This is how we do it: ‘His loss of erection has very little to do with the level of his desire’

Tristan, 43

She asked me to touch her using only my hands … I felt a weight of expectation had been lifted

Ever since puberty, I have had trouble maintaining an erection. I’ve never had a one-night stand because I dread telling people this secret. When I’ve had anything approaching “casual sex”, I have scrupulously avoided full intercourse, and done a lot of tactical re-positioning in the dark to try to hide my lack of erection.

Nell is a wonderfully gentle, open person but I spent the first few weeks of our relationship in a state of panic. My mind was whirling through various worst-case scenarios: that she would run a mile or, worse, laugh. When I finally told her about my erectile dysfunction, she was so loving and patient. She began to kiss and stroke me, and just at the moment when I was starting to spiral again because I couldn’t get hard, she asked me very simply and directly to touch her using only my hands. I felt a weight of expectation had been lifted.

Over the course of our two-year relationship, Nell has helped me reimagine what counts as sex. We don’t place emphasis on penetration, but Nell still focuses a lot of attention on my body. When I told previous girlfriends about my dysfunction, they stopped touching me altogether, which made me feel – in a horrible way – like I didn’t have a body. For a long time, my only sexual interaction with one ex-partner was her masturbating next to me and then going to sleep.

I can have an orgasm even if I don’t have an erection, so that is something we are exploring. Nell gave me my first ever blowjob – something I’ve never felt confident enough to ask for. Even something as simple as taking a shower together is new to me because I have grown so used to hiding my body.

I’ve often felt my anxiety around sex permeates every aspect of my life. I’ve sat in the pub with friends who are laughing about so-and-so who can’t get it up and felt paralysed: what if they find out about me? I still feel that way to a certain extent, but much less so. My sexual relationship doesn’t look like the movie version – but that just makes what Nell and I do together feel more intimate and precious.

Nell, 40

Working through his anxieties has required some patience, but the payoff is massive

I have been pressured by partners for sex in the past, so the fact that Tristan wasn’t immediately all over me actually piqued my interest. Tristan is a quiet and perceptive person. The first night we spent together we didn’t try anything sexual. There was a storm, so we lay and listened to the thunder and just kissed. I felt that for once I’d be able to set the sexual pace.

Penetrative intercourse is often an overhyped aspect of sex, so when Tristan told me about his performance anxiety, I was happy to explore other avenues. He is wonderful with his tongue. I can tell he genuinely enjoys giving me oral sex, and that makes me feel able to let go and really concentrate on my own pleasure.

In the early stages of our relationship, Tristan shied away from allowing me to touch him back. I think his instinct to stifle his own needs – and perhaps the performance anxiety itself – is rooted in the conviction that he isn’t good enough. We maintain eye contact during sex, and I tell him how much I love and want him. I try to normalise talking about sex, asking him what he likes and dislikes, so he knows I want to give him pleasure.

Now we are at a point where Tristan will have an orgasm almost every time we have sex. He won’t necessarily be hard when I touch him but it is understood between us that his loss of erection has very little to do with the level of his desire.

Working through Tristan’s anxieties has required some patience, but the payoff is massive. This is certainly the most connected sex I have ever had, but it is also the most physically pleasurable. If I had been at another stage of my life – younger and less jaded by past loves – I might have thrown in the towel with Tristan early on, thinking some “perfect” relationship was round the corner. I would have lost so much.

Would you and your partner like to share the story, anonymously, of your sex life?