED has an underlying psychological cause.

Sex therapy might be a good fit for tackling ED issues. A sex therapist can help you and your partner improve your sexual satisfaction and overall relationship.

ED Medications

If your provider determines medication is appropriate for your ED, they may prescribe one of these:

  • Viagra®, known as “the little blue pill”

  • Sildenafil, generic for Viagra 

  • Cialis®, sometimes called “the weekend pill” 

  • Tadalafil, generic for Cialis 

  • Stendra®

  • Avanafil, generic for Stendra

  • Levitra®

  • Vardenafil, generic for Levitra

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 maintain an erection 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, several 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 of approaches.

Choose your chew

Lifestyle Tips for ED

For long-term success, ED management requires understanding the other aspects of your lifestyle that influence erectile health.

If you want to maintain an erection more reliably:

  • 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. Limit ultra-processed foods and sugary beverages. 

  • Prioritize your heart health. Men with 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 a 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 a 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.

  • Maintain a healthy body weight. Research shows that sexual dysfunction, including ED, is more common among men with obesity than those who maintain a healthy weight.

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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Experiencing a limp penis during sex can feel humiliating, but know you’re not alone — erectile dysfunction is actually pretty common.

If you’re one of the millions of men suffering from ED and trying to overcome a soft penis, 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 get 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, and 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 with your partner(s) can help prevent surprises in the bedroom and reduce tension. Confiding in them can also encourage closeness and understanding. By sharing that ED is a factor in your sex life, you can prevent your partner from assuming they’re doing something wrong.

  • Adhere to your treatment plan. Erectile dysfunction treatments are only effective if you follow them. ED is usually caused by multiple factors, so the best ED treatment will likely involve more than one solution. 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 assessment.

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Editorial Standards

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Kelly Brown MD, MBA
Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Dr. Kelly Brown is a board certified Urologist and fellowship trained in Andrology. She is an accomplished men’s health expert with a robust background in healthcare innovation, clinical medicine, and academic research. Dr. Brown is a founding member of Posterity Health where she is Medical Director and leads strategy and design of their Digital Health Platform, an innovative education and telehealth model for delivering expert male fertility care.

She completed her undergraduate studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (go Heels!) with a Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Science and a Minor in Chemistry. She took a position at University of California Los Angeles as a radiologic technologist in the department of Interventional Cardiology, further solidifying her passion for medicine. She also pursued the unique opportunity to lead departmental design and operational development at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, sparking her passion for the business of healthcare.

Dr. Brown then went on to obtain her doctorate in medicine from the prestigious Northwestern University - Feinberg School of Medicine and Masters in Business Administration from Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management, with a concentration in Healthcare Management. During her surgical residency in Urology at University of California San Francisco, she utilized her research year to focus on innovations in telemedicine and then served as chief resident with significant contributions to clinical quality improvement. Dr. Brown then completed her Andrology Fellowship at Medical College of Wisconsin, furthering her expertise in male fertility, microsurgery, and sexual function.

Her dedication to caring for patients with compassion, understanding, as well as a unique ability to make guys instantly comfortable discussing anything from sex to sperm makes her a renowned clinician. In addition, her passion for innovation in healthcare combined with her business acumen makes her a formidable leader in the field of men’s health.

Dr. Brown is an avid adventurer; summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (twice!) and hiking the incredible Torres del Paine Trek in Patagonia, Chile. She deeply appreciates new challenges and diverse cultures on her travels. She lives in Denver with her husband, two children, and beloved Bernese Mountain Dog. You can find Dr. Brown on LinkedIn for more information.

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