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Where's Woody?

The Sex and the City revolution has made plenty of men nervous. But when a trusted friend is nowhere to be found at the moment of truth, a young stud wants answers. One guy's medical odyssey in search of the hard facts.

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The challenge, as I remember it, is getting them to this place, not what happens once they're here. And Erica is here. We're in my bed doing the sweaty grapple. I like her, and although we've just met, I'm surprised and excited that it's gone this far. She's older than me, a sex columnist, more successful, and besides that, she has long blonde hair and tight leather jeans. Anyway, she looks good.

But there's a problem. For all the kissing and rubbing, the bump and the jeans-on-jeans grind, I'm not getting hard. She tongues my ear, flexes her hips, stretches her fingers to explore my chest. But something is wrong -- and if I notice, then so must she. Our foreplay becomes a game of hide-and-go-seek, with her reaching for me, and me twisting away.

I exhale heartily, feigning pleasure. Finally, when our jeans wind up balled on the side of my bed, there is no escaping what's not there. "Is there something you'd like me to do?" Erica asks. But it isn't her. There is nothing I want her to do. All I want is for her to be pleased. All I want is for this to be over.

"No, I'm sorry, you're great, just keep doing what you're doing," I say. All I can do is buy time, and after about six more minutes, as we search for a Kimono, my concern blossoms into full-fledged panic. I'm 26 years old! Inside the condom, I'm a size-4 shoe in a size-16 boot. What the fuck is the matter with me?

I can penetrate, but only perfunctorily, so when she begins raising the volume of her exhaled breaths, of course I assume that she's faking now, too. I'm thinking too much, enjoying too little, seeing what's happening from above, as if I were at Madison Square Garden watching someone else performing onstage. Erica gets on top, writhing, gaining speed and momentum as she works herself up. I'm punch-drunk, thawing; paralyzed and deflated, with my eyes wide open, hands clenched at my thighs and as she jackhammers away, I'm mentally two steps past her, planning my apology for when she's through. I'm worried about what she's going to say to her friends. I'm worried about what she's going to write in her column. I'm worried that -- Oh, my God -- this might happen again.

In fact, it does. And not just to me. Doctors say that more 21-to-31-year-olds in Manhattan are complaining about erectile dysfunction -- ED -- than they've ever seen before. I know this because after a couple of stagnant nights with Erica turned into a few weeks and then several months, I started making frantic calls -- to doctors, all of my friends, an ex-girlfriend, and even Bob Dole. Andrew McCullough, a midtown urologist, says he's seeing twice as many guys under 30 complaining about ED than even four years ago, when Viagra was introduced. "Maybe I'd see three young guys a week," he says. "Now it's more like six or seven." Urologist Laurence A. Levine says he has seen an 800 percent increase in his patients under 40 in those same four years. And Ursula Ofman, a clinical psychologist and sex therapist, says a third of her patients are young men.

What's going on here? "The reason is simple," says McCullough. "It's the anxiety and expectations of living in New York. Add to that the attention surrounding Monica and Bill and the advent of Viagra, and people are complaining about ED because there's an increase in sexual awareness."

Another way of looking at this is: It's Samantha's fault. The Sex and the City vixen's craving for size, for novelty, for frequency, for orgasm on demand raised -- or actually lowered -- the bar for New York men like me. Faced with a city of women who now consider satisfaction to be their birthright, many of us have developed chronic performance anxiety. Or maybe men want to be loved for themselves, not their sexual characteristics.

"Every girlfriend I have has experienced this," says Kathy, who is 25 and one of my best friends. "What's surprising isn't that it's happening -- it's when a relationship can survive."

My friend Bobby, 26, who lives in Gramercy Park and hasn't had sex with his girlfriend in three months, thinks we'll be fine. And Michael, 27, who admits that "half the time I have sex, something goes wrong," believes we'll work it out.

I appreciate their confidence, but I need to understand why I don't work. I've worked in the past. And sometimes I work now. Why aren't I working more often?

It isn't easy making an appointment with a doctor when you work in a cubicle. Not because the doctor is busy, but because your co-workers aren't. For my insurance to pay for a specialist, I'll need a referral from my primary-care physician -- and, of course, his business hours are the same as mine. "What's the reason for your visit?" his secretary asks. "I'm having a problem sustaining an erection," I answer through clenched teeth. Eyebrows arch to my left and my right.

My doctor is Irish, a redheaded Russell Crowe type who wears a wedding band and looks like he belongs on a rugby field, not the other side of a desk listening to me whine about my penis. He draws blood to measure my testosterone. But then a funny thing happens on my way to telling him about Erica. He tells me about Nicole.

"Once, I traveled to England to meet this girl, Nicole," he says. "Man, she was hot." He kicks his feet onto his desk -- mud-colored Cole Haan shoes and mauve socks -- and contemplatively locks his hands behind his head. "I get there, right? And things are going nicely -- dinner, dancing, the works. But when we got home that night . . . I couldn't perform. God, I felt like an asshole." I'm on the edge of my seat. So what did you do? "What could I do?" he says sadly, frowning. "I waited out the trip and never saw her again."

An erection is caused by the oxygenated blood flow to the penis. When a man is sexually aroused, the blood flows faster, which stretches the muscle fibers and causes the penis to enlarge. All sorts of things can screw that up: prostate cancer, bike riding, a bad day on Wall Street. I'm not sure what my problem is. I don't even like riding bikes. I don't feel acutely stressed out, but I do drink, and I smoke, so I don't know, maybe I am . . .

At this point, I'm willing to believe everything, try anything, because Erica and I are just barely surviving. We've been together for about six weeks, and I still haven't been able to get a regular, sustained erection. I don't even like to be around her because I know where the night will end. This leads to premature evacuation. She begins to think I don't like her. I haven't told my mom or dad, but Erica and I have discussed it to death: Bad sex, as a topic for a sex columnist, never seems to get old. Sex has become a battle pitting me against myself, and I'm getting my ass kicked all over Mulberry Street.


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