Heather Corinna replies:
I'm 16, I get erections very easily. When I make out with girls I get them, or if I massage private areas not meaning her vagina. I notice when we're done that I have ejaculated. I don't even feel this happen. I don't feel super excited it just happens! I try to think about different things but it doesn't work! I hope you can help, thanks.
I probably can't help you keep erections or ejaculation from happening when you don't want them to, since that's just something largely, and often entirely, outside someone's control. Hopefully what I can do is help you to worry about it less and accept the way your body is right now more.
We hear from a lot of guys upset or freaked out about this. I certainly understand why and how it can be really upsetting. It's a big deal to have your body announce to someone else that you're physically stimulated or turned on, especially if happens at times where you're not ready to share that with someone else, don't want to share that information or feel physically or emotionally unsafe being exposed in that way. Some people can be total jerks about unexpected or inopportune erections. While that's really a problem based in their own immaturity and insensitivity, not a problem of your body, knowing that often only helps so much if and when you and your penis are the butt of anyone's jokes or their own discomfort with bodily functions. It's even more rough for your body to react in such a way that announces a sexual interest to others you might not actually be feeling or wanting.
There are some built-in inequities many of us have to deal with when it comes to our bodies. Just like it's an inequity for only people with a uterus to be the ones who can get pregnant or have periods, or only breastfeeding mothers who have to deal with breasts leaking in public, it's also an inequity for people with penises to have to deal with what you are. Sure, it's less of a big deal than having the ability to become pregnant when you don't want to, but it's still a big deal.
Both of these things really are typical, though, however unfair they can feel. What's going on with your body that makes these things happen? Well, when you are turned on -- even only a little -- this is a typical way the body you're in responds. During puberty, erection does tend to happen a lot, and ejaculation tends to happen easily and often quickly with little warning. Your brain and body can be very easily stimulated by sights, sounds, smells, being touched, the idea of being touched, or touching someone or something else. Sometimes those things are sexual, sometimes they're sensual, and sometimes they either are or don't seem like either (for instance, erections and/or ejaculation during sleep can happen just because of sheets brushing against your penis or other parts of the body).
It can often take very little sensory stimulation of any kind, or very little sexual thought, for the pistons in your brain and the nerves in your pelvis to fire and send signals that move blood to your genitals. That blood then moves into two bodies of tissue that run the length of the penis, the corpus cavernosum and the corpus spongiosum, causing an erection. Why does this happen more often to younger men? Younger men get a lot of what's called "reflex erections," meaning you might not be feeling sexual, or having sexual thoughts, but your body reacts to any given kind of stimulation as if you are or were, stimulation that can be as common as your jeans putting pressure on your penis, or a full bladder stimulating the nerves inside your pelvis. Those kinds of things send nerve signals that create an erection as a reflexive response. In Sexual Health for Men, Richard F. Spark calls reflex erections are "the genital equivalent of a knee jerk," that reflex our legs have when a general physical taps our knee with that little rubber hammer.
Your testosterone levels before puberty are very low. When you enter puberty, they start surging, and usually before the time you're twenty, they'll get as high as they ever get (and stay that way for around 20 years before your levels of testosterone start to gradually decline). That has an awful lot to do with the awful lot of erections you're getting as well as with ejaculating. And a lot of the time, you probably are having sexual thoughts, feelings and desires. The times this happens when you're making out with girls, no matter where you're touching them, is likely about sexual thoughts and feelings. If you didn't have any of those, you probably wouldn't want to make out with them at all, after all. Additionally, sometimes our bodies respond sexually when we're almost the opposite of sexually aroused: when we're feeling fearful or nervous, including feeling nervous about what our bodies might do in front of someone else that we feel is embarrassing.
With the ejaculation, your body just doesn't have a lot of control right now over that, either. Sometimes that will happen without orgasm, sometimes right after or with one. Like erection, ejaculation is mostly about responses and signals from your brain and central nervous system. You can ejaculate without experiencing orgasm. For people with a penis, often ejaculation happens right after or with orgasm, but it can sometimes happen without it, too, especially when you're young. You may well also be experiencing orgasms sometimes with this, just not orgasms that feel like much. For people of all genders, orgasm doesn't always feel the same way, and if we reach orgasm really fast, especially if we haven't been aroused for very long or had a lot of whole-body stimulation -- or are totally distracted by something else, like what we're doing to someone else or when we're feeling a lot of anxiety -- they can sometimes feel so weak or mild when they happen we may not know or care they happened at all.
