Masters and Johnson – two sexologists back in the 1950s who started the world of real sex therapy – said that the most common causes of delayed ejaculation were:
- social factors like relationships, life events, personality traits and behaviors
- developmental factors like traumatic childhood experiences around sex
- conflicts of gender identity
- troubled relationships between parents and children or between parents
- negative family attitudes towards sexual matters
- anxiety, fear, depression, guilt, shame and anger
- low self-esteem
- lack of sexual information or influence of cultural myths
- a very poor body image
- fear of relationship commitment
- sexual performance anxiety
- disassociation and spectatoring during sex
- rigid religious attitudes and pressures which cause sexual guilt or avoidance of sex
- hostility towards one’s partner or oneself.
Relationship Issues: Self and Partner
Video – spectatoring during sex
Relationship issues almost certainly have a role to play in causing delayed ejaculation. They may not be the whole explanation, but they are a large part of it.
A man who holds ambivalent feelings about his role as a man or partner in a sexual relationship may possibly “withhold” his ejaculation as an attempt to keep or increase power in that relationship.
And some psychologists say that a man who is over-controlled and fears “letting go” psychologically may symbolically hold onto his ejaculate as a metaphor for maintaining power in the couple dynamic.
But the intelligent explanation may be simpler: there may simply not be enough stimulation for the man to reach orgasm.
This could be because the couple are using the wrong technique or because they have simply become bored with their sexual repertoire.
Or men may be over-concerned with pleasing their partners, because they focus too much on their partner’s pleasure at the expense of their own.
That means they are unaware of their own sexual pleasure or arousal and don’t “notice” or respond to the stimulation they are experiencing.
Bernard Apfelbaum called this “partner anorgasmia”, because the symptoms of delayed ejaculation only show up in the presence of a partner.
The difficulty that a man with DE has in obtaining sexual satisfaction (or even sexual arousal) with his partner is hidden behind a hard and prolonged erection, but this physical sign of apparently high arousal is actually associated with low levels of sexual arousal.
Apfelbaum believed that such an erection is not really an expression of sexual desire and excitement, but an automatic mechanism which the man uses to fulfill his partner’s expectations.
He noted men with delayed ejaculation seem to be driven by a desire to satisfy their partner rather than to achieve their own satisfaction and take care of their own sexual needs and desires.
They are in fact, too conscientious, too controlled, and too aware of their responsibilities during sex – which they see as satisfying and pleasing their partner.
This, suggested Apfelbaum, makes the man unable to satisfy himself, and gives the man an aura of being unable to enjoy sex, which in turn makes his partner feel that she cannot do anything pleasing for him.
This idea has a lot to support it; a recent study seemed to show that men with delayed ejaculation have significantly lower levels of sexual arousal than either men with other sexual dysfunctions, or men who can enjoy sex normally.
And even so, we must bear in mind that there may be other factors at work here, such as a reduced level of penile sensitivity, a lack of responsiveness to sexual stimulation, or some kind of physical problem (painful intercourse or a foreskin stretched over the glans – that’s called phimosis – for example). In general, though, these are rare.
Other psychological causes of delayed ejaculation
Psychologists suggest lifelong delayed ejaculation can be explained by fear, anxiety, hostility, resentment and relationship difficulties.
So when we try and understand where a man’s sexual issues come from, the first task is to establish if the delay in his ejaculation is generalized or situational (in other words, is it specific to certain places or activities or partners), and whether it is acquired or life-long.
But What Does This Really Mean?
Often men who experience this problem have had a strict upbringing in which sex was pretty much a taboo or shamed subject, and who admit to a tendency to be controlling in their own lives.
Needless to say, this sexual energy is often sublimated into other areas, so, for example, many of these men have a great deal of drive which has taken them to the top of their chosen professions.
However, this tendency to be over-controlling is often inwardly directed rather than at others – especially when it comes to sex.
These men may believe it is wrong to let go and show emotion, and they may have difficulty in showing their emotions in general.
In short, they find it difficult to “let go”, where letting go is obviously a metaphor for releasing semen in ejaculation.
Thus delayed ejaculation becomes a symbol of an internal emotional process which centers on a man’s inability to let go and experience free-flowing emotions in both life and, more specifically, in sexual matters.
There are some other factors at work, too: men may fear pregnancy, they may have some vaginal aversion, and they may have some degree of latent homosexuality.
Personality And Emotional Characteristics
Many men with delayed ejaculation seem to have a lack of self-awareness, and a tendency to externalize their feelings.
Their connection with their own sexuality is weak, and they may find the prospect of looking at their feelings to be an unattractive one.
There are often obvious connections between a man’s historical life events and the current sexual problems that he faces, although he may refuse to acknowledge those connections.
Men often think that there must be a physical cause for delayed ejaculation because this is easier to cope with than the sense that inhibited ejaculation may originate in emotional or psychological causes.
They have also frequently have experienced disappointing sex or have a limited experience of sex.
Often men with DE have been brought up in an environment which cut them off from their feelings and acted to harden them psychologically and emotionally, a process which has been described as one of “toughening up” and battling against physical or mental weakness.
They have often not had complete or adequate opportunity at puberty to develop strong male characteristics.
On a more general level, sexual excitement or sexual activity makes us all see the world in a very different way from the way we see it normally.
Most men and women have a sexual life which is clearly defined and separate from everyday life.
Most of us can slip between the two with a greater or lesser degree of ease – erotic thoughts can intrude on everyday tasks, for example, or we can be distracted during sex by thoughts of everyday activities. But we move between the two without much difficulty.
However, for some men with delayed ejaculation, moving into the erotic world can be challenging – the erotic world may be seen or somehow felt as dangerous.
Lack Of Sexual Arousal
Indeed, it seems that many men with DE wish to avoid entering their erotic world. In many cases they may not even be able to enter an erotic world, having no concept of such a thing in their minds….. if they wish to be erotic, they create an environment which seems erotic, but does not come from their internal sexual process. There is, in essence, no arousal.
Men who can’t ejaculate during sex may also have negative associations of male sexuality with violence and abuse. This also dampens down their sexual response. The power and vitality of their sexual life is weakened and their internal erotic world is unable to provide them with the arousal needed for successful sex.
Because aggression is a fundamental part of human sexuality, men who are turned off by aggression or violence will split their aggressive impulses from their sexual ones, and that further weakens their sexual desire and arousal.
However, an autoerotic occupation with fantasy and porn may be arousing enough to produce an orgasm during masturbation.
The consequence of all this is that men with delayed ejaculation may not be able to function sexually with ease: they may not, for example, be able to ask for what they want sexually; they may not even know what they want sexually.
They may not be accustomed to becoming aroused through the touch of a loved one, or they may not know how to get aroused by erotic stimulation. Because sex becomes mechanical and lacks real connection, they may develop behaviors which are essentially designed to avoid sex, including erectile dysfunction.
There are many theories about the origin of DE. But what makes it harder to assess which might be correct is that human sexuality is so variable. However, there are some common factors which are often seen in men with this dysfunction. You can read about them in part 3.