Q: I'm a 35-year-old woman who has had her share of sexual experiences. Recently, I started seeing this guy whom I like very much, but there is a problem. He says he can only get hard if he is having sex. Foreplay just doesn't do it for him. I've never experienced this before and I don't really buy it (I tried to discuss it with him and clearly he did not want to talk about it). So we have slept together once and it was very quick and I don't think he was fully erect. So what is going on? Is this ED? How can I broach this subject with him again?

A: I don't really buy it, either. How convenient to claim to only be fully erect once he's inside you, when you can't accurately determine how hard he really is. My hunch is that he's just as soft during intercourse due to some form of erectile dysfunction. His avoidance of the subject only affirms that not all systems are functional and he knows it.

So what's going on? Erectile dysfunction (ED) is an inability to produce and/or maintain an erection suitable for sex, and can be brought on by various factors. According to MayoClinic.com, most cases of ED are caused by something physical, such as obesity, high blood pressure, low testosterone or tobacco, alcohol or other substance abuse. Do you tell the guy you just started dating that he might be too fat to get it up? In most cases, no, but you can make gentle suggestions. Keep heart-pumping outdoor activities and healthier restaurants in mind, omit the booze and ask him not to smoke around you (if he does). Showing off your gym-bunny body (if you have one) may also make him think twice about his flabby gut and unhealthy habits. Unfortunately, there's not much you can do if you're up against a permanent condition like diabetes or multiple sclerosis. It's up to him to take care of his health, and you're not in a position to start nagging just yet. (If I'm not mistaken, you're free to nag after your one-year anniversary.)

The male psyche also comes into play when it comes to ED, with depression, stress and mental fatigue all being common culprits. Maybe he's got a family member in the hospital or is under serious pressure at work. If you know something's wrong and he's comfortable talking to you about it, just letting him vent will alleviate some of that stress.

Watching too much porn can also be a problem when it comes to real-life arousal. It might be tough to determine what his porn habits are, so if you want to know what he wanks to and how often, you'll have to ask. It's not exactly casual conversation material for two people who just started seeing each other, but it's the only way to know for sure.

If you sense he's just nervous around you naked, you've lucked out. Performance anxiety is par for the course in the beginning of a relationship, so this is most likely what you're up against. Just keep the man confident. Letting him know that you're totally hot for him boosts his ego, which is key to eliminating performance anxiety. You also need to take off any pressure to have sex. Tell him you're really into foreplay, often more than intercourse. Explain that you don't need him to be 100 percent hard when you're fooling around, as long as you know you're both into it. It may take a couple weeks or a couple months, but eventually, his nervousness will subside and you can put this sexual obstacle to bed.

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