This is the third in a series of blogs about erectile dysfunction (ED) – having difficulties getting or maintaining an erection. And don’t think I haven’t noticed, guys, that these blogs are getting less clicks than others! I know it’s devastating when your penis doesn’t behave the way you’d like it to. But ED is normal, usually fixable and nothing at all to be ashamed of or worried about. Go on. What have you got to lose by giving this a quick read through?
The other two posts (here and here) talk about some of the causes of ED and what’s going on with your body.
Here, I want to talk about how to talk to your partner about what’s going on.
When things don’t go the way we expect sexually and you can’t get an erection, the brain notices immediately. The next time there’s a hint of intimacy – even a hug – it says to both partners ‘Hold on. Last time you did this, it didn’t go very well”. One or both of you tense up or back off, leaving you both feeling anxious and rejected.
Men with ED often stop instigating sex, worried they won’t be able to perform. Often, they’ll stop any physical contact for fear it might lead to sex.
When couples stop having regular sex, they’ll often adopt the ‘ostrich’ approach – stick their head in the sand and hope the problem goes away. But the longer you go without sex, the bigger deal it becomes and the harder it is to talk about.
It becomes the ‘elephant in the room’ and the relationship suffers.
ED affects all relationships – regardless of what your sexual orientation is.
The average man waits around 2-3 years before seeing a doctor about a sex problem: most of you think if you don’t talk about it and avoid sex for a while, ED will ‘sort itself out’.
It probably won’t.
You also worry it might mean something else is seriously wrong. ED can alert your GP to other things in your body that might need attention, but that’s a good thing! The sooner health problems are discovered, the quicker they’re sorted.
Your partner doesn’t want to talk about ED because they’re worried they’ll upset you, embarrass you – or that they might be the problem. They’re not attractive or ‘sexy’ enough, as ‘tight’ as they used to be (if they’re female), or that you don’t love them anymore.
But talking about ED is the first step to getting the right treatment and solving the issue in most cases.
This will make it easy for you. Promise!
A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO TALKING ABOUT ED TO YOUR PARTNER (OR ANY SEX PROBLEM)
It can be terrifying talking about sex issues. The good news is, once you get past those first few awkward minutes, most couples find it’s much easier than they thought – and an incredible relief to finally get it out in the open.
TIPS FOR BOTH OF YOU
Bring up the subject by simply saying, “Have you noticed we’re not having sex as much lately? I miss it. Why do you think that is? Shall we have a chat about it?”
Choose a time when you’re both getting on well and in a place where you most comfortably chat. Some couples like to sit down, facing each other, others find it easier to talk about topics that make them feel uncomfortable without unwavering eye contact. Driving is often a time when couples talk well. Or it might be while cooking dinner together.
Take turns to speak. If you know you’re going to be given time to explain your points, you’ll listen to theirs more carefully. Most of us spend the time our partner talks planning what we’re going to say next.
Speak calmly and clearly. Don’t talk too fast and stop between points to make sure your partner has time to process their thoughts.
Watch your body language. If you’re sitting, sit close enough to touch. Make eye contact and don’t cross your arms or legs. If you feel your partner getting tense, hug them and tell them how much you love them. If you’ve chosen to talk while doing something, stop now and then to touch and hug. Look into their eyes to periodically check how they’re feeling.
Get them to repeat back what it is they think you’ve said once you’ve finished talking. This makes you feel heard and ensures they haven’t misunderstood you.
Talk about your feelings, then move onto talking about how you’d both like to resolve the issue, finally deciding on a course of action. (More on that later.)
Finish the conversation with a hug or by doing something nice together. You’ll both feel vulnerable but relieved that you’ve finally tackled what’s been worrying you.
IF YOU’RE THE PERSON HAVING ERECTION DIFFICULTIES
Put yourself in your partner’s shoes. They’re nervous to talk to you about ED because they don’t want to embarrass or offend you. They may also be worried it means you don’t fancy them, you’re having an affair or have fallen out of love. Start by reassuring them none of this is true.
