How do I overcome ED?

Dear Edahn,

I have been struggling with sexual anxiety since I first became sexually active (three years ago, at 20). The anxiety gives me ED. It ultimately lead to the end of my first long-term relationship. My gf at the time was supportive, but the emotional fallout ultimately ruined things. My second relationship went better, and the ED didn't present itself until a few months in. However, the sexual portions of the relationship had started off with the use of Viagra. As soon as things became emotionally rocky though, the ED kicked in hardcore, and caused an early end.

Two years later, I have started seeing a very attractive and wonderful woman, and I think it is all coming to an end, again, because of the anxiety and ED. I have had difficulty achieving erections already, even with the use of Viagra. She has never been demeaning, and has helped me to overcome the issue in most occasions. Her patience is running thin though, and it's understandable.

Now here's the clincher. I don't think this is just related to plain old anxiety about achieving an erection. My anxiety is related to being able to achieve long-lasting and meaningful relationships, and social interactions in general. For instance, I have achieved this one through my sexuality. So if I can’t have sex, I lose a meaningful relationship. Pressure much? Also, my social life (and self-esteem) is in a sorry state of affairs, and the closer I become to a woman, the more I worry about my incompetence and inability to maintain intimacy. So we're not just dealing with performance anxiety, it has to do with all sorts of anxiety! And it's all self-feeding!

So before throwing a grenade at this relationship, like I have before, I was wondering if you might have any advice on what the best way to navigate this multi-headed monster might be.

Yours truly,
Sexually frustrated in California

YOU'VE PROBABLY GOTTEN REALLY used to being in that state of worrying when you're trying to be intimate or approaching moments of intimacy. Your thoughts start taking off, you start trouble-shooting and coming up with all sorts of plans, start trying to pump yourself up (psychologically, not penisly, but who knows), and your whole "issue" and your understanding of what it is, what causes it, and what to do comes into view. That whole state of mind probably feels very familiar to you by now, am I right?

The thing is, that whole state of mind is really the issue. It's something that you keep defaulting to when you're afraid. It actually IS fear. Fear kind of makes your mind scatter in all these different directions, kind of like what happens when you see an piece of fruit covered with ants and tap it or stomp near it...all the ants scurry about and get disoriented. That's kind of what anxiety is. And you, being smart, have your mind working overtime to examine and address the anxiety, which is another feature of anxiety.

The cause, as I see it, is basically a lack of self-love. Not the kind of self-love where unicorns are shitting rainbows into your heart, but just a healthy dose of knowing that deep down, you are a good, kind person. That kind of self-love helps you deal with anything because in the end, you know that you even if you fail locally (i.e., right now, in this moment), you haven't failed globally, as a person or a man. In fact, you can't fail globally unless you become a bad person, which you won't because bad people never have those kinds of thoughts. Self-love is kind of like emotional-insulation: even if things become really cold outside, you still maintain your warmth inside, so you don't panic anymore when you see a storm. You still might feel the anxiety, but it doesn't compound itself anymore.  

Without that self-love, what happens? Failures assume more significance than they should be allowed. Every failure takes priority. It's like it automatically takes the top comment on the YouTube video that is your life, "what a fucking loser. will never have a relationship," until the next asshole comment rolls around. Even the anticipation of failure, which is being triggered by intimacy and emotional strain, can be scary because the experience of failure is so tragic and destructive. There's no mercy. So when it's around the corner, it's all you can think of, which by itself is enough to eject you from your body and from the moment and dull your senses (penisly). 

Maybe this makes sense to you. But maybe it doesn't, because I'm not sure you've really experienced the kind of unshakable self-love (and self-compassion) that I'm talking about because you've been so used to experiencing fear and trying to work your way around it, like I described in my first paragraph. 

My advice to you is to stop thinking with about your penis for a second. This isn't just about you and your sex life; this is about you and your relationship with yourself. This is much more important than sex and relationships. Take some time to listen to your own pain, as you would for a friend or as I would for you. Just be there for yourself, without needing to sort it all out or come up with solutions. People don't really need solutions as much as they need someone to listen to them and hold them, physically or emotionally. Show yourself that you're there for yourself, that you're there to stick up for yourself no matter what, and that you won't throw yourself away because something bad happens. Because you're a good person. Really. You're a good person. 

When you see that and you FEEL that, wholeheartedly (no fucking faking!) then you'll see it's tremendous, sacred value. Practice it; nourish it; cultivate it as a way of life. Practice compassion by being compassionate to others and listening to them as much as possible. When you start to get anxious, rather than going into that trance of thinking and planning, ask yourself if you've let your self-love slip into disrepair. If you have, pull back and identify your pain. Again, be there for yourself, gently. Don't rush yourself. If you can't find that place of self-love, then identify and hold your frustration. No matter what, you can always be there for yourself. In time, maybe you'll see this as a loving wake up call to examine your life rather than an obstacle.

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