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Most of the sex I've had with my girlfriend has been pretty bad, all thanks to my stupid brain. I go back and forth between impotence and premature ejaculation. Initially, I thought it was physical, but it's become evident that it's primarily a mental thing. You know how if someone says, "Don't think about elephants," all you can think about are elephants? This is the same idea. If I'm confident and stay in the moment, everything goes well and lasts more than long enough for us both to be happy. If I think, "What if my boner goes away?" it usually does. If I stress that the sex is going to be bad and my girlfriend is going to be unsatisfied, I usually come too quickly. I've looked into counseling and hypnotherapy, but they're expensive and I'm broke. Can you offer any advice?
Mind-Bending Sex, but Not the Good Kind
You are such a textbook case of the classic performance dysfunctions (performance anxiety and spectatoring) that I immediately thought of the big-name researchers and writers on the subject. On my way to getting you some links to Helen Singer Kaplan and Masters and Johnson, though, I was distracted by a book called You Can Be Your Own Sex Therapist. I haven't read it, but I like the title and appreciate the sentiment. (Felled by god-awful neck pain, I eschewed chiropractors, acupuncturists, and conventional doctors and went the DIY route with a foam pillow and a book called Heal Your Own Neck. I also diagnosed my own depression and used to clean my teeth with dental tools I bought at the flea market, so make of this what you will.) I also like and often recommend The New Male Sexuality, by the unfortunately late Bernie Zilbergeld, PhD.
If you could afford to see a sex therapist, chances are the therapist would introduce you to the concept of "sensate focus," the exercises designed to encourage you and your partner to give and receive touch for its own sake, without getting all goal-oriented about erection or orgasm. The therapist would help you identify what is distracting you and coach you through learning to stay present and enjoying what's actually happening instead of projecting your anxieties into the uncomfortable near future. While working with a therapist is probably ideal, even seeing an intern for a sliding-scale fee can end up costing you some serious bucks. See if there's such a clinic handy and if you can afford some sessions with an intern (don't worry, they're supervised); and if that doesn't seem feasible, get a book and do it yourself. Your dysfunction is supernormal. It should be superfixable too.
My boyfriend is 18 and less sexually experienced than I am. I find myself constantly spelling out to him what to do. I can see how this could occasionally be erotic, but we're both getting frustrated. He doesn't seem to be learning how to satisfy me very fast. Even worse, I'm taking antidepressants, and one of the side effects is delayed orgasm. Is it fair for me to expect more effort from him? Should I just accept that sex is going to be mediocre for a while?
Is that an "until I'm off the pills" while or an "until my boyfriend shapes up" while? You didn't mean a "sex will be mediocre as long as I'm with this guy but I'm going to stick it out until something better comes along" while, did you? I hope you didn't, but I fear you did.
Sex educators are forever bugging people to communicate more during sex. "Tell him what you want," they urge, "He can't read your mind!" I say it too, of course, but I also often imagine an outcome much like yours: two essentially unsuited people endlessly nagging each other (or one nagging the other, whichever) to do it a little harder, slower, longer, or better. Helpful suggestions are all very well (vital, actually), but if there's no spark, you're not going to ignite one by rubbing two things together until everybody's exhausted and dispirited.
I don't mean to say you should give up right now. You should talk to him sometime when he isn't down there grinding away in whatever dull and vaguely irritating way he's grinding. And don't tell him you need to talk to him about how lousy he is in the sack, either. Raise it as a communication issue, and see how that goes. Then you can give up.
I should caution you, however, against making it his problem that you are experiencing some extremely common, but regrettable, side effects of medication. That is not his fault, any more than being so tragically young is his fault. Both will get better with time.
Andrea Nemerson has spent the last 14 years as a sex educator and an instructor of sex educators. In her previous life she was a prop designer. And she just gave birth to twins, so she's one bad mother of a sex adviser. Visit www.altsexcolumn.com  to view her previous columns.