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Condom kills erection

Dear Alice,

I care for my girlfriend, whom I have been seeing for a few months now. I have no problem maintaining an erection when she performs oral sex on me. In fact I can climax twice in a relatively short time. We have, however, been unable to actually engage in intercourse, since when we go to put on the condom, I lose my erection. I'm not really having too much of a problem getting erect (i.e.-- I get an erection, and may lose it early on, but I am able to get and maintain another one for oral sex). What could be the problem? Stress? A lack of physical attraction? I will be grateful for any answer you can provide me.

— Concerned

Dear Concerned,

It sounds like you and your girlfriend share a lot of sexual chemistry, especially when it comes to oral play. Stress and a lack of physical attraction can both be contributors to erection loss. That being said, since you're able to experience an erection and climax, what you're describing may be specific to the scenario that you're in at the time. There are many other possible explanations behind erection loss — which is quite common by the way. Around 25 percent of people with penises report losing an erection before or while putting a condom on or after inserting into the vagina while wearing a condom. Indeed, almost all people with penises experience erection loss at some stage in their lives. To help get a better sense of why you may be experiencing trouble staying erect, thinking about the following questions may guide you towards next steps:

  • Is it a matter of maintaining stimulation? Halting oral stimulation to put a condom on before switching to penetrative sex may result in a loss of erection due to abrupt lack of sensation. A simple solution: ask your girlfriend to keep stimulating you (or, stimulate yourself) while you apply the condom. Continuing stimulation while putting on a condom can help you stay hard while suiting up for sex.
  • Are you using condoms that fit properly? Wearing condoms that are too big or small may contribute to erection loss. The differences in fit could make it harder to feel stimulated. Condoms of all different sizes and textures are available!
  • Is the condom dulling penile sensation? Nowadays, condoms are thinner and less noticeable than ever. However, your penis may react more strongly to unprotected oral stimulation than protected vaginal stimulation, as stimulation may be reduced by the layer of latex between your penis and your girlfriend’s vagina. You may find it useful to try using condoms during oral sex to grow accustomed to the sensation of wearing a condom during penetrative sex. You can also use lubricant inside and outside of the condom to maximize sensation.
  • Are condoms your only form of contraception? If you're feeling anxious about unplanned pregnancy in the case of condom failure, which can definitely kill the mood. Consider talking to your girlfriend about using an additional form of contraception, such as the pill or an intrauterine device (IUD), to calm your nerves.
  • Do you have trouble maintaining an erection in other situations? When it comes to situations like masturbation or other sex acts, are you able to maintain an erection or climax? Thinking about the situations in which you do or don't have trouble with erections can help you figure out what may be a contributing cause.

You mentioned stress as a contributor to losing erections. Erection loss has been correlated with many psychological conditions, particularly anxiety and depression. In fact, some medications used to treat anxiety and depression can reduce a person’s sex drive. If you're concerned that your mental health is affecting your ability to maintain an erection, making an appointment with a mental health professional can help you learn more.

If you find that making adjustments to your condom use still doesn't improve your ability to stay erect, you may consider if there are other forms of contraception that may be better suited to your needs. You could consider trying an internal condom, which is inserted into your partner's vagina and still acts as a form of barrier protection. Additionally, you and your girlfriend can get screened for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at your health care provider's office or a sexual health clinic. If you're not sure where to go, you can contact your local health department to learn more about options in your area. If you both feel comfortable with the results from your STI testing and have other contraception plans in place, you may consider together whether condoms are needed at this point in time.

Sex can take many different shapes and forms, and penetrative sex doesn’t have to be the main event. As long as you and your girlfriend are satisfied, you could consider your problem solved.

Good luck!

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Last updated Sep 09, 2022
Originally published Nov 22, 1996

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