Say you’d like to talk about your sex life and why you’ve been either having troubles getting an erection or avoiding sex. Say you’ve done some research and you think you might have ED.
Read this blog together. It will help guide the conversation and course of action.
Tell them how it feels physically and emotionally. It’s not ‘unmanly’ to admit to feelings like embarrassment or shame and will help your partner to understand.
If you feel uncomfortable talking about emotions, outline the problem and how it makes you feel quickly, then focus on solutions.
Your reward for a few minutes of awkwardness? Talking about it honestly and openly will be a tremendous relief. You no longer have to avoid affection or sex. You can be honest and solve this together. Your partner will feel reassured and you’ll both feel closer. Once you’ve talked about it, it’s a problem that’s easily fixed.
IF YOU’RE THE PARTNER
See if from his side: ED can be devastating for men. It makes him feel less ‘manly’ and his self-esteem plummets. If he’s not very good at expressing emotion, sex is often how he expressed love for you. He may be worried you’ll stop loving him, find sex elsewhere or are laughing at him behind his back. The more anxious he feels, the worse the problem gets. He may be avoiding sex with you and having solo sex instead. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t desire or love you, he’s just too embarrassed to let you see what’s happening.
Write down what you’d like to say, so you can word it properly. Use ‘I’ not ‘You’ when you do. (“I worry you don’t find me attractive when you don’t want sex” rather than “You make me feel unattractive when you don’t want sex”) Say it out loud solo. How would you react if you heard that? Is it sensitively and tactfully worded?
Tell him you love him, miss sex with him and want to talk about why you’re both not having it anymore. He may react angrily or defensively but stay calm. Tell him you don’t automatically feel like sex all the time and perhaps it’s the same for him? Tell him you read that most men have erection problems at some stage and ask if that’s happening to him and that’s why he’s avoiding sex.
Constantly reassure him that it happens to everyone, is normal and fixable. Let him know you don’t need him to get an erection to enjoy sex, to take the pressure off. But encourage him to see his doctor because it can mean other health issues. Offer to go with him.
Focus on solutions, rather than the problem. See the checklist below.
If he refuses to talk, drop it and say ‘I’m here if you’d like to talk to me later’. Try again in a few days. Encourage even small attempts from him to open up. Nearly all men say they feel so much better once they’ve talked with their partners and ready to find a solution.
WE’VE HAD THE CHAT, WHAT NOW?
Go to the doctor for a full health check and for advice on treatment. There’s no need to be embarrassed – GPs talk about ED to patients every day.
Your GP will outline various methods of treating ED. These include ‘talking’ therapy, vacuum pumps, prescription drugs and other methods, depending on whether the cause is physical, psychological or both.
Decide together which treatment would suit you best, then take the appropriate steps to put it all into action.
Keep talking and reassuring each other, every step of the way.
Agree to make sexual overtones obvious so you both feel free to hug or show affection without it being misinterpreted.
Take the pressure off by not making sex sessions focused around intercourse.
When you start having sex again:
Don’t have sex when you’re both tired or too full – day time is often better than night time.
The healthier your lifestyle, the better sex will be. Cut back on high fat foods, alcohol and cigarettes. Exercise and try to have sex regularly.
Don’t expect miracles. It can take time before you’ll start to see an effect of whatever method you’ve chosen to treat ED.
If you haven’t had intercourse for a while, it’s tempting to rush in but make sure she is fully prepared. Spend time on foreplay and use a good lubricant.
It’s always best to tell your partner you’ve taken any prescribed drugs in case you have side effects and so they can also mentally prepare for sex, especially if you haven’t had sex in a while.
Don’t get hung up on having to plan. Spontaneous sex is over-rated. There’s just as much pleasure in planning and anticipating sex sessions.
Remember, the older the man, the more direct and prolonged stimulation you’ll need to get an erection
See your doctor every few months to revise how things are going.