Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
What’s harder than talking about your own sexual issues? Perhaps it’s bringing up an issue that your partner is experiencing. Sexual wellness is an important part of life. Generally speaking, when our sex lives are fulfilling, other aspects of our lives feel pretty good. When sexual wellness is compromised in some way, it can have devastating effects both individually and relationally.
It can feel next to impossible to bring this topic up to your partner if he struggles with it, especially if he has not brought it up himself. ED in the context of a relationship affects all involved, it’s not just an individual issue.
If your partner is experiencing erectile problems and has not brought it up, you may have to take the first step.
Here are some tips to talk about his ED and not take it personally.
It’s not about you.
Your partner’s ED is not about you or whether he finds you attractive. There can be many underlying causes including medical issues, psychological distress, stress in general, or past trauma. It can be difficult to separate yourself from the issue, and it’s normal to have a knee jerk reaction of “He isn’t attracted to me anymore!” If these thoughts are coming up for you, try this:
- Notice them. Say to yourself, “I’m having the thought that he does not find me attractive anymore and that’s why this is happening”.
- Normalize them by reminding yourself that it’s normal to have these types of thoughts, but they are just that, thoughts.
- Leave them be. The more you wrestle with thoughts like these the longer they stick around and the stronger they will become.
- Remember: A thought is just a thought. Having a thought does not automatically make it based in fact.
If you need reassurance from your partner, it’s ok to ask for it from time-to-time. Just remember, it’s not your partner’s job to constantly validate or reassure you. So if it feels like you’re needing constant reassurance that you are not the cause of the ED, it’s worth talking to a therapist because this reassurance-seeking behavior almost always comes from insecurity.
Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is one of the most common sexual dysfunctions that men deal with. Erectile dysfunction is defined as the inability to achieve or maintain an erection strong enough to have penetrative sex. But erectile dysfunction does not just affect penetrative sex, it can affect all aspects of sex. ED affects men of all ages, races, and sexual orientations. Although ED is more commonly seen in older men, it’s not uncommon for it to affect young men as well.
When a man struggles with ED, he often questions his “manhood” or masculinity. This is generally due to culture linking erection strength, penis size, and masculinity with one another. There is zero correlation between any of them, by the way. A man’s size or erectile strength has nothing to do with his masculinity. This belief, my friends, is “toxic masculinity.”
Toxic masculinity is partly why men have a difficult time talking about this topic. Men are not socialized to talk about their feelings, let alone the one thing that defines their “manhood.” There can be an internal struggle that acknowledging this problem makes him less of a man. We know that this is not true, but it can be very difficult to get unhooked from these thoughts. Having a supportive partner during this can make or break a man.
When partners are involved in ED treatment it’s more likely to be effective. The very first step needs to be a medical evaluation by a doctor. Encourage your partner to go see a medical professional. ED can be caused by underlying medical conditions, it can also be treated medically under the guidance of a primary care doctor, although a specialist such as a urologist is best.
If medical issues are ruled out, speaking to a sex therapist with training in ED can be very beneficial. Sex therapists are psychotherapists with specialized training in the field of human sexuality. The affected partner can benefit a lot from individual sex therapy, but couple’s sex therapy can also be helpful. If you go as a couple, the therapist will guide you on how to manage the issue together. You’ll be educated on the issue and learn helpful interventions and techniques to assist. You’ll learn communication skills specifically to have open and ongoing dialogue on the issue, without hurt feelings or conflict. Even if the issue is medical in nature, having individual or couples therapy is a good idea for extra support.
When discussing a topic that is this sensitive, it’s important to approach the topic with tact. Be sure that when you’re discussing the issue at hand and that you do not place blame on him. Simply, talk about your experience and what you’ve noticed. It can be something like, “I’ve noticed a change regarding our sex life, and I was wondering if we could talk about it so we can work on it together?”. Be prepared for there to be ups and downs (no pun intended). There will be good days and bad days, just try to support your partner as best you can.
Help normalize it.
Remind your partner that ED is a very common issue that many men deal with. In fact, it’s estimated that 40% of men will have experienced ED by age 40 (Study). By normalizing the problem and creating a safe and supportive environment, your partner is more likely to open up. When this happens, reinforce this behavior by thanking your partner for his vulnerability. It’s very difficult for men to be vulnerable in general, but vulnerability around sex is extremely difficult for some.
Don’t force it.
When ED is present, trying to “power through” isn’t going to work. If you pressure your partner or he forces himself to go this route, he is likely to fail and that will feed feelings of shame. If it’s not working, then stop. Reassure your partner that it is not a big deal and try other ways to enjoy intimacy. If men feel pressured the anxiety that is produced can get in the way of getting erections in the future and this can become a debilitating pattern.
Let your partner do it their way.
Give your partner the respect and space to figure out the best treatment plan for themselves. This is an extremely personal issue. Whether it’s medication, therapy, use of sexual aides (rings, vacuum devices), or a combination of these, let them choose what is right for them. As long as they are doing something to address the issue and aren’t avoiding it. It’s his choice what he wants to do, he just needs your support.
If you take anything away from this blog post, I hope it’s this: your partner’s ED is not about you. I know it can be difficult to separate the two, but they are not mutually exclusive.
ED is a complicated issue and can be a result of many distinct underlying factors. The good news is that ED is almost always treatable and many men and couples get great results.
If you notice your partner struggling with ED, try the tips outlined above. The goal is to get him the help he needs and for him to feel supported. He needs the space to consider and make his own choices and having a supportive environment to do this in will help a ton.
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