Boner Problems

Boner problems are my least-favorite sex problem. Here is my best story about boner problems.

The story begins after my divorce, when I was stoked to start up with someone else. I did so immediately. The way these things happen, my marriage-desiccated sex life went from zero to a hundred overnight. My new girlfriend and I were pleasure-seeking missiles indulging every vice. We drank champagne, stayed up late, and screwed loudly. Until I got boner problems.

Alarmed, I began a Manhattan Project to get to the bottom of it, which became a journey through the underworld. Would you believe I finally cleared it up with a naked psychedelic mushroom trip on Amnicon Beach?

A Brief History of Boner Problems

I was in my early 30s with no history of chronic boner problems. I’d had three or four misfires over a decade-and-a-half of an otherwise bangin’ sex-life. That is standard. For instance one night in high school in Texas, I was making out with a girlfriend on the back lawn of the campus chapel, and when she tried going down on me, I was looking around thinking how exposed we were. So that was a fail, but there was no mystery and nothing to worry about. Another time with that same woman, after high school in her Austin shack, we were trying to make it in the shower as people were coming over and letting themselves in and waiting for us. Another fail. It didn’t make me feel great, but it was transitory.

We also tried doing it on acid once, a year later in a little pink house, and I simply tripped too hard to focus. The plan was to make love while peaking on acid like the hedonistic psychonauts we were. As the drug came on strong, naturally I was going down on her first, but I got lost in there, slipping into a spacescape of bright nebulas inside a cosmic primordial timeless vagina, while the Kate Bush song “Hello Earth” oozed out of the jam box. Normal stuff like that could make anyone lose focus for half an hour or so until they splash down. But generally I was a young man with raging boners all the time; it was not an issue.

I did have a spot of intermittent trouble in New York with one of my college girlfriends, the daughter of an Angelino Jungian-therapist-to-the-stars, but I chalked it up to being intimidated by her. The relationship lasted about a month. My boner problems were not the issue — I was just a little wobbly with her — we actually broke up over the definition of “open relationship” when I made a pass at someone else. I moved on with no boner problems. Years went by.

I had a single misfire during my seven-year marriage when I was too tired to screw. It led to a funny moment where my Minnesota wife wound up being almost too supportive. She said, “It’s okay, it randomly happens to everyone once in a while.” Which is the perfect thing to say. But she was so worried about me feeling bad, which I didn’t, that she kind of went on. When she kept telling me it was nothing to feel bad about, finally I said, “I KNOW.”

But by the time my marriage ended, our sex-life had fallen apart because our love fell apart. I was sexually frustrated and ready to pop like a champagne cork. So when boner problems set in with my new girlfriend, it was depressing and confusing: I was super happy with my girlfriend, but super, super depressed about my divorce. The worst part was I wouldn’t be a full-time dad anymore. I hadn’t processed any of that; the divorce was still unfolding around me. And so it makes sense that one night, trying not to think about losing my child, while drunk and trying to screw at 2 a.m., I couldn’t get it up.

I thought it was a one-off and it should have been. But this time a splinter of doubt stuck in my mind. Suddenly, every time we wanted to do it, I wondered if it might happen again. You just have to randomly fail once to get spooked. Even a subconscious fear is enough to introduce a problem.

As the problem persisted, it caused friction with my girlfriend. She didn’t put me under any pressure — she was great about it — but between my boner problems and my evident depression, she feared maybe I wasn’t ready for a new thing. Stress multiplied. She started half-wondering if it was her. A boner is a reliable barometer of attraction; without that reliability, insecurity may get a foothold. But it wasn’t her. And I was ready for a new thing. I wanted it so bad I could taste it. These were very difficult conversations to have.

A brief aside about a bad reaction to boner problems: A woman I know was invited to have a threesome with a couple. The man in the group could not perform and gave up. He retreated to the kitchen to make food while his mate openly berated him from the bed — as if his self-loathing from such a catastrophic failure wasn’t bad enough. She’ll be lucky to ever see his boner again.

The Hall of Mirrors

I worked with a doctor to eliminate any and all physical explanations. He told me erectile dysfunction is common and that the medical community was seeing an uptick in younger men, “even guys in their 20s.” He was skeptical about the necessity of doing any tests because I was only in my 30s. But he also knew I needed to know for my peace of mind. I had bloodwork and stuff done to check for this and that. Everything came out great; my testosterone levels were above average for instance. Finally I made the doctor stick his finger up my butt to see if my prostate was being weird. It was a procedure we were both reluctant to perform. But I had to know. When he officially confirmed I was in perfect physical health, that’s when I knew for certain it was all psychological. To beat this problem, I would have to get mentally correct.

Easier said than done. I entered a hall of mirrors. Trying to be all Zen-mind, it amounted to trying not to think about trying not to think about it. Sometimes I ‘d feel great and my boner would show up ready for action. Sometimes I’d feel anxious and so I knew there would be no boners. Other times, I’d feel great but my boner would not last through the act of putting on a condom. Other times there was no boner no matter how I felt. Sometimes it could be coaxed. Other times it would refuse to play. I felt lust but lost.

