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The spirit was willing but the testicles were weak.—The Wolf's Hour by Robert R. McCammon
When a character about to have sex cannot get it up. The cause is often related to good old UST - for someone other than the person/people they're with at the moment. The "guy can't get hard for girl(s)" variation is the most common -- the phrase "It's okay, this sort of thing happens to lots of guys" is closely associated with this trope.
Strictly a comedy trope, since the situation is usually temporary, and playing it for drama lasts longer. Double points if something like "I'm sorry, I swear this has never happened to me before..." or the above-mentioned "It's okay..." phrase shows up in the dialog.
Can be Truth in Television (and there are usually other ways to get the job done).
Anime and Manga
- Maison Ikkoku: Godai and Kyoko's encounter in a Love Hotel, after Kyoko says she's thinking of Soichiro (meaning the dog, but Godai interprets it as her husband).
- Girl Friends: Akko's night with some random drunk guy after a party. Naturally, he begs her to keep it a secret.
- The Hermaphrodite protagonist of Boku no Futatsu no Tsubasa once tries to have sex with a boy she likes. He can't get it up. She then does it with the local Casanova, who is apparently indifferent to her... peculiarities, but in the end, decides that she likes girls better, anyway.
- When Miharu is introduced in Aki Sora, he says that he can only get aroused when he's watching his girlfriend having sex with another guy; in a later chapter, he yells out a window that he's impotent.
- In the Yaoi manga Brother, Asuka has been completely unable to get it up with Rosie Palms ever since his stepbrother Yui caught him in the act and expressed his contemptuous disapproval. He's been trying to fix it ever since, but it isn't until Yui confesses to him that he hasn't been able to get it up either after Asuka unknowingly made him jizz in his pants and then initiates sex with him (mainly because he believes they're going to die soon) that Asuka's impotence is cured. ...Hey, why are you looking at me like that?
- Takezaki in Sensitive Pornograph. His girlfriend is not pleased. He gets slapped good.
- Tomoe from Kamisama Kiss heads to the Red Light District after Nanami heads to a summit. However, it is implied that he does this because he is lonely while she is gone. So he merely gets drunk and falls asleep without having sex with any of the girls.
- Happens in The Rise of Arsenal #3 when Roy Harper, who's strung out on drugs and grieving for his daughter, can't get it up to have hate sex with Cheshire. He then goes out to beat up some druggies with a dead cat. At least one fan has since gone on to coin the nickname of The Inability To Rise Of Arsenal for the series in the wake of this incident.
- Marvyn from Donjon angrily lists all the reasons he doesn't want the power of Immortality. One of them is that he "didnt have an erection since the planet stopped spinning."
- A Beautiful Mind - Tragically so. Thank goodness he gets better.
- Happens to a supporting character in the film Mannequin.
- Happens in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, although with a justification:
Peter: Maybe the problem is that you broke my heart into a million pieces and so my cock doesn't want to be around you anymore! Okay? EVER!
- Happened to the protagonist of Forty Days and Forty Nights part way through coitus. He tried faking an orgasm, but, well ...
- Spoofed in Top Secret. Thanks to a subverted Sexy Discretion Shot, Hillary seems to be consoling Nick for failing to get it up, but then it turns out that she's reading a romance novel out loud. Then they get serious about the lovemaking.
- Murder in the First: Not at all played for laughs when it happens to Henri Young (as played by Kevin Bacon).
- The clear implication of Dr. Strangelove is that General Ripper's descent into madness began when he became impotent, which he blamed on Communists contaminating his precious bodily fluids by putting fluoride in our water.
- Plays as a key point in The Departed as Colin's girlfriend, "Little Miss Freud", gives him the above speech, more or less. That doesn't stop her from getting some much deserved lovin' and a bun in the oven from Billy.
- In the original movie of Mash, camp dentist Painless Pole Waldowski (known to all as the "best equipped man" in the Army Medical Corps) becomes suicidal after he finds himself unable to rise to the occasion. He comes to Hawkeye asking for some pill that will make it quick and painless (the suicide), but instead is given a weak sleeping pill and provided with a friendly nurse who is shipping home the next day. He's back to himself by morning and the nurse is seen smiling uncontrollably as her chopper departs.
- In Death Becomes Her Madeline accuses Ernest of this. He doesn't deny it, just tells her to shut up. Since he's a middle-aged alcoholic and she's turned into a shallow bitch he no longer loves, this is pretty well justified.
- Clyde in Bonnie and Clyde, which might be Truth in Television.
- In Revenge of the Nerds, Jerk Jock Stan is shown at least twice having "problems" (even when getting a hand job from his girlfriend Betty); this eventually leads to Betty's Heel Face Turn when the nerdy Lewis gives her a good time while disguised as Stan.
