In this episode, three people open up about personal experiences that shame or embarrassment have prevented them from sharing. One of them is Henry*, who approached BANG! to talk about premature ejaculation.
Henry remembers really clearly the first time it happened to him. He was 18 or 19 and in a relationship with a slightly older woman who he cared for and trusted. One day they went for a walk that ended up back at his house, where they decided to have sex. He put on a condom, she climbed on top of him, but almost before they began, it was over.
“It was… like holding a water balloon in my hands, and I really wanted to have fun with it and it just slipped out of my fingers and smashed all over and some of it got on my pants,” he laughs.
Between two and five percent of men report experiencing premature ejaculation (PE), though the term isn’t well defined. Generally it refers to an ‘intervaginal ejaculatory latency time’ - that’s the period from penetration to ejaculation - lasting less than two minutes. But some men who ejaculate quickly don’t see it as an issue and some who take longer than two minutes still think it happens too fast. In one Australian survey nearly a quarter of men said they believed they “came to orgasm too quickly.”
Because it’s not widely discussed, those who experience PE can feel a lot of shame.
“Embarrassment almost isn’t the right word for it [because] it touched at a deeper place about self worth,” Henry says. “It’s more a crushing, ‘I’m a terrible person and why would anyone wanna be with me?’ kinda feeling.”
Edit Horvath is an Auckland-based therapist specialising in sex therapy and relationship counselling. She sees a number of men about PE and erectile issues, and says an increasing number of her clients are younger men.
When it comes to treatment, Edit first looks into any potential biological issues that may be contributing, and teaches exercises which can help extend the time before a person ejaculates.
But she also spends a lot of time looking into her clients perception of the issue. After all, there is no universally accepted view of a ‘right’ length of time for sex, and sometimes the real problem is inflexibility in the way we view sex and physical intimacy.
“This idea that sex is a penis in a vagina and that’s that… I use most of my time dispelling that, and talking about varied sexual techniques and behaviours and how foreplay should not be two minutes of fondling…. Foreplay is life,” she says.
Henry agrees that for him, a large part of the issue was feeling like his ‘performance’ didn’t stack up to what he thought it was supposed to be. He’s not anti-porn, but says when it came to EP, mainstream pornography didn’t help.
“You’re judging yourself against these guys who have subway-length schlongs and who seem be able to just decide every time the moment when they wanna come or have to make a real effort to come,” he says.
Henry thinks judging sexual performance by these standards can have negative consequences for your partner too.
“Female sexuality is really diverse… so to go into a sexual experience visualising some epic porn scene and then measuring your performance against that… It puts yourself down but it also potentially blocks out your sensitivity to what your partner might enjoy,” he says.
Henry is now 34, and while PE has impacted his sex life and relationships he’s come to the conclusion that “It was usually me making a big deal out of it rather than my partner.”
And though there are effective methods out there for men who want to learn to postpone ejaculation, he says there’s also a lot to be said for acceptance.
“If a woman wants to be with you… it’s unlikely to be just about one thing. It’s likely to be about the way you hold yourself and communicate with them and your body language… If we just pare off this one area and then use that as a measure of our self esteem that’s making ourselves quite vulnerable.”
Henry has one final bit of advice for others with similar experiences.
“Don’t kill your own orgasm! If you feel it slipping out of the gate, go for it! Enjoy it!.. And celebrate the fact that you’re so attracted to your partner that you had an orgasm, but then stay close… Even if that experience wasn’t quite what you wanted … To spend a night with someone being really intimate and having a range of different sexual experiences and watching the pleasure rise and fall is how you end up really bonding with somebody. And in that sort of space you may find that the challenges start to dissipate on their own anyway.”
*not his real name.
Listen to the full episode of BANG! for more stories about getting to 'the other side' of shame, embarrassment or guilt, and for more expert advice from Edit Horvath.
Content warning: In this episode of BANG! we hear the story of a survivor of sexual abuse. Here is a list of resources for those seeking help:
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7)
Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)
What's Up: online chat (7pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 children's helpline (1pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-10pm weekends)
Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)
Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254
Healthline: 0800 611 116
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155