Only being able to get a semi- hard on when you’re otherwise ready to get it on is definitely not ideal. But before you freak out, know that lots of guys can have trouble getting hard when they want to have sex, and it doesn’t necessarily signal that you have erectile dysfunction and will have this trouble every time you’re in bed.
A lot of the issue of getting a semi- hard on can come down to psychological or environmental reasons, explains Jamin Brahmbhatt, M.D., a urologist at Orlando Health. Being able to get erect and maintain it is not always a given, especially if other factors that affect your ability to get an erection and keep it come into play, including alcohol, certain medications and work stress.
Here are some of the more basic and harmless reasons you only have a semi- hard on sometimes.
1) You Can’t Get an Erection Because You Drank Too Much
If you’ve had one too many drinks and realize you just can’t get hard, thank whiskey dick, which is as real as it is a drag.
Alcohol depresses your central nervous system, says Dr. Brahmbhatt. It decreases blood flow to your penis, preventing you from getting hard.
So while that drink might relax you enough to get someone into bed—and it’s true, some guys might perform better with a tiny bit of booze in their system—it might prevent you from getting the job done if you go overboard, he says.
So be conscious of your best amount: Guys should stick to roughly two drinks per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—that’s solid advice for your health and your sex life.
2) You Can’t Get an Erection Because You’re With Someone New
You finally click with someone, but as soon as you try to have sex, your member wilts—along with your confidence.
That can come down to lots of things. For one, it can be psychological, says Dr. Brahmbhatt. So if, say, you feel like your penis size might not stack up to other men, or if you’ve had super awkward sexual experiences in the past, your brain might not be able to let go of that when it comes time to perform.
Plus, your body might physically experience this as a high-stress situation, and pump your system with adrenaline, killing your ability to get it up, he says.
Michael Eisenberg, M.D., a professor of urology at Stanford, says that being unable to get an erection with a new partner is incredibly common. “Relaxation can help, and increased foreplay can sometimes help. Otherwise, speaking to your doctor can also help you find other options.”
3) You Can’t Get an Erection Because You’re Stressed and Exhausted
Let’s just say “economic anxiety” for starters. Anxieties about anything can cause you to lose your focus, explains Debby Herbenick, Ph.D., professor at the Indiana School of Public Health. “And then, potentially, cause your arousal to decrease.”
“Stress exhausts you mentally and physically,” says Dr. Brahmbhatt. “When you’re stressed out, your body is trying to mobilize all of your energy to your main functional organs, so something like your penis is going to be the last thing on this list.”
What’s more, feeling stressed can spike your cortisol levels. That can be a problem, since the stress-hormone can actually block the effects of testosterone, a study published in Hormones and Behavior found. That can kill your libido and cause problems with your erection.
When you do meet someone in this era, “it’s possible you are concerned not only about STIs or HIV risk, but about COVID-19 risk,” says Herbenick. “Or, if you recently recovered from COVID-19, you may be concerned about transmitting it, even if your doctor says you can be considered ‘recovered’ and well again.”
And if these anxieties are keeping you from sleeping well or exercising, that can get you where you don’t want to be, “since both of these support a healthy cardiovascular system which, in turn, supports strong erections,” Herbenick points out.
If you find yourself absolutely exhausted and stressed, Dr. Eisenberg says, it’s probably not the ideal time for any sexual encounter. Instead, try to set a time when you’re better rested.
4) You Can’t Get an Erection Because You’re Taking Certain Medications
There’s a whole slew of medications that can interfere with your ability to get hard, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
That includes certain high blood pressure medications, like beta-blockers and diuretics, says Steven Lamm, M.D., medical director of NYU Langone’s Preston Robert Tisch Center for Men’s Health. While they’re great for your heart, their interference with your sympathetic nervous system and blood vessel walls can decrease the blood flow to your penis.
Stanford University research suggests that up to 75 percent of depressed patients see a dip in their libido. And taking certain antidepressants can keep you from an erection, too. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Prozac and Lexapro can decrease your testosterone levels or even lead to delayed ejaculation.
But don’t just stop taking those medications. In many cases, your doctor can work with you to find a drug in a different class, or you may be able to take a lower dose to minimize these side effects, says Dr. Brahmbhatt.
5) You Can’t Get an Erection Because You Recently Masturbated
If you just got off solo, you might have to wait before you can hop into bed with your partner, says Dr. Brahmbhatt. It might have something to do with a spike in the hormone prolactin after you orgasm, according to a study published in the International Journal of Impotence Research. This hormone has been linked to difficulties maintaining an erection or even ejaculating.
Scientists aren’t sure why your refractory time varies, according to the International Society for Sexual Medicine, but it’s often shorter for younger men.
“It’s like running a marathon, your body will need to relax and rejuvenate before your run again,” explains Dr. Brahmbhatt. So just keep in mind that the average man has a 30-minute refractory period, he says, but some guys may need as little as 10 minutes or up to an hour or two to reload.
6) You Can’t Get an Erection Because You and Your Partner Are Trying to Conceive
When you’re trying to conceive, it may put a lot of pressure on you to perform. “The stress of having sex around the ovulatory cycle, can take away the spontaneity and make sex more of a chore,” says Dr. Eisenberg.
Additional reporting by Melissa Romero
Deputy Editor, Prevention
Alisa Hrustic is the deputy editor at Prevention, where she leads the brand’s digital editorial strategy. She’s spent the last five years interviewing top medical experts, interpreting peer-reviewed studies, and reporting on health, nutrition, weight loss, and fitness trends for national brands like Women’s Health and Men’s Health. She spends most of her days diving into the latest wellness trends, writing and editing stories about health conditions, testing skincare products, and trying to understand the next greatest internet obsession.