Top Image

Occasional Impotence and the myth of potency


Most us have experienced those occasions when we are in bed with our partners, lovers, or casual hook ups, feeling horny - or at least we thought we were horny, except nothing is stirring! It is like that Dickensian story – “it is the night of Christmas and nothing is stirring….” Except it is 5 minutes before sex and we need more than a stirring, we need the co-operation of our penises to rise to attention, be hard, hot, horny and perform!

Intellectually, we know we are more than our sexual performance, yet at an emotional level, our sense of ourselves as men is often linked to a sense of potency, which is interpreted as our ability to perform. 

This Sexual Health Week, while a great opportunity to remember the importance of getting a sexual health check-ups, it's important to note that sexual health isn’t just about STI’s and using condoms. Sexual health is also about how we think about sex.

In the example I gave above about not performing, how does it make us feel or think about ourselves when we are in those situations? What is our self-talk? Do we berate ourselves because we are flaccid and aren’t hard? Do we worry about our “manhood”? Or do we have the grace and sense of humour to laugh at the situation and ourselves? 

I must stress at the outset, I am not speaking here of impotence which arises from medical conditions such as prostate cancer and requires medical invention and assistance. Although even in these situations, medical practitioners recognise the psychological impact on men and their sense of self-worth. What I'm talking about here confines itself to those more occasional situations where we can’t perform. As we age or get into more stressful positions in our work, the likelihood of such times occurring increases. 

In these days of Viagra, it is easy to dismiss what I am saying. Perhaps, it is a generalisation, but a majority of us have probably used Viagra at some stage, not because we need to, but because we are anxious that we may require it. It is easier to take one than deal with those uncomfortable situations where we could be accused of being a “dud root”. Yet, using Viagra or other medical supplements often over-rides the inherent wisdom of our bodies. The wisdom that sometimes our bodies don’t want to perform sexually, but simply want the safety of being held.

My partner, his friend and I, were having a discussion the other night about hook ups. Their view, as younger men for whom English is a second language, is that transactional sex is simple. Send pictures, if the pictures make you horny, hook up, have sex, and then in more polite terms, “get lost”.

I admire the simplicity of the equation, yet I am left wondering if as men we use sex for those deeper longings that we struggle to admit we have. Longings for intimacy, to be held, to be seen, to feel safe, not to perform. I reflect on the men I have met and how often the best sex is after orgasm where having got it out of the way we are more prepared to admit we just want to be held, to experience the warmth of a naked body next to us, to be held, to rest next to each other in open simplicity.

Yes, it can be fun being a dominant top or a sub bottom, or even a power bottom, but I wonder….I wonder how much of our "pnp", how much of our role playing, how much of our taking Viagra etc. isn’t just a cover for the fact that we want the simple pleasure of being held, naked and possibly vulnerable, the simple pleasure of a slow long kiss and that moment when we can look into the eyes of another man be it our partner, lover or hook up and simply say hello. The pleasure of intimacy without performance. 

Sexual health can be about the courage to be honest about our need to be held, to be intimate without the pressure to perform. If we can find that courage, then those occasions where we don’t ‘perform’ is simply an opportunity to experience other aspects of our sexuality and personality, rather than an experience of failure of who we think we have to be.


David Kernohan

Related items

Our Mission

To minimise the impact and further transmission of HIV, other blood borne viruses and sexually transmissible infections. To reduce social, legal and policy barriers which prevent access to health information and effective support and prevention services.