- In Being There, the President suffers from this, as a literal reflection of his corresponding "impotence" as a political leader.
- Dr. Herbert Bock, George C. Scott's character in The Hospital, claims he's been "impotent for years," then goes into a rant where he declares, "Impotence is beautiful, baby!" The impotence Bock speaks of, however, goes beyond the physical. He goes on:
"When I say impotent, I don't mean merely limp. Disagreeable as it may be for a woman, a man may lust for other things, something less transient than an erection, some sense of permanent worth. That's what medicine was to me, my reason for being. When I was 34, Miss Drummond, I presented a paper before the annual convention of the Society of Clinical Investigation that pioneered the whole goddamn field of lmmunology. A breakthrough! I'm in all the textbooks. I happen to be an eminent man, Miss Drummond. You know something else? I don't give a goddamn. When I say impotent I mean I've lost even my desire to work. That's a hell of a lot more primal passion than sex. I've lost my reason for being. My purpose. The only thing I ever truly loved. It is all rubbish, isn't it? Transplants, antibodies, we manufacture genes, we can produce birth ectogenetically, we can practically clone people like carrots, and half the kids in this ghetto haven't even been inoculated for polio! We have established the most enormous medical entity ever conceived and people are sicker than ever! We cure nothing! We heal nothing! The whole goddamn wretched world is strangulating in front of our eyes. That's what I mean when I say impotent."
- In Animal House:
Greg, honey, is it supposed to be this soft?
- Happens to Frank in Far From Heaven when he tries to have sex with his wife Cathy--he's drunk, but there are other problems as well. She tries to comfort him by saying she doesn't care and that he's "all man," but it doesn't quite help.
- The '60s British comedy The Family Way concerns a newly-married couple who are forced by economic necessity to share a flat with the husband's parents, which leads to the young man's failure to consummate the union.
- Airplane 2 The Sequel makes fun of this by having impotence as the Berserk Button of suicidal passenger Joe Saluchi.
- Marcus of Bad Boys 2 suffers this as a result of getting Shot in the Ass by Mike during the first shootout of the movie. He only gets better after accidentally ingesting some X (the drug whose traffic the two are trying to fight) during a trip to the morgue, leading to one of the most hilarious scenes in the movie.
- In Victor Victoria, King Marchand finds himself distracted by thoughts of "Victor" and suffers from this while trying to have sex with his girlfriend Norma.
- This is a major plot point in Love and Other Drugs, which is about a Viagra salesman.
- Alpha Dog
- Tonny in Pusher 2 hires two prostitutes for a celebratory orgy after getting out of prison, but is completely unable to perform. This is just one of an entire film's worth of indignities that he suffers.
- The Australian film The Boys has the Villain Protagonist get aggressive towards his girlfriend because he is unable to get erect after returning from jail.
- Not entirely a comedy trope. In the oft-banned novel Lady Chatterley's Lover, one of Lady Chatterley's main reasons for her affair with the gardener is because her husband is impotent. The book is a cross between straight drama and an erotic romance novel--few laughs to be had at all.
- Partly responsible for the death of Jack's first wife in the novel Tales of Burning Love. It makes sense in context. Sort of.
- The Frog King: Harry Driscoll occasionally has performance anxiety when he's cheating on his girlfriend with his mistress.
- Happens to the protagonist of the Hard boiled Wonderland section of Haruki Murakami's novel Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, when he attempts to have sex with a librarian who lent him some books about unicorns.
- Stephen King uses this in two novels: In Rage, the protagonist recalls a time when he tried to have sex with a girl at a party and this happened to him, and in Apt Pupil, where Todd Bowden has a girlfriend, because he wants to look normal. However, by this time, he is a misogynistic, hateful monster, and he's only able to perform when he's thinking of rape and abuse; eventually not even then.
- Perhaps not coincidentally, King once confessed in a Playboy interview to suffering periodically from this in Real Life.
- In The Lies of Locke Lamora, Locke suffers this when his friends tell him You Need to Get Laid and he tries to hire a prostitute, because he's still pining over Sabetha to the point that no other woman will do.
- Done without a trace of comedy in Biting the Sun, to the point of the impotent character committing (temporary) suicide over it.
- In Cetaganda, Barrayan noble Ivan Vorpatril gets himself into a threesome with two Cetagandan ghem-ladies during a diplomatic mission, and finds out that his host had slipped him an anti-aphrodisiac in his drink earlier, resulting in great personal embarrassment until he finds a way around his little problem, involving the aforementioned "other ways to get the job done" and some bluffing about Barrayan sexual mores worthy of his craftier cousin Miles. In a minor Crowning Moment of Awesome for Ivan, his performance is so impressive that he ends up becoming a Memetic Sex God among the ghem-ladies in spite of his drug-induced setback.
