How to Get an Erection
What to do when you need reliable erections
Last reviewed: 27 Feb 2019
It's normal to have problems getting erections from time to time
Stimulation is the most important factor in getting erections in the moment
You may need to learn how to manage your anxiety around sex
Treatments and medications are available to help improve your chances of getting an erection long-term
You can also get help if you get erections but they aren't as hard as you'd like
If you want to know how you can get an erection then the answer will change depending on your personal situation. If you're looking for one-off advice there are a few things to keep in mind. If you want a long-term solutions, there are treatment options available to you.
Needing help getting hard is normal and there are ways you can improve your chances...
How do I get an erection right now?
If you need to get an erection right now – if your penis is functioning normally, then to get an erection you would just need the right sexual stimulation. This could be:
- Physical stimulation (touching yourself or being touched by someone else)
- Visual stimulation (watching an erotic situation or erotic video)
- Mental stimulation (having sexually arousing thoughts)
Patience is important – sometimes, your erections will take a few minutes to happen, or to become strong enough to have full penetrative sex. Take your time and relax. Worrying about an erection won’t help and trying to use a flaccid or semi-erect penis probably won’t work.
Erections aren't always reliable – sometimes, you’ll find that you get an erection at the most unfortunate of times, and when you least expect them. At other times, when you really need or want to get one, erections feel impossible to achieve.
Not being able to get an erection is usually not serious – if you want to have penetrative sex, but find that you cannot get an erection right away, there's no need to panic. This is a completely natural and normal part of healthy sexual development. Anyone with a penis will experience this at some point during their lives, whether they have erectile dysfunction (ED) or not.
What is needed to get an erection? – erections are caused by the capillaries (blood vessels) of the penis filling up, which makes your penis increase in size and stretch in shape. They can last any length of time from a few seconds, depending on lots of things, mainly on how much stimulation is involved. Having an erection is usually needed to have penetrative sex with a partner to completion.
What if you often need help getting hard? – if you find you’re having regular problems getting or keeping an erection, you should ask for advice from your GP. They will help you to work out what’s happening, rule out any underlying health conditions that could be causing it, and talk you through your different treatment options.
How can I get an erection when I'm nervous?
Nerves can make it hard to get an erection – nervousness or anxiety itself can cause you to lose your erection, or stop you from getting an erection in the first place. If you’re nervous about having sex, if you’ve got performance anxiety or ‘first-night nerves’, then there are lots of things you can do.
How to tell if it's anxiety-related – if you mainly have problems getting an erection around other people, or with sexual partner(s), but find it easy to get erections by yourself while masturbating, then the reasons for your problems are most likely to be emotional or psychological.
Alternate causes – if you cannot get an erection when you’re by yourself at all, there could be other reasons:
- Drinking too much alcohol
- The effects of prescription or non-prescription drugs
- A poor diet
- An underlying physical health condition
What to do – first of all, do not blame yourself; sex can be stressful. Try to stay as relaxed as possible and take your time as you go. Talking to your partner(s) can also help, if they are supportive. Talking should help you both become more comfortable around the subject and take some of the pressure off the event itself.
Getting professional help – the only way to work out what’s causing your problems, ultimately, will be to talk to someone about it. In the first instance, your GP will be able to rule out any physical causes, and can refer you to psychological or emotional support services if this suits you better as a long-term solution.
Erections and masculinity – having or thinking about sex is a cause of anxiety for lots of people. In masculine cultures, the ability to ‘perform’ sexually is linked to ideas of success and strength, even though most men will have erection trouble from time to time. Your ability to have and keep an erection has no bearing on you as a person.
How can I get erections more often?
The first-line solution – the most common medical treatment for erectile dysfunction (ED) is PDE-5 inhibitors, like Viagra. These are available on prescription from the NHS or privately. They come in tablet form and can be taken in advance, as and when required for sex. PDE-5 inhibitors won’t be suitable or safe for everyone to use, but they generally have a very high success rate in treating ED. Remember: PDE-5 inhibitors do not cause erections on their own. To get an erection, you’ll still need to be sexually aroused or stimulated.
Improve your state of mind – if there are other reasons for your erection problems, there are different treatment options available. Counselling, CBT or couples therapy has good success rates for emotional ED. For ED caused by physical problems, your GP will probably recommend you some form of medical treatment.
Pay attention to your arousal – apart from physical function, the most important thing needed for getting erections is sexual arousal. If you want to get erections more often, make sure you are being properly stimulated at times of sexual activity. Masturbating or experimenting more creatively with yourself (or with a partner) on a regular basis can help increase your libido.
Can I get a harder erection?
Yes, you can also get treatment if your erections aren't hard enough – ED treatment can also be used for people who are able to get an erection, but who have trouble keeping or maintaining an erection, or who consistently have trouble getting an erection that’s hard enough for full penetrative sex.
Why hardness matters – to have proper penetrative sex, your penis should be fully erect, i.e. about as strong and hard as fresh cucumber. It is technically possible to use a semi-erect penis for penetration, but this can cause bruising or muscle strain, so it’s not advised.
Treatment is the same if you want harder erections – taking ED treatment like PDE-5 inhibitors can help you stay harder for longer, and could be just what you need to enjoy penetrative sex. It's up to you to decide if not getting hard-enough erections is something you want to change, for example if you and your partner(s) want to address it. Many people can enjoy sex lives without regular erections.
Dr Nicholas Antonakopoulos graduated from the University of London in 2006. He did his postgraduate training in hospitals in the London area, and he trained for four years in Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgery before completing his training in General practice in 2015.Meet our doctors
Last reviewed: 27 Feb 2019
NHS Choices (2016). Why can’t I get and keep an erection? NHS. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/881.aspx?CategoryID=61&SubCategoryID=612 [accessed 25th May 2018].
Young Men's Health (2017). Erections. [online] Available at: http://youngmenshealthsite.org/guides/erections/ [accessed 25th May 2018].
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