What is erectile dysfunction? It’s obvious, we all know it is when a penis refuses to cooperate on the job. It used to be thought of as an “older man syndrome” but more and more younger men who have no trouble maintaining an erection at any time other than sex are seeking solutions for erectile dysfunction. Here’s what is going on: during sex, their brain tries to execute open the penis-en-garde.exe but it is being blocked by the already running overwhelming-stress.exe or hella-nervous.exe. When those latter programs have been running for months on end due to work or school, they trick the body into maintaining a state of constant fear of survival.
That is the definition of anxiety: feeling like you are living a life where the “enemy nearby” video game music is playing 24/7. Performance anxiety doesn’t just affect men and is an effective slayer of sex for anyone who experiences it because when you are in survival mode, having a good time comes second to avoiding danger.
We understand the psychological causes of erectile dysfunction and yet the primary treatment we use (viagra) is nothing more than a surface patch that can make the problem even worse. If you have ever taken viagra you know that it is a drug which works by targeting the penis but does nothing for the brain. You can take viagra for weeks and weeks but as soon as you stop, you’re back to square one. The idea is that a temporary solution might help us become more comfortable with a new partner. However, that doesn’t address all of the stress causing erectile dysfunction that comes from outside the bedroom.
Imagine living your best life, where you’re the star of your own show. You do great work and the people in your life love, respect, and support you. The partner you are with is everything you dreamed of and the feelings are all mutual. You feel perfectly safe and open with them and intimacy is exciting and natural. If this were the case, performance anxiety, erectile dysfunction, fear, and self-loathing would be forgotten.
Unfortunately, there are three recent developments that are making the problem worse:
- Internet Pornography. Never before have human brains had such simple access to an unlimited amount of sexual stimulation. In porn, sex always ends in orgasm. We compare ourselves to professionals disguised as amateurs. We appear physically unfit next to stars of epic proportions and hip to waist ratios. Consuming a vast amount of media like this makes words of doubt and incompetency seep into the bedroom and spoils otherwise sweet and beautiful honey.
- Social Media. Constant exposure to the highlight reels of friends and family leads to feelings of inadequacy, envy, and disappointment. All of this becomes a massive burden to carry into the bedroom where we get plenty of chances to ponder our self-worth and competency. We contemplate our flaws and failures against the backdrop of other people’s greener pastures where the same flaws and failures have been hidden from sight.
- Dating apps. Where we used to fish in a pond, mobile dating apps have expanded that pond to an almost endlessly vast ocean. A larger pool of candidates introduces two new problems that have never existed before. First, every partner we spend time with comes attached with greater opportunity costs and second, everyone comes attached with significantly more psychological baggage from past relationships. Both of these play a role in the fear associated with intimacy that can kill the vibe in a bedroom.
Given all this is should be no surprise to anyone that erectile dysfunction and performance anxiety are on the rise with a younger and younger demographic. Today, these issues remain highly stigmatized and rarely talked about. Many medical solutions only temporarily address symptoms rather than causes. Attempts to address the root causes are either too simplistic or not holistic enough to work.
Something has to change and as a society, we must first start destigmatizing the topic and start talking about the ways technology is affecting intimacy in the bedroom. We will have to change our habits and thoughts away from being in a state of constant fear and anxiety and rediscover our natural selves as social animals built for love and intimacy.
About the author: Dr. Michael Jiang is a neuroscientist entrepreneur and co-founder and inventor of Nerv, a small healthy supplement for the management of occasional stress and anxiety. His mission is to destigmatize the conversation around mental health by offering accessible, healthy, and intuitive solutions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of others.