- A very popular trope in libertine poetry of the English Restoration.
- Jake in The Sun Also Rises, due to an injury sustained in World War One.
- In Wings, Brian starts dating one of his old teachers. Yet she was a grade school teacher (or junior high), so Brian had trouble seeing her as more than a crush, and when they were about to have sex, he had what he called, "an incomplete." In another episode Joe and Helen go on their first date in years, but between Brian's putting a subliminal "stuttering" suggestion in Joe's head and Helen's inability to see Joe as anything other than a childhood pal, the loins sleep.
- Elliot and Maya had an accidental wedding in Just Shoot Me, and when he tries to ignore it (the circumstances were weird) and sleep with a model, he can't.
- Happens to Chandler in Friends ("In high school I failed Biology and tonight Biology failed me."). When he goes to Joey for advice, Joey confides that it happened to him once. "What did you do?" asks Chandler. "We did it anyway." Chandler is also involved in another conversation about this phenomenon:
Rachel (to Ross): "It's not that common, it doesn't happen to every guy, and it is a big deal!"
Chandler: I KNEW IT!
- Scrubs has the episode "My Monster," in which J.D. finds out on a date with The Gift Shop Girl that his "peep was on the fritz." Another episode subverts this trope. It opens with Turk and Carla about to get it on, then the camera moves to the side...then back, to see them both laying in bed looking distraught, and Turk says, "That's never happened to me before." Later, as each is talking about what went wrong to their friends, it's revealed that Turk was fine, but Carla couldn't have an orgasm.
- One episode of That 70s Show had this happen to Kelso. When confessing the problem to his friends:
Kelso: Guys...I'm omnipotent.
- Coupling: Patrick has this happen to him when Sally decides it's time they became more than friends, leading to much discussion about "the Melty Man," and the following exchange as a Darth Vader parody.
- This happens to Geoffrey in Season 3 of Slings and Arrows.
- Veronica Mars did this with Mac and Beaver. At the time, it was a Woobie moment for Beaver, since the scene strongly suggested that Beaver was subconsciously cock blocked by his brother, Dick (who lived up to the pun). Let's just say when we find out the real reason, it's significantly less Woobie-ish.
- Night Court had Casanova Dan Fielding dosed with saltpeter right before a "big date," and a discussion about his inability to perform:
Other Guy: Don't worry, it happens to everybody.
Dan: Did it ever happen to you?
Other Guy: Hell no!
- Done metaphorically with Spike's chip in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He tries and fails to bite Willow, and the conversation they have afterward could word for word be about impotence (well, except "bite", obviously). Until she realises and knocks him out.
- Drop the Dead Donkey. Elderly hedonist anchorman Henry confesses to Dave (in confidence) that this happened the night before. Naturally this spreads over the office like wildfire, and when his despised co-anchor Sally quips in response to Henry's computer going down "Maybe it's your floppy" Henry bursts out with "YES, ALL RIGHT, I'M IMPOTENT!" right in front of a television crew who've come to do a This-Is-Your-Life style interview with him.
- Herman's Head used this with Herman somehow hooking up with a supermodel, but couldn't perform because he was intimidated by her status (he gets over it).
- Used as an ongoing plot point with Charlotte's first husband Trey in Sex and the City, one of the few cases where it is an ongoing issue rather than a one-episode gag. Also when Samantha has sex with a party guest when she sees that her boyfriend Richard won't commit to monogamy, he goes soft inside her and while he's blabbering that this has never happened before, this is the first time that she actually doesn't care that it happened.
- In the Mash episode "Some 38th Parallels," Hawkeye experiences "The Big Couldn't" with a nurse:
Hawkeye: She looks a little like my mother. Maybe Oedipus wrecked it for me.
BJ: Look, it's perfectly understandable. You've been going full tilt since you got here, and your nerves are brittle enough to use for kindling.
BJ: The war.
Hawkeye: Happens to everyone.
Hawkeye: Ever happen to you?
- A more dramatic example happens later in the show when Margaret falls for a soldier who was wounded down there.
- Happens to Roy in The IT Crowd when he finally is about to get in to one of the girls from fourth floor...'s pants. However he can't get the images of half naked nerds and old women out of his head, it's a long story.
- Happens to Chuck in Gossip Girl. Since he has feelings for Blair, he cannot get it up for any other girl.
- The Seinfeld episode "The Mango" has mango fruit be the cure for George and Jerry.
- Gaz has problems for a few episodes in Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps.
Gaz: My penis died, Donna. I'm important.
Donna: You're impotent.
Donna: You're not important, you're impotent.
Gaz: That's it, rub it in!
