A couple of years ago, I met a guy at my local bar, and as soon as I beat him at eight-ball, he said he liked my eyes. We went to his place and stumbled quickly into bed, and after he slipped something on, we got down to business. He squirmed a little as he entered, and I noticed that it was very small. Being polite, I didn’t say anything, and we were still fumbling at it fifteen minutes later when I said, “Too many beers?”
He shook his head mournfully. “It’s just the opposite. It already happened.”
“Like almost instantaneously. I’m sorry.” As bad as I felt for him, I didn’t mind stopping, since I wasn’t close myself. (One-night stands always work better in theory than in practice.) I understood his shame, but at the same time, I envied him. As a woman, I just couldn’t see how coming early could ever be a bad thing.
There are a lot of guys like my eight-baller—in a recent NYU Medical Center survey presented to the American Urological Association, 32 percent of men characterized themselves as premature ejaculators. In the past, PE sufferers resorted to slowing things down through sexual techniques, drinking heavily, applying numbing solutions like ManDelay, or picturing Rosie O’Donnell naked. In recent years, depressed guys learned that selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) could delay orgasm—a negative side effect for some, but positive for premature ejaculators. Now Johnson & Johnson is developing a treatment for PE that may be available as early as 2006: dapoxetine, a fast-acting SSRI. Some premature ejaculators are eager to take the drug. But others say they’ve learned to live with their problem, finding that their “dysfunction” has opened them up to a more nuanced view of what constitutes mutually satisfying sex.
Allen, 41, is a successful writer and lifelong premature ejaculator. Cute, bespectacled, and warm, he is happily married, but he becomes deeply ashamed when he discusses his problem: “The number of times I’ve said ‘Sorry’ has been in the many, many hundreds.”
“The number of times I’ve said ‘Sorry’ has been in the many, many hundreds,” says one sufferer.
He’s already learned some coping mechanisms—not rushing into sex, avoiding certain positions—but there’s a limit. “If my wife were willing to completely sacrifice her needs and let me not move for a couple of minutes at a time, I could last a very long time,” he says. “But there are only so many times you can do that without exhausting your reservoir of goodwill.” Though happily married, he’s emotionally tormented: “Half the reason guys have sex is to get off, and the other half is to have women say nice things about them—to reflect back to them their great manliness. When you come too quickly, you feel like you’re a kid and not a man, because you can’t control yourself and you can’t please a woman.”
There are several theories as to the cause of PE: One study blamed hyperactive pubococcygeal muscles, while some sex therapists attribute it to early conditioning—furtive, fast masturbation. “There’s this extremely vivid image I have,” Allen recalls, “of sitting on my parents’ bed looking through my father’s stack of porn magazines and half looking over my shoulder to make sure my brother wasn’t coming down the hall or, God forbid, my parents weren’t coming home. It was, you’d better finish quickly before you get caught.”
Ron, 36, is an attention-deficit ejaculator. A television writer, he says he’s good at getting things done quickly. “I can usually bang something out fast,” he says, “whereas others might take a long time. I can never sit still, and it’s hard for me to focus.”
Premature ejaculation may indeed be a function of brain chemistry. According to Andrew McCullough, director of male sexual health, fertility, and microsurgery at the NYU Medical Center and the author of the PE study, “Ejaculation occurs because of a certain balance between serotonin and dopamine. Dapoxetine increases the serotonin in the brain so you can engage in sex, then it gets out of the body.” Its biggest selling point is that, like Viagra, it can be taken as needed.
Mark, 49, a divorced attorney, is an ideal candidate for the drug. He began taking Prozac for depression ten years ago and noticed it delayed his release time. No longer depressed, he has stopped taking it—but still struggles with PE. His physician referred him to urologist Jed Kaminetsky, and he’s about to start a clinical trial with dapoxetine. (Kaminetsky is most famous as the inventor of Dream Cream, a nonprescription arousal cream for women, which makes him a kind of Dr. Feelgood for both sexes.)
Mark is optimistic about the trial. “There’s something humiliating and embarrassing about coming too quickly,” he says. “We’re such a macho society that as a guy, it’s very important to think of yourself as a good sexual performer.” Like the rest of the men I spoke to, Mark says he has worked hard to develop his oral skills to compensate, but it doesn’t always let him off the hook. “Usually at some point, they still want” intercourse, he says.
Whether a man chooses to pop a pill to deal with his problem will come down to how the condition plays itself out in his life. After all, the amount of time it takes a person to climax depends on the partner and the circumstances. In McCullough’s study, only half of the self-identified premature ejaculators felt upset enough to want to seek help. For some women, longer foreplay and shorter intercourse may feel less like a disappointment than a bonanza.
Ron, the television writer, says that when he told his wife he was talking to me for this article, she was surprised: “I always thought it was obvious that I had a problem. It definitely happens more quickly than I’d like.” But in their eleven years of marriage, that hasn’t seemed to bother her—because he gives her an orgasm through oral sex before intercourse begins. “Once she comes,” he says, “she’s not even interested in getting me to come. Once she’s had one, the pressure is off.”