No, this doesn’t mean making your penis “less sensitive,” it means soothing your nervous system responses to stress and worry. The advantage of being soothed is that if you have a male body, you are less likely to become so worried about a sexual encounter that you flip into sympathetic nervous system responses (“fight, flight, freeze”) and thus experience diminished blood flow to your penis.
Erections are all about blood flow, so you want to be in your parasympathetic nervous system mode (even if you are excited!). Parasympathetic mode is sometimes dubbed “feed and breed,” with good reason. You need to be in this mode to experience and sustain sexual arousal (this is generally true for all humans). (Oddly, sympathetic mode governs ejaculation.)
So what can you do, assuming you have no medical problems that interfere with your circulation (do get screened for diabetes!) or other aspects of sexual health?
Change your erotic mindset. One thing you can do is focus on your (and your partner’s) sexual enjoyment, rather than worrying about function (Klein, Sexual Intelligence, pp. 229-231). One way to do that is to cultivate a variety of pleasures beyond penetrative intercourse (anal or vaginal). These range of course from oral sex to erotic massage to anything else you both enjoy. I teach erotic hypnosis to people who want to learn to do this with their lovers–proving that “the brain really is the largest sexual organ.” There are numerous ways to have a rollicking good time in bed (and out of it), that have very little to do with a hard penis. In fact, Annie Sprinkle, Ph.D., has a brilliant video on YouTube that cheers on the soft penis as a wonderful, juicy, pleasure-giving part of the body. I’m completely in favor of her “Soft-Cock Revolution” and wish more partners of penis’d people would get on board with this.
Understand that erection fluctuations are normal. Bernie Zilbergeld’s classic books, Male Sexuality (1978) and his revised The New Male Sexuality (1992), has a chapter called “It’s Two Feet Long, Hard as Steel, Always Ready, and Will Knock Your Socks Off: The Fantasy Model of Sex.” I think that title says a lot about erection expectations, don’t you? I wish every cisgendered* male would read this book, even though it was published so long ago.
Understand the intelligence of your body, especially your penis. If you feel you may have worried yourself into a cycle of reluctant erections you might need more emotional safety in your relationship(s). Emotional safety would allow you to remain in parasympathetic mode when you’re with your partner. This is more important than you might imagine. Most of the men who come to me for help with “erectile dysfunction” (I dislike that term more and more every day) are younger men who have come out of a long term relationship and are just now starting to date again. They’re scared, yet feeling pressured to get back into circulation. And they expect to be “ready, willing, and able” without regard for their own (or their partner’s) emotional context, even if they are no longer in their teens. I’ve sometimes had clients “talk with” their penises under hypnosis or later ask them to write letters to themselves from their penises. This can be very insightful, odd as it sounds!
I also teach partners to do “affectionate” hypnosis as a regular part of their week–each spending five to ten minutes in light trance while the partner pours loving words of appreciation into their receptive ears. Then switch! This can do a lot to create feelings of bonding and emotional safety in relationships.
Breathe deeply and focus on the present moment. Forget about your “performance” and get back inside your body. For some men, this can actually be enough to help overcome the triggered leap into sympathetic nervous system mode. It’s a learned skill. Those who already do yoga or meditation will generally pick it up more easily.
Consider hypnosis and self-hypnosis to re-set your nervous system responses. Usually people are triggered by a series of escalating steps toward sexual intimacy. I typically ask my clients for a list of (up to ten) things that begin to make them feel worried, and then we rank them in order of least worrisome to most worrisome. The idea is that we “desensitize” their reactions to the less stressful steps first–like texting someone for a date–and then work to diminish sympathetic nervous system responses to the more intense triggers like “unhooking my wife’s bra,” “putting on a condom,” or “starting to thrust.” This process takes repetition and practice. I teach self-hypnosis so that my clients can also practice this at home.
Hypnotism Male Sexual Dysf Handout– Here is a list of some early studies using hypnosis to improve male sexual function.
What I’ve just described is a focus simply on the cisgendered male client, without taking the partner(s) into account. Often the partners have their own responses to a “dysfunction” which may range from exasperation or frustration in the moment to “he’s not really into me” or “I must be too fat” (or other body image issues and emotional insecurities). Often the partner needs basic adult sex ed too–including reasonable expectations of how penises work and what other lovely, wonderful things can be enjoyed together. Emotional safety and generosity for both (or all) partners are crucial for re-inventing mutual sexual enjoyment. So I like to also have some session time with the partners as well.
*”cisgendered” means your own sense of gender is congruent with your gender assignment at birth.