Thank god for boner pills. I didn’t love relying on them, but I loved not worrying in bed. Pills can dull sensation but you’re doing it. I tried Viagra but preferred Cialis which lasts a weekend. I experimented and found the lowest dosage worked great. It’s an expensive way to have sex and my budget could barely handle it. But the peace of mind was exquisite. Nonetheless I kept trying to wean myself. Instead of one Cialis every three days, I’d go progressively more days without. Sometimes that worked for a while. I even lied to my girlfriend and told her I was off the pills when I wasn’t. I just wanted to give us both a break from worrying about it. She was not happy when I confessed.

I resolved to work with a sex therapist. The University of Minnesota Duluth had some experts and I made an appointment for an initial assessment. I met with the head guy and told him the whole story. And he said, “I am confident we can help you.”

This was the best thing I ever heard in my life. But then he said, “I work with a woman as my co-therapist. If you don’t want to work with her, it’s possible the therapy may be less effective.” In principle I had no problems with this. But when he told me her name, I realized I knew her and my girlfriend knew her even better. This was the worst. It would all be very professional, with an excruciating layer of additional embarrassment. But I was at the end of my rope. Winter had turned to summer and my problems persisted. I made an appointment to start the sessions. I had two weeks to wait.

Boner Problems vs. Psychedelic Mushrooms

In that time, my girlfriend and I decided to take magic mushrooms at Amnicon Beach in Wisconsin. It’s basically a private Lake Superior beach but we didn’t know that until later. It has a wooded ridge looking over the water, and a nice long sand beach with deposits of red clay. There was almost never anyone there. We had some shroomy chocolate truffles and would make a day of it.

I’d used psychedelics many times during my life’s choke points to get a fresh perspective. Ranking them on a sliding scale, albeit with significant overlap, I would put it like this: An LSD trip can be an analytic experience akin to a Freudian therapist. A mushroom trip is better compared to a Jungian therapist. Mescaline is more like everything has a face and so you interact with Nature directly. And on DMT, the spirit world is like, “Are you in the right neighborhood?”

Regardless, psychedelics can tell you things you don’t already know, and they make it difficult to hide from yourself. Any psychedelic makes me deeply examine what is going on with myself. So I thought a trip could help. Maybe it would shatter the hall of mirrors.

But the element of risk was not lost on me. What if I had a bad trip, what if I freaked out? It could make the problem even more intractable. What if I got lost in the hall of mirrors, like I got lost in the bright nebulas of the cosmic primordial vagina that time? But I was already lost. I had nothing to lose. A course of professional sex therapy was mere days away, to (maybe) put the pieces back together if I fell down the rabbit hole.

The plan was that I would have no boner pills in my system, and no sex was expected, but everything was on the table.

It was a classic South Shore summer day. The sky was blue, the air was hot and the water welcomed us. We ate the shroom truffles and waited for them to come on. That is my least favorite part of tripping, and a reason why I don’t do it anymore: the way up is nerve-wracking. I get jittery as the drug squirrels its way into my blood. I always think of it like a rocket blasting off: once you’re in orbit everything’s smooth. But on the way up, the rivets are rattling out of their holes.

Things were going pretty well if I didn’t think about how this might drive me irrevocably insane. We had our clothes and some condoms in a beach bag within easy reach if need be. We were laughing and splashing and playing with clay. After a couple hours the jitters faded, replaced by that ineffable sensation of the electroconductivity of your own skin, pores opening like a million eyes. I had relaxed into the effortless peak of the trip. It was mild enough that there was no danger of disassociating into any nebulas. But colors brightened, surfaces breathed, and everything seemed pretty funny.

The way I remember it, we were sitting chest-deep in the lake, when suddenly, I wanted to fuck the shit out of my girlfriend and I knew I could do it. Of course I’d had these feelings before only to wind up failing. But the hall of mirrors had evaporated like a mirage, and somehow I knew this on a cellular level. The mushrooms swept away my paper-thin neurotic fears, restoring me to my core programming. I knew I wasn’t fooling myself, or trying to convince myself. This was the total reboot I had hoped for.

I told her immediately I wanted to do it. She was game. We thought we should go up on the ridge where the trees would ensconce us, providing a modicum of cover if anyone should come along. It took us several minutes to walk out of the water, traverse the beach, grab a condom, and then pick our way up the slope. That was all time that I could have lost my confidence, lost my self-knowledge. But I didn’t. I just knew.

There was a bench up there with a trail leading back into the woods, that I now know was private property, and the owners could have walked down the path at any moment and seen us. But they didn’t. The condom went on. My girlfriend bent herself over the bench. We did it backwards so we could both look at the lake. A fly smelled us and buzzed around, perhaps confusing us with a fragrant orchid or a fruiting mushroom, before landing on my ankle. I shook it off. The lake looked amazing.

From that day on, we did it whenever we wanted. I had boners on demand with no pills in sight. I called the sex therapists and left a message canceling my appointment, telling them, “I’ve had a spontaneous remission,” which sounds dirty. My girlfriend and I stayed together for years, longer than my marriage. And I never had another boner problem.

With her.


An index of Jim Richardson’s essays may be found here.

2 Comments

Helmut Flaag

about 3 months ago

You had me at boner problems. There's no doubt she divorced your ass to the curb in light of this floppy peen incident. Any sane woman would. Unforgivable it is. And here I was about to do a weekend essay on the history of my throbbing member but you beat me to the punch.

Jim Richardson (aka Lake Superior Aquaman)

about 3 months ago

Your sensitivity and moral probity are compelling as usual.

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