I’m a single guy in my early 30s, and I’ve had a tough past few years due to complications from a (medically necessary) circumcision that caused debilitating chronic pain. Things aren’t perfect and probably won’t ever be again, but I’m thankful to be feeling much better these days. Now I’m getting interested in returning to certain activities, if you catch my drift.
I started experimenting with masturbation again about seven months ago. It was tough to go from basically living in fear of an erection to trying to induce one, but with time I’ve gotten to a place where I can genuinely feel pleasure again. I even have less discomfort now. The only problem is, I don't really last when I’m watching porn. When I first started masturbating again, things were pretty ‘hair trigger’ for a while, but I slowly gained more control until I was lasting longer and feeling more satisfied.
But when tried to build back up to my pre-surgery frequency — which was admittedly quite a lot — I basically lost all of that progress. This time, patience isn't solving the problem. As soon as I sit down to watch something, I can feel my heart start to race and I feel oversensitive downstairs in a way that feels too good. I’m starting to wonder whether the pain, misery and anxiety I experienced during my circumcision recovery might be playing a role here.
My question is, are there tools or strategies available for dealing with something like this? I haven’t been helped by a lot of common advice around premature ejaculation, like edging, and I’d love to avoid topical medications. But I’m starting to worry about what happens when I meet someone I really like. If I can’t last watching porn on a screen, how am I supposed to with someone I love in front of me? I want to enjoy myself first and foremost but I’d be lying if I said this hadn’t become yet another source of anxiety.
Eager but Anxious
Dear Eager but Anxious,
You’ve been on a hell of a ride, haven’t you? You went through a major surgery in a sensitive spot, from which you’ve been recovering while also navigating these Unprecedented Times. As someone who happened to spend the last few years relearning how to walk after my own bodily trauma, I can imagine how overwhelming this has been for you. I’d really like to highlight how much patience and compassion you’ve shown yourself as you’ve come through this process. Living in an ableist world can make a lot of us feel like we must race to recover from illness or injury in order to redeem our societal value but that’s not how bodies tend to work.
While it can be tempting to use our former state of being as our primary recovery goal, that can set us up to fail.
You, Eager, are also wise to consider that there are emotional dimensions to the bodily function you’re working to restore. I personally believe this to be the case with most traumatic injuries, but especially with yours. The fact that you’d been experiencing, as you put it, pain, misery, and anxiety during your recovery that led you to “basically living in fear of an erection” definitely suggests an emotional component to your struggles, because deeply internalized fears don’t usually just vanish once their catalyst does. It’s a bit like the purity culture trap, where people are told from childhood that premarital sex is a grievous sin and to avoid it at all costs, just to grow up and get married and still feel shame and fear when it’s time for sex with their spouse.
Whether it’s caused by spiritual abuse, surgery, or something else, trauma changes us irrevocably. We have to learn to live with it, rather than attempting to get past it. While it can be tempting to use our former state of being as our primary recovery goal, that can set us up to fail, as I can tell you firsthand. When my left foot was crushed in an accident three years ago, doctors realized quickly that it was a singularly bad injury. I sustained extensive nerve damage, which triggered hellish chronic pain. I spent the first year after the wreck attending grueling physical therapy sessions three times a week just so I could stand up straight in normal shoes.
It dawned on me very, very slowly that I might never walk without pain again. That’s when I shifted my recovery goal from “walk like this never happened to me” to “reduce pain and maximize mobility”. My new goal makes it harder to feel like I’m failing at it, which is kind of the point. It’s meant to draw my attention to the things I can actually change, and to help disabuse me of the notion that I’ll ever get my old body back, Serenity Prayer-style. In your case, this might look like continuing to pursue less pain and more pleasure, and learning to cultivate that pleasure in new ways that are less dependent on sustaining an erection.
As a matter of fact, most of us could benefit from taking a less phallocentric view of sex in general. The body is packed with erogenous zones from head to toe, and there are a million ways to have pleasurable partnered sex that don’t require an erection. Queer, trans, kinky, and disabled people have always known this, but for many outside these demographics who have never received comprehensive sex education and have been at the mercy of an American media culture that considers nothing but penis-in-vagina intercourse to be “actual sex”, it may be a revelation.
The body is packed with erogenous zones from head to toe, and there are a million ways to have pleasurable partnered sex that don’t require an erection.
Your special someone could easily be part of that group, and if you’re lucky, they’ll be thrilled to embark on these novel sexual experiences with you because they really like and respect you, and want to make you feel good. Now, I’m no doctor and I don’t mean to suggest your pre-surgery functioning is entirely out of reach. I have no idea, and your doctors may not either. But my advice would be not to get your heart set on it. That way, either you’ll get to discover new sex acts that give you pleasure and satisfaction, or you’ll be pleasantly surprised one day when you notice you’re exactly where you’d like to be, whether or not it’s what you pictured at first. Or both! The ultimate win-win.
I imagine that you’re still under the care of the urologist who did your surgery but I would also recommend, if it’s accessible to you, seeking out the support of a counselor who can help address the emotional component of your recovery. A traditional therapist is good, but a sex therapist is great, as a shame-free and sex-positive skillset will be essential here. If you have any unpacking you’d like to do around your consumption of porn specifically, POV by Lustery’s first online course How To Watch Porn (which I helped to create and instruct!) is a great place to start. We’ve provided resources and referrals along with the coursework to help you connect with educators, therapists and other clinicians who specialize in sexuality.
I hope I’ve been able to help you reframe your recovery goals in a way that lets you take some pressure of yourself, and steered you toward some ideas and support systems that help you heal. “Slow and steady” is always a good rule of thumb, but as you’ve become painfully aware, the healing process isn’t linear, nor does it always follow rules. Our stubborn little sacks of skin are entire universes unto themselves, with their own centers of gravity and their own celestial systems. As you learn your body’s new astronomy, I hope you find much peace and pleasure.
Got a burning question on love, sex, or porn? Send it my way! 💌 firstname.lastname@example.org 💌