One of the most common contributors to Erection Dysfunction is anxiety. Anxiety from relationship stress, pressure at work, financial duress or any number of things can show up in your sex life, getting in between you and satisfying erections. How does this happen? First we need to understand how erections work. Typically, prior to an erection your brain receives stimuli either from physical sensations (i.e. touching your penis), visual (seeing your partner naked), or emotional (recalling a past sexual encounter or fantasy.) Your brain interprets these stimuli and responds by increasing blood flood to the penis. Blood vessels in the penis relax, allowing more blood to flow into the penis and get trapped in spongy tissue called the corpus cavernosum, resulting in an erection. Anxiety can disrupt an erection in two ways:
- Anxiety interrupts communication between erotic stimuli and your brain, so that even if you are receiving typically pleasurable sensations or visuals, your brain will ignore these signals, or sometimes even reinterpret them as anxiety-producing stimuli. Mindfulness exercises or working with a trained sex-therapist can help you retrain your brain to notice erotic stimuli despite your anxiety.
- Anxiety causes muscle tension. We all know that a stressful day can cause tension headaches, or your shoulders to slowly rise up to your ears. That same muscle tension can occur in your pelvic floor muscle. When the pelvic floor muscle tightens, it restricts blood flow to the penis, making erections difficult.
One way to disarm anxiety and increase the strength of your erections is to strengthen your pelvic floor muscle. With increased strength, you’ll have increased control of the muscle, and be better able to relax it at will. This in turn will allow more blood to flow to your penis. The following exercise will help you to strengthen your pelvic floor muscle.
Locate your Pelvic Floor Muscle
To locate this muscle, bring your focus to your groin, and “twitch” your muscles like you would to stop a flow of urine mid-stream. Notice how this produces tightness in your groin, penis, or perineum (area between your testicals and anus).Repeat this movement a few times, focusing on the areas of tightness,until you are familiar with the sensation of contracting your pelvic floor muscle.
Just like with any other muscle, you’ll build strength through repeated use.
- Begin by lying down flat on your back, with your feet flat on the floor and your knees at a right angle to the floor.
- Place your hands on your stomach and take a deep, diaphragmatic breath. When you inhale, imagine sending air into your entire abdomen, so that your stomach and hand rise with your breath. As you exhale, imagine emptying air out of your abdomen like squeezing out a tube of toothpaste from the bottom up, clearing air from your stomach, then your lungs, then your throat, so that your hand and stomach lower as you breathe.
- Repeat these deep breaths 3 times, following the air as it moves through your nose, your throat, lungs and diaphragm.
- Continuing to breathe deeply, turn your focus towards your groin. Are you holding tension in your butt? If so, release it. Once your pelvis is relaxed, locate your pelvic floor muscle.
- As you inhale, tighten your pelvic floor muscle. As you exhale, release it.
- Begin to contract your pelvic floor muscle for a count of 5, then releasing for 5. Repeat this 10 times.
Don’t worry if this feels strange - many men go their entire lives without locating or intentionally using their pelvic floor muscle! It will feel a little unnatural at first. Repeat this exercise everyday, 3 times a day to build strength.
As you begin to build familiarity with your pelvic floor muscle and strength, check in when you are masturbating. Is your pelvic floor muscle relaxed? Is it tensed? Play around with what happens to sensation as you tense and release the muscle. What happens to your erection?
If you would like further support understanding what gets in the way of satisfying erections, make an appointment for talk-based sex therapy at the Center for Growth today.