As you get older, while erection can still happen on the fly, it's much more likely to happen mostly when you're sexually aroused and engaged, whereas now, while you're describing times they happen when you probably are sexually aroused, they might also happen while you're doing algebra homework. As you get older, how quickly and easily you ejaculate will also probably happen less often, less quickly, and be a bit more under your control if and when you want it to be.
What's going on with your body really is okay, even if it doesn't feel okay. It isn't something you can often control, it is a signal that everything is working as it should downstairs, and it isn't something you are doing to someone else. When you have these physical responses, it's not like you're pushing anyone you're with into a sexual situation or activity, or having them engage in something they don't want to be engaged in. Your body is just having its own responses, just like the body of anyone else you're with may be having their own physical responses. So long as your pants are on, and/or your penis or ejaculate isn't in direct contact with them, you're not putting them at any risks of infections or pregnancy, either. So long as you're not insisting anyone else do anything with or to your penis they don't want to be doing, you're all good on that score.
It might help to know that the girls you're making out with may also be getting erections. You just won't tend to be able to see them the way yours are visible unless you were looking at their genitals when they were naked, or feeling their genitals with a bare hand. The anatomy and physiology of the internal and external clitoris is a whole lot like the penis. These, too, fill with blood when someone feels sexually excited -- sometimes even only a little -- and also become erect. But because the external portions are much smaller than most penises, and the internal portion is inside the body, it's nothing anyone can see easily or when someone is dressed. Vulvas and vaginas also usually self-lubricate (get wet) when a person is sexually excited, but again, that often isn't something you can see. And no, it's really not fair that one kind of body makes obvious announcements to others it's owner may not want to be making while another can keep those same responses almost, if not entirely, secret unless that person wants someone else to know. On the other hand, it also can make it harder for girls or their sexual partners to know when they're really sexually aroused and when they're not, so it has its downsides.
If and when you are getting an erection or ejaculating around or near a girl you're with, and wither she or you feel uncomfortable with that, you can talk it out. You can fill her in, in a very relaxed way, about how this is something penises do, often outside the control of the person whose body they're part of, especially when you're young. While other guys might know that, a lot of girls won't, just like there's probably a lot you don't know or aren't expecting with girl-bodies.
You might do explain it like this: "Just so you know, if I get hard while we're doing this stuff, it's something outside my control. It also happens sometimes that I wind up ejaculating when I don't want to. I feel kind of uncomfortable about both of those things right now, but it's just the deal with most guys my age. If and when either of those things happen, know it's nothing I'm doing on purpose, and it doesn't mean I want or need anything from you, or that you should feel like you need to do anything about that. If you're not comfortable being close if my body is acting that way, just let me know, and we can just hang out and talk instead, no big deal. I just ask you try and be sensitive to the fact that I feel as awkward with it as you might, and understand that if I want to move away from making out quickly because of what my body is doing, it's probably not about my not liking you or you having done anything wrong."
Obviously, you'll want to take what I've suggested and put it in your own words so you don't sound like some kind of infomercial, but you get the gist.
Filling others in on the reality of bodies is a cool thing to do, both for you and for them. No one should have to feel like they have to hide things their body does outside their control and again, it's not like erection or ejaculation in your pants hurts anyone or poses any kind of risk to anyone else. Like I said, the people you're with may be having their own body responses, even if you aren't seeing them, so that can also help them feel more comfortable with their own bodies, and have a good idea that you'll be cool about this stuff with them, too.
If you don't feel able to talk about it, another option is taking a break and stepping away for a bit when you feel an erection coming on so it can just go down, as it usually will fairly quickly. You get to do that, and it's okay: everyone always gets to step away from making out or any kind of sex or intimacy for any reason, at any time. How candid you are about why you're stepping away is going to be up to you, and will obviously probably depend on how comfortable you feel with the other person.