- From the Blackadder II episode "Chains":
Prince Ludwig the Indestructible: Oh, on the contrary. We have met many times, although you knew me by another name. Do you recall a mysterious black marketeer and smuggler called Otto with whom you used to dine and plot and play the biscuit game at the Old Pizzle in Dover?
Edmund Blackadder: My God!
L: Yes! I was... the waitress!
E: I don't believe it! You? Big Sally?
L: (falsetto) 'Will you have another piece of pie, My Lord?'
E: ...but I went to bed with you, didn't I?
L: For my country, I am willing to make any sacrifice.
E: Yes, but I'm not! I must have been paralytic!
L: Indeed you were, Mr. Floppy...
E: Yes, alright, alright. Now, would you mind--
L: (falsetto) 'Such a disappointment for a girl...'
E: Yes, alright, you've had your little joke.
L: (falsetto) 'It really doesn't matter -- we'll try again in a few minutes. Have a look through these naughty parchments.'
- One of Naomi's former partners in Skins had this problem. Seventeen times.
Naomi: I was getting tennis elbow!
- Of course, that may be because Naomi's heart wasn't really in it - she was trying to convince herself that she wasn't in love with Emily...
- Happens to Simon in The Inbetweeners when he attempts to have sex with Tara. However, this was down to taking Jay's rather poor advice of having a "tactical wank" very shortly beforehand. He does manage to get it up again, but not before he has totally scared her off and is subsequently dumped.
- A chronic problem with Charlie "Lucky" Luciano in Boardwalk Empire (probably because of the syphilis). He gets better with Gillian, however.
- Was the problem facing Rose and her boyfriend in The Golden Girls episode "The Impotence of Being Ernest".
- On The Young and The Restless, when a woman's husband couldn't perform (which needless to say, put a crimp into their plans to have another baby), he blamed it on stress from work, and then eventually, cruelly blamed it on her nagging and pressuring him. It turned out he was cheating on her and therefore too exhausted from having serviced his mistress all afternoon to come home and make love to his wife.
- Mindless Self Indulgence (who'da thunk it?) have a song about this, named appropriately "Get It Up." In the middle is a short section of dialogue:
"Uh, Jesus... eh, I-I never had this problem before, it's just a... hold on a second, give it a minute, alright, just give it a minute. Uh... do something sexy! I don't care, do something sexy, just... whatever you do don't talk about your fucking boyfriend while we're having sex, how 'bout that?"
- Elastica's 'Stutter' is from the point of view of a woman having to deal with her boyfriend's failure to rise to the occasion.
- Pet Shop Boys' "Casanova in Hell" deals with this, complete with a reverse Something Else Also Rises--a descending swoop of cello strings when it's revealed Casanova can no longer get it up.
- Art Brut's "Rusted Guns of Milan".
"I know I can, I know I can, I'm fine when I am with my own hand."
- "My Pencil Won't Write No More" by '30s delta bluesman Bo Carter.
- "We have sinned, and it was a complete disaster!"
- This happening sets in motion the plot of the farce A Flea in Her Ear. Because a guy becomes impotent, his wife mistakenly suspects he is cheating on her.
- Older Than Steam: The Porter's scene in Macbeth is chock full of this.
- A major plot point (and indeed, the inspiration for) Me and My Dick.
- Happened in an early story arc of Least I Could Do, before Rayne became, ahem, omnipotent. Solved with the simple and sensible expedient of Viagra.
- In one strip of Sexy Losers, Indiana Jones survive the usual shootouts and adventures, only to say, "Today I am not a man" when he's with a woman and things don't quite work. This is borderline NSFW, but safer than most strips from that series.
- Appears in Ghastlys Ghastly Comic between Nort and Kiki, much to her dismay.
- Humorously, it's revealed that Kagerou's Red had this problem before he died.
- Parodied in Sinfest here
- In Survival of the Fittest version 4, Dustin Royal suffers this embarrassment when attempting to have sex with Maria Graham. Comedic, but also a relief, given he was taking advantage of Maria's highly distressed state at the time to make a move on her.
- It happened to Gerald and Sheila on South Park; unfortunately, Kyle overheard their argument about the issue, decided he wanted to help them make up, and things sort of snowballed from there.
- "I need to give my dad a "nerection""
- "I'm getting a nerection as we speak!"
- Parodied by Robot Chicken:
Ken: I'm sorry, this has never happened to me before.
Barbie: Not having a penis has never happened to you before?
- In the Family Guy episode "Big Man on Hippocampus," Peter gets amnesia, and acts like a bachelor. Lois eventually leaves him, and almost has sex with Quagmire; however, when she says she trusts him, he gets impotent from guilt, and tries to "resuscitate" himself with increasingly drastic measures.