Erection detection

Originally Published: December 18, 1998 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: February 12, 2015
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Dear Alice,

I am a twenty-one-year-old virgin who has just recently started seeing a girl very seriously. I am frustrated at how my body reacts to the slightest physical stimulus. Holding hands, talking about physical affection, even thinking about kissing gives me an erection. I am not thinking about sex, and we are not going to have sex until we are married, but I can't believe how frequent these erections are. I know it's common for guys my age to have erections, but just being with a girl I care about gives me one, and it's not easy to hide, and I don't want her to think the wrong thing. I used to masturbate and view pornography a lot but I finally stopped because I didn't agree with it. I stopped about the same time I met her. Do you think that my past is causing my body to want something I'm not going to give it?


Dear J,

Simply put, no. Neither your past masturbation and porn viewing, nor your refusal to sexually stimulate yourself again (despite your possible desire to do so) is directly causing your erections. Your body is paying attention to emotional and physical stimulation — and you're right, sometimes you don't even have to be consciously thinking about sex in any way for an erection to arise. This also means that getting an erection shouldn't mean to you (or your partner) that sex is your goal. Erections — frequent or few-and-far-between — mean that you're mentally and physically responsive, chock full of naturally produced, stimulating hormones, alive, and, yes, very normal! For sure, releasing your sexual energy by going back to masturbation may reduce the frequency of your erections when you are with your partner — but of course, that decision is up to you.

When, or if, you tell your partner that your hard-ons hardly mean sex, you might suggest that she take them as a compliment — evidence that you're truly happy to be with her. If you're not up for chatting about your excitements just yet, you might make them less obvious by wearing brief-style underwear that allows for preventive penis positioning. In other words, when an erection comes, your pants will bulge like an igloo, instead of a tee-pee.

Underwear monitoring, as well as suggestions to think about your school work, something sad, or another turn-off that encourages flaccidity, seem like a lot of energy to expend on something that's as natural as yawning when you're tired. Your belief that masturbation is wrong — when in or out of a relationship — may produce tension within yourself, and between you and your partner. Perhaps some of that anxiety is encouraging your immediate concerns about erection detection. To help decide potential directions for the future, you may also want to take a look at the related questions. Regardless of how you choose to proceed, remember that you're quite normal. Happy dating!