I’m an 18 year old guy and my girlfriend and I just started having sex… or at least trying to. I love her and I think she’s beautiful, but I haven’t been able to… perform when the moment arrives. It’s really stressing me out and I know it makes her feel weird too, even though we don’t really talk about it. What do I do?!

Great question! Even though it might not be a hot topic of conversation among your friends, what you’re dealing with is very, very common. Deciding to have sex for the first time is a big step! It can be really exciting, but it can also feel like a lot of pressure. And even if you and your girlfriend have decided you’re ready for sex, sometimes your body has other ideas in the moment. Combine normal first-time jitters with the intense pressure that’s heaped on young men to “perform” sexually, and you have an equation for deflation.

Although most erectile issues in young, healthy men can be chalked up to nerves, it’s always a good idea to see a medical provider to rule out any underlying health issues. There are certain medications that can cause issues with maintaining an erection, and you can work with your doctor to figure out how to work around those. Cigarette, drug, and alcohol use can also play a role—heavy drinking or weed-smoking can interfere with your ability to get and stay hard. Also make sure that you and your partner are using protection. Worrying about babies and STIs can really take you out of the moment. If your penis performs just fine when you’re solo, however, it may have more to do with what’s going on in your head than what’s going on in your pants.

In this case, talking about the issue often goes a long way toward solving it. Young men face a LOT of pressure to perform in the bedroom that has nothing to do with pleasing a partner and a lot more to do with toxic ideas of how guys should behave. Try to take that pressure off in your own relationship, and you’ll discover that sex is a lot more than just penis + vagina. Your girlfriend knows something is going on—not talking about it doesn’t make it go away. Tell her that you love her, you think she’s beautiful, and that this has nothing to do with how you feel about her. And then forget about the phallus for a while! There’s a whole universe of sex and intimacy beyond just P-in-V action—and so many ways to please your partner. Take your dick off the table (so to speak) and talk with your partner about what makes her feel good in and out of the bedroom. This can be anything from oral sex to more subtle forms of sexual expression, and you won’t know until you talk about it and experiment a little.

There’s a learning curve to this kind of openness, so don’t be surprised if it feels awkward to talk about the things that often get left unsaid. If she feels comfortable, put the focus on her and get fluent in sexual communication. You can also always put the brakes on sex for a while. Plan a fun date and reconnect with all the reasons that you love each other. Whatever you do, know that this is a common and solvable issue for many young men, and that you have a whole life of good (and more creative!) sex ahead of you.