How to talk about erectile dysfunction with your partner

We offer some advice on broaching this sensitive subject.

05 March 2015
by Wendy Maritz

Johannesburg-based counselling psychologist Brian Blem explains that the very personal topic of erectile dysfunction "relates directly to a man’s identity, and when he is unable to perform sexually, he may feel as though his very position in life is threatened. Masculine identity is very tied up in the ability to sexually satisfy a partner."

It stands to reason that ED may be one of the most difficult challenges a man faces in his life, and talking about it may feel impossible, but not talking about it and avoiding sex can have a number of negative knock-on effects, such as feelings of inadequacy and rejection. This loss of intimacy may drive couples further apart. Having the conversation sooner rather than later is ultimately best; it may also be a platform to discovering the underlying causes.

So, what is the best approach to tackle the ED conversation?

1. Do your research
For either partner, knowing what ED is – its possible causes and treatments – is a good place to start. "According to research, around 52 percent of men between the ages of 40 and 70 experience ED," says Blem. It’s not uncommon, and there is plenty of information readily available. See here for more info on this condition. 

2. Make a date to discuss ED
Choose a time when you are both comfortable, not busy or stressed.

3. Choose your words carefully and lovingly
If you feel you may have trouble verbalising your concerns, spend a little time making notes. It’s important to use language that is loving and understanding, and also terms that you are comfortable with. Some people may prefer slang, others more medical terms. Start with "I am still attracted to you, but I am having some difficulties…", which will immediately reassure your partner.

As a partner, you may want to open up with "This may be difficult for you to talk about, but I’ve noticed that…"

"This is a relationship problem that should be shared, understood and addressed together," Blen advises, adding that partners need to be patient but also persistent.

4. Discuss possible causes
Your partner may be suffering from anxiety or depression, or there may be a physiological reason for the ED. It’s a good idea to suggest a thorough medical exam, after which couple therapy may be recommended or medical interventions such as prescription medications including sildenafil (Viagra) and tadalafil (Cialis), amongst others.

5. Going forward
Sometimes problems are opportunities in disguise. ED may be the prompt couples need to take stock of their lives on many levels. Adjust the focus for a while. Start "dating" again and enjoy other forms of intimacy. "Take the focus off the end goal and enjoy the journey," Blem concludes.

IMAGE CREDIT: 12rf.com