Author: Dr. Trina Read (Trina Read)
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Silent devastation has befallen many a happy partnership due to erectile concerns.  Both the man and the woman feel helpless in a situation that can have many concrete solutions.

As any person ages, their body begins to break down.  With an aging male, it becomes a little more tricky because when something goes wrong with his body—like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, vascular diseases or diabetes—sometimes the first thing to be effected is his ability to have or maintain an erection. 

Erectile dysfunction (ED)—although I believe a big part of the problem is to label it a “dysfunction”—is caused by a combination of factors both physical and psychological.  The Massachusetts Male Aging Study, an ongoing survey of 1,709 men over 40, reports that half the participants (52%) reported at least some erection difficulty.

When ED strikes, trouble in a relationship frequently begins not due to a lack of sex but rather because of poor communication.  ED brings a disruptive change in and out of the bedroom. How men and women view and approach the changing situation is very different. 

Men see ED as a mechanical problem while women see it as a relationship problem.  While he goes inward to “solve” this issue, she wants to talk and work it through as a couple.  Both are inadvertently irritating the other, starting the downward spiral of misguided communication.

Being able to talk openly, honestly and with vulnerability about ED begins with seeing the other person’s side.

His Side

Bernie Zilbergeld of The New Male Sexuality writes, “While any problem with sex is upsetting to a man, nothing generates as much concern, anxiety, shame, and even terror as an inability to get or maintain an erection.”  In fact, the primary meaning of “impotence” is “a lack of power, strength and vigor….”

Zilbergeld goes on to say, “Men have been taught to tie their self-respect to the upward mobility of their penises, and when their penises do not rise to the occasion, they no longer feel like men.”  In describing how he feels, a man might say he is “useless”, “hopeless” and a “fraud”. He thinks he has lost his manhood and can’t cut it anymore.

He feels nothing can rescue him.  There is no way to fake an erection, and it is difficult (although not impossible) to have intercourse without at least a partial erection.  His partner may be sympathetic and supportive, but he is so consumed with self-loathing that he cannot accept what she offers.

Her Side

As best as a woman does to understand what a man’s erection means to him, I do not think she can ever really “get it.”  Like a woman trying to describe giving birth to a child, there is no way to understand what it is like for a man going through ED.  As such, a woman is often puzzled by the misery her man goes through when he fails to have or keep an erection. 

For many women, she may think she is not sexy or sexual enough to arouse her mate, making her feel isolated and responsible for the problem.  Because she is focused on the relationship, her partner’s lack of erection is less of an issue than his anxiety, depression, anger, confusion and withdrawal.  She feels frustrated and powerless to remedy the situation. 

If you are faced with this situation, here are some helpful hints for couples.

Men, if you have any signs of ED:

  • * Go to your family doctor and have a complete physical check up.
  • * Educate yourself by researching causes to see if any apply.
  • * Do not blame yourself or your partner.
  • * Do not withdraw.
  • * As best you can, talk about how you feel and ask how she feels.
  • * If the communication is too much to handle, seek professional counseling to help work through it.

    Women, if your partner is experiencing ED:
  • * Do not say things like, “It doesn’t matter honey.”  It may not matter to your sexual satisfaction, but it matters a great deal to him.
  • * Do not blame yourself thinking you are not attractive or skillful enough.
  • * Do not begin thinking your relationship is in terrible trouble—unless, of course, both of you refuse to acknowledge and deal with the problem head on.
  • * Do not force the issue, yet do your best to encourage him to confide in you.
  • * Reassure him that you love him and do not consider him less of a man.
  • * Offer to contact doctors or therapists if he is not willing.

    As with any significant change in life, if not handled properly, ED can easily blow a great relationship apart.  Understand your mate to help sharpen communication skills and ease your way through this disruptive time.