I think the best thing to do is to make sure that when you're getting any kind of physical with someone else, it's someone you feel pretty comfortable having these responses with/around. If it feels really scary to you, or seriously freaks you out (or you think it'll freak them out) to potentially have this happen with someone, you might want to rethink making out with that person. For sure, making out and having genital sex are different things, but when we're any kind of sexual with someone else, which includes making out, our bodies may have sexual responses. No matter how old we are or where we're at in our sexual development, we're usually not going to feel comfortable having all kinds of, or certain, sexual responses with just anyone.
That same advice goes for whoever you're with. It's not like making that call is or should be all on you, because there's more than one of you involved, and it's up to each of you to make these choices. It's also up to them to decide if they are okay with being physical with someone else, including what their bodies and the other persons body may do in response.
It may happen -- or may have happened already -- that when either of these things occurs with a girl you're with, she may have a sort of "Hey, WHOAH! What's THAT?" reaction. Hopefully, if and when she does, it was a kind one, but it's pretty normal for people to be surprised by what goes on with other people's bodies when it's something they're not expecting or didn't know would happen. You might have -- or may have already had -- the same kind of reaction the first time a girl gets her period while you're with her, or the first time someone has an orgasm around you, especially if it happens at a time you weren't expecting it. That's okay: we all get to be surprised and feel surprised. So many people don't know that sexual responses can and do happen not just during things like intercourse or oral sex, but even when two people are just hugging or kissing. But it can be easy to interpret surprise as disgust or rejection, even when it's not, so if and when someone has a reaction, don't assume it's necessarily bad. They just may be surprised and need to know what's going on, then a few minutes to conceptualize everything. If they react really badly, figure that's just not someone ready to be close to other folks, don't repeat time with them, and try to remind yourself that people being big stupid about bodies is about their lack of information, maturity or readiness (or all three), not about your body.
I don't feel like anyone should have to try to psych themselves out of sexual responses when they are doing sexual things. If we're making out with someone, we should be able to enjoy that and think about it all we want, not feel like we have to try and force ourselves to think about something else to change our sexual feelings. If it's not okay for us to be in situations where our bodies do what they do outside our control, then rather than our bodies reactions not being okay, it seems to me something must be not-okay about the situation in which they're happening. Again, we won't tend to be comfortable being intimate with just anyone, or in every situation, so be sure you're only choosing to be with people intimately, where stuff like this can happen, that you feel pretty comfortable with and that seem to have the maturity to be doing whatever both of you are, including the ways your bodies might react to those things. Trust your instincts.
I figured you might want to hear from a guy on this as well, so I asked my friend Justin, a sex educator in the UK about this. He's got some sage words and a few practical suggestions if you do want to try to make this happen less:
Erections are unreliable creatures. Sometimes you can't stop getting them when you don't want them (on the bus, in class) and sometimes they go away when you most want them (when the heat is on when you're having sex with some for the first time). So try not to worry too much about it. You're a teenage guy, it's normal.
It happens with older guys too. Apparently Jim Morrison used to have to strap his down on stage and Elvis got so turned on in his 1968 comeback special that he came in his leather jumpsuit (sadly he only had one of these and one of his assistants had to clean it every day).
If you really want to try and chill this out, it may help to wear more than one pair of underwear or more snug fitting pants can help to restrain your penis. Some guys tell me hey wear two pairs of trousers. Maybe try wearing jeans, if you're not already, as they are a bit more rigid.
You might also want to consider wanking more in your down time. Masturbation is not at all harmful and you can do it as much as you like, so long as you don't get sore, or hurt your wrist (tip: change hands). This might help you to release some sexual energy so you're less likely to get a hard-on when you don't want to. Perhaps Elvis should have wanked more....?
I'm going to leave you with a few links to look over to give you some extra info about your body, other people's bodies, how sexual response works, and a piece that can help you learn how to communicate things like this with someone else. Hang in there: this, too, shall pass. In twenty or thirty years, you may even be one of those guys who complains that it did.