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Bisexual backfire?

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Mike asks:

Well, there's a lot going on in my life lately and well, I'm needing help with something. I'm a 20-year-old bisexual male. Here's my problem. I recently broke up with my girlfriend, with whom I had a very long relationship. We started our relationship as virgins, and well, I still am. She had issues with sex and well it was never an issue for me, it wasn't even one of the reasons why I broke up with her, she thinks it was but . . it really wasn't. A couple of weeks ago I met a guy and, well, one thing lead to another and we had the opportunity to have sexual contact. And well, here's where the problem starts. I wasn't able to get an erection. Yes, quite embarrassing trust me. I think that due to my age it is next to impossible that I have an erectile dysfunction problem so I'm thinking it is all psychological. Is it possible that I'm so used to repressing my sexual needs due to my previous relationship that it is affecting my current one? Or is it possible that his way of dealing with foreplay is just not getting me "turned on"? There's no rush to answer my question but I'd love it if you still took the time to answer it. I do understand that you probably get flooded with dozens and dozens of questions every day! Thanks!!

Heather Corinna replies:

When something big is brand new to us, and carries risks with it -- negative or positive, and in the case of sex with someone, both -- it's entirely normal to be pretty darn nervous or anxious. And when men are nervous or anxious, quite commonly they won't be able to get or sustain erections sometimes. If you're not having any issues with erection in your own masturbation, and this is the only time this has happened, rather than it being an ongoing issue alone and with partner's, you're right: it is very unlikely to be a physical or medical issue, and most likely a psychological one. Our minds are very strongly linked to our bodies, and sexuality is by no means an exception.

There you were: with this all brand-new, and with you coming into this out of conflict, no less. I'd say it would have been more surprising if you had gotten an erection than it is that you didn't. While of course it's a disappointment, it really is nothing to be embarrassed about. And if this only happens to you once in your life, it'll be nothing short of a miracle.

By all means, with any new partner, we may or may not be sexually compatible. Just like with heterosexuals, being heterosexual doesn't mean having chemistry with everyone of the opposite-sex, or having sexual compatibility with everyone of the opposite-sex, so it goes with same-sex partners and those of us who are bisexual or homosexual. Too, with a new partner, it often will take some practice for any two people to be able to get their groove on together: that's not uncommon, either. In fact, a lot of the time, if we decided to come back for seconds with someone only based on firsts, we probably wouldn't come back, especially if we figured the awkwardness we often have with new partners was anything but plain old newness.

Another common issue we see which may or may not be the case here is about a lack of sexual chemistry. Particularly with same-sex relationships, because our dating pool often tends to be so much smaller, we might be trying to hook up with partners more because they are the partners where we finally had some opportunity, rather than because those are people we really do have a connection and chemistry with. But I'd still not decide that solely because of a lack of erection with a partner once: rather, just pay attention over time to how you're feeling. If your knees aren't getting weak when this guy is around, you don't occasionally find yourself overtalking or stammering in his presence, and with a relationship this new, he's not monopolizing a lot of your daydreams, that special-something just may not be there.

On top of all that, you probably brought a lot of expectations to the table with this given you struggled to get here and given you finally got that first-time same-sex experience, which also sounds like it was one of your first sexual experiences, period. That's big stuff! It'd sure be hard to relax if that were the case, and it's also be tough not to feel pressured (just in your own head) to have the most amazing time ever, and pressure like that tends to backfire.

First things first: you cut yourself a break. For people of all genders, our bodies do not always respond sexually as we want them to or when we want them to. That's just a given for everyone in any situation, though it's somewhat more visible with men (it is visible as well with women, but less people know what to look for or figure it matters), and man tend to put more pressure on themselves in that way. Make room for yourself to get used to this whole new area of your life and your sexuality, and do what you can to come to it without performance anxieties: it'll be a lot more joyful and beneficial for you that way.

If you feel like you have some heavy emotional issues getting in your way, evaluate them. Find areas where you might need support and seek that support out. Sounds like you could benefit from getting hooked into some GLB community in your area, too, so I'd encourage you to look around and see if you don't have a local PFLAG, GLAAD or other community GLBT groups in your area.

It would not be at all surprising if you were dealing with some emotional issues: having a first same-sex partner is stressful, even if it's also great, and to boot, while anything other than heterosexuality already tends to be loaded in our culture, male bisexuality right now can be particularly so. There are pressures put on male bisexuals right now (I say right now because a lot of these things do tend to come and go in waves) which most of us of other orientation groups don't experience, or don't experience quite as pervasively. And being bisexual, period, no matter your gender, has its own particular set of pressures and issues, primarily because binary thinking so often tends to be the order of a lot of folks' day, and bisexuality doesn't fit into one of two boxes.

If you know you're coming to all of this with some level of stress, choose partners where you can be plain about that and have it out in the open: sometimes just being able to unpack our worries with a partner makes a big difference in alleviating our stress about them -- then you don't have to worry about being "found out" in terms of being nervous or feeling green.

And don't forget that your penis is not your only sexual organ, nor the only way you or a partner can enjoy your sexuality. In fact, the sooner you can get down with that, the better your sex life is going to be with any partner, because limiting sexual experience and pleasure to such a small area of your body and self is exactly that: very limiting.

Here are a few more links which may help you out, including a link to my book, which is written entirely inclusively and may have extra GLB sexuality and relationship information you need:

written 19 Mar 2008 . updated 20 Jan 2014

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