Life is full of awkward moments.
But most men would prefer talking about any other topic than having to talk to their partner about requiring treatment for erectile dysfunction.
So why is this such a mortifying subject to bring up?
“Men just find it embarrassing,” explains Jacqueline Hellyer, a psychosexual therapist and relationship coach.
The reason for this embarrassment is that erectile dysfunction—which doctors define as the consistent inability to obtain or maintain an erection sufficient to have sex—runs counter to the popular image of male sexuality.
Suffering from ED, therefore, calls such things into question, and is often accompanied by a serious loss of pride due to a perceived social stigma. “Men are 'supposed' to have hard, strong cocks,” Hellyer says.
“So it’s difficult to admit to that weakness or if that part of your body isn’t functioning.”
Erectile dysfunction is common
But shying away from the subject won’t solve anything.
Recognising a problem, after all, is the first step to solving it and ED is an extremely prevalent issue.
“It’s hugely common,” Hellyer insists. “You’d struggle to find a man who’s not experienced it.”
In fact, ED rates have skyrocketed during the last 20 years, especially among younger guys. A study from the Journal of Sexual Medicine reports that one out of every four new ED patients is now under 40 years old.
But the condition also becomes increasingly likely as you age.
According to one study, about five percent of 40-year-old men experience ED, but by the time you’re 65 that number jumps to 15 to 25 per cent.
In other words, if you occasionally struggle to rise to the occasion then you’re hardly alone.
But how should you broach this delicate subject with your partner?
“Normalise it!” insists Hellyer. “Reassure your partner that [they're] totally gorgeous but it’s just not happening for you right now.”
It’s not your partner’s fault
This is important, she explains, because a lot of women will mistakenly assume your failure to muster an erection is a reflection of how you view their sexual desirability.
This is where many men struggle to talk to their (especially female) partners about it, leading to further frustration.
“A lot of women don’t understand erectile dysfunction and will take it personally,” Hellyer says. “Because there’s this idea that men are animalistic creatures with erections popping up all the time.”
Explaining to your partner that your trouser troubles are nothing to do with her will help dial down any insecurity on her part.
That’s vital, Hellyer explains, because if your partner starts to feel defensive she’s more likely to take the situation badly.
“I’ve heard some terrible things—women calling men ‘soft cocks’ or saying: ‘What am I meant to do with that,” she says. “[often] having no comprehension that this sort of behaviour might make the problem even worse.”
Burying the problem
The other scenario that Hellyer often deals with among her clients is couples who refuse to admit there’s a problem.
“Often people will go quiet and pretend it’s not happening,” she says. “People aren’t in the habit of talking about their sex life so they ignore it.”
Suffice to say this head-in-the-sand approach is unlikely to rescue your love life.
It’s also an act of self-sabotage because any difficulties you’re having in the bedroom will almost certainly be fixable with the right help.
“I see guys with this problem all the time,” stressed Hellyer. “If you’re having sex and losing your erection, don’t worry.”
Once you’ve reassured your partner that you still find them unbearably sexy, give them a sense of perspective by explaining just how common ED actually is.
You might then start to troubleshoot by discussing potential lifestyle factors that could be short-circuiting the lead in your pencil.
Stress is one common cause—“if your body is fight and flight mode then it’s physically impossible to get an erection,” Hellyer says.
In addition, fatigue, illness, heavy drinking, smoking, or obesity can also increase your chances of developing ED.
Having "the talk" about treatment
Often, the pressures of "performing" on the spot can aggravate the problem, creating a snowball effect of anxiety and, ultimately, sexual frustration for both you and your partner.
Four easy things to remember when broaching the topic of using medication to treat ED are:
- Have the conversation outside the bedroom—you don't need to further the associated stress by waiting for it to just "pop-up" (or rather not "pop-up").
- Remind your partner that it is common, and treatable. It's not about them, and it's not entirely in your control. Medication has been used for decades by millions of men to manage ED, and it's often a temporary measure.
- Your choice to use medication to treat ED is because you want to have a better sex life and enjoy the intimacy associated with it. It has nothing to do with levels of attraction or because something is "broken".
- Taking ED medication is a proactive decision about your health that is discussed with (and prescribed by) a doctor, and is no different than treating any other health concern that gets in your way.
Take decisive action
Your best chance of regaining your sexual confidence and performance involves seeking out professional help. “If you’re still getting morning erections then it’s more likely to be a psychological issue,” says Hellyer.
“If you’re not, then see a doctor and get tested because sometimes ED can be the sign of another health problem like diabetes or heart disease.”
Essentially, there are two courses of action available. You can either see a sex therapist, like Hellyer, who deals more with the psychological side of things.
They can often suggest ways of tweaking your love life or tackling potential sources of interference that might be distracting you from the job at hand.
“Everyone is familiar with the idea of getting a woman ‘in the mood’,” says Hellyer. “But a lot of men also need a process to transition into sexual encounters too. A lot of men can’t get spontaneous erections.”
The alternative (and cheaper) option is to talk to a practitioner. They’ll ask you about your lifestyle and investigate potential physiological causes in order to rule out the problem is not symptomatic of a more serious complaint.
Once you’re in the clear, they’ll often prescribe some form of medication. Many men find it’s not necessary to take this long-term, with the pills simply helping to jump-start confidence in the bedroom.
The ultimate take-home is that if you’re struggling with erectile dysfunction then you don’t need to suffer in silence.
A doctor can help you to take decisive action and empower you to reboot your love life.
“Struggling to get an erection is hugely common,” Hellyer says. “Don’t despair, get help!”