This article contains sexual content and adult themes.
I own my own place in Leeds – it’s just a one bed flat, but it’s nice. I play football every Wednesday with my friends. Afterwards, we go out for beers. I love to cycle – I did a charity ride from London to Paris last summer – and spend most weekends on my bike. I wear a suit to work, and when I catch sight of myself in a mirror, I think, ‘You look so normal…’
But I don’t feel normal.
I suffer from anorgasmia – the inability to reach orgasm, despite being stimulated. It’s one of the least common of sexual disorders in men - according to some statistics only about 25% of men orgasm at every sexual encounter.
Anorgasmia – where someone never orgasms with a partner – can happen to people for a number of reasons. Sometimes it’s a physical problem – maybe because they’ve had prostate surgery. But often, as it is for me, it’s psychological.
I was sexually attacked by a family friend when I was 12, and I think because of the trauma I’ve never been able to reach orgasm with another person. I’m starting to think that it will never happen for me. And it has stopped me from getting into any serious relationships since I was a teenager.
When I was younger, I’d pretend it didn’t matter, or tell myself that I’d sort it out at some point. I’d bring girls home and we’d have sex, but eventually I’d lose my erection, and we’d both feel awkward about it. Or some girls would make jokes about how they’d ‘hit the jackpot’ by finding a guy who could go and go, but after a few months together would inevitably become really unhappy about the fact that I never orgasm.
They’d think they weren’t pleasing me in some way. I’d try and be reassuring, but the question of what the problem was would inevitably come up, and I’ve never felt like sharing my story with anyone.
The longest I’ve had sex for was close to two hours, but, to be honest, by that point it had gotten frustrating for both of us. I eventually called time on it. She seemed to be more fixated on me and how ‘close’ I was than on enjoying the experience – which just made me feel anxious about the whole thing.
I’ve ignored it for this long, but friends are starting to settle down and get married, and I’m still alone because, increasingly, the thought of taking a new person back, and of the look on their face when they realise that I’m ‘defective’ is just getting too much to bear. Then again, so is the thought of spending the rest of my life alone.
The first time I knew I was having real problems was the first time I tried to have sex with a girl – aged 17. She’d been my girlfriend for almost a year, we were both virgins, and I think I was in love with her.
I’d started masturbating aged 13, but even then, I’d only come about half the time. On many occasions, even as a teen, despite feeling turned on, and despite getting an erection, I’d eventually get so frustrated that I just had to stop. But I thought when I was with a girl, this would all correct itself.
The first time we had sex was mid-afternoon on a Saturday. I remember it really clearly – the sun was streaming in through her bedroom window, her parents were away for the weekend – we had everything planned and were excited. We started kissing and touching. I had an erection, she seemed nervous to touch me, which reassured me in a way because it felt like she was as clueless as me.
When we finally started to get into the act, though, I got this thought in my head, ‘What if I can’t do it? What if I’m damaged?’ I don’t even know why. I got really flustered and lost my erection. We tried a few more times that day – but I could tell she was getting more and more worried as I kept ‘going soft’ and needing to stop.
It wasn’t until the next morning, after we’d spent a tense night sleeping next to each other but not really touching that we managed to finally have sex. This time I kept my erection, but after probably 30 minutes of sex, I didn’t know what else to do – I knew I wouldn’t come and that we’d just keep going like this until I lost my erection again – so I decided to ‘fake it.’
I really don’t know if she believed me, but she seemed ok with it. It’s something I’ve done a few times since then – sometimes women get so offended, as if I’m not having an orgasm because I don’t find them attractive, but that’s really not the case. In the moment it just seems easier to pretend that I’ve ‘finished’ instead of trying to explain that I have this issue – and to explain what the cause of it is.
Over the years I’ve tried to ‘medicate’ with porn. I found that if I masturbate while watching porn, I can sometimes reach orgasm by myself. It’s almost as if the porn switches off the ‘thinking’ part of my brain and allows me to just focus on the sensation. But as I got older, I found that I became too reliant on it and it led to me feeling even more desensitised when I’m with other people.
Sometimes I think about asking a girl if I can watch porn with her while we’re getting down to it, but given that I never usually go past a few dates with someone, it doesn’t feel right. I guess if it was someone I knew well, and really trusted, then it would be different.
Recently, I’ve tried talking to some friends about it, and actually found that lots of them have stories to share about times they’ve struggled to orgasm, or struggled to ‘get it up.’ But inevitably their well-intentioned,‘We’ve all been there mate’, just makes it harder to explain that I think mine goes deeper.
A few weeks ago I went to see a therapist who specialises in sex and trauma. Together we’ve been talking through my various worries about intimacy and sexual performance. Trying to describe the feelings that I experience when I become aroused has been the most eye-opening part of our sessions. I guess I’ve never had to put it into words before, but basically as I get aroused, I also get this feeling of fear – accompanied with a thought that’s like, ‘It’s all about to go wrong’. It whirls around and around my head.
For a long time I felt incredibly isolated because of what was happening to me. You often read about women struggling to orgasm, but never men. Or, if it’s about men, it’s rarely connected to anything emotional. For years I thought maybe I’m the only guy who’s experiencing this. Speaking to the therapist, though, has made me realise that I’m far from the only one.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that I may never have an orgasm with another person. But I also think that maybe I just haven’t been allowing myself to really trust or get close to someone. In the meantime, I’m going to stop dating until I know exactly what I want in a partner. I’m not sad about it - this feels like the first step towards recovery.
If you've been affected by issues raised in this article, help and support is available.
As told to Alexandra Jones
This article was originally published on 31 July 2018.