From my column in Body+Soul
Question: "My husband and I have been happily married for 10 years and recently he's wanted a lot more sex. At first I thought it was great, but he can't seem to keep his erection up and I can't help but feel disappointed. He's started smoking marijuana a lot more heavily lately - could this be to blame? What can I do?"
Answer: There is so much pressure on penises. The poor things are supposed to rise to attention on command, stay hard for hours, only ejaculate when desired - and if they can’t do that, then the sex is considered poor, he has 'failed'. No wonder so many men suffer from performance anxiety!
As a society we’re adding to that pressure with all the porn that’s being watched, with endless footage of big hard cocks that appear to last for hours (never mind the reality that there are teams of women off set whose sole role is to keep the leads hard). And even on a more positive note, now that we quite rightly acknowledge the female partner’s right to pleasure, that can also add to pressure.
So, let’s take the pressure off your partner’s penis by looking at sex more holistically and what you can do as a couple to reduce any pressure he might be feeling.
But first, let’s address your question about marijuana and erections. Smoking marijuana can increase desire, which may be why he’s more interested lately (in many men though it can have the opposite effect, so readers, please don’t take up smoking pot to increase desire!). Theoretically it could adversely affect erections as there are cannabinoid receptors in the smooth muscle tissue of the penis. However, there isn’t much scientific evidence to show that this does happen.
But, and this is a big but, if he mixes the marijuana with tobacco, then the tobacco could be affecting his erections.
Smoking tobacco restricts blood flow to the veins and arteries, and if there is one part of the body you want good flow to, it’s the penis! Men who smoke tobacco are much more likely to have erectile problems.
At a psychological level, some people find that smoking pot increases anxiety. So, if he’s having sex when stoned and some performance anxiety kicks in, it could be worse than if he’s sober.
On the topic of anxiety, I’m curious as to why he’s smoking so much. Is he more stressed in life? Does he feel he needs it to relax? Because if that’s the case, the underlying stress is still there even if he’s covering it by getting stoned. It’s even possible that stress is lowering his libido so he’s smoking to increase it, possibly to please you, and is indirectly putting more pressure on himself.
As you can see, there are a lot of unknowns here, so you two really need to get talking. I’d be talking to him at two levels. Firstly, why is he smoking heavily? What’s going on in life that he feels he needs it. Is there underlying stress or anxiety that he is effectively self-medicating for? Based on that discussion, you may well be able to work together to reduce his stress and that could have the outcome of a more satisfying sex life. Professional help could help him and you as a couple if this is a challenge for you.
The other important topic of discussion is: how does he feel about sex and how you engage sexually as a couple? Explore what’s going on for him throughout the varies stages of your sexual encounter. Are there moments or periods of stress? How can you support him to ease those feelings and return to a calmly engaged state? Do either or both of you have unrealistic expectations?
Get more information on what’s going on for him (and you) so that you can look at ways to do it differently. Get used to the fact that penises rise and fall, get used to making love with a soft penis. There are so many ways to have sex without an erection (hey, lesbians do it all the time!).
If you want something hard and phallic inside and there’s no erection on hand to satisfy, well then, he can use his hands! Talented digital stimulation of the vagina is a wonderful thing. Or use toys - dexterous use of dildos and vibrators is a similarly excellent experience. Or check out the pantry and grab a carrot, or a zucchini, or a … you get the picture!
I was on talk back radio once and a lovely man called up to say ever since he became impotent due to a heart condition, he and his wife had been having better sex than ever, because he’d become so skillful with his hands!
The erection, like quality sex, will ebb and flow. As your love-making becomes more fluid and responsive, you’ll flow with the state of the penis - if it’s hard, go for the shag, if it’s not, go for the myriad other pleasures that don’t require a rock-hard cock.
You’ll find that with this attitude, paradoxically there will be less stress and therefore more erections anyway!