Erectile dysfunction can cause stress and strain in a relationship. Here’s how to cope.
Sex is an important part of relationships, so when something happens that stops a partner from having sex… well, it can be confusing, frustrating or even embarrassing.
But the reality is that erectile dysfunction, or ED, is a common condition that can affect anyone with a penis. Although it becomes more common with age, it can affect anyone at any age for a variety of physical and psychological reasons.
And when it does, especially more than once, it can affect someone’s health.
Erectile dysfunction is a sexual disorder that affects a person’s ability to achieve or maintain a penile erection during sexual activity.
It affects around 30 million people with penises, according to the American Urological Association.
ED is the term used to describe:
- people who sometimes cannot get an erection
- people who can get one but can’t maintain it for sex
- people who can never get an erection
Although it becomes more common with age, age by itself does not cause erectile dysfunction.
Dr. Michele Waldron is a psychologist in Cambridge, Massachusetts who has experience helping individuals and couples struggling with sex-related issues.
She says, “ED [can be] caused by medical conditions that impact penile blood flow and/or testosterone levels.
Some of these
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- multiple sclerosis
- blood vessel disease
- Peyronie’s disease, which is a connective tissue disorder of the penis
- high cholesterol
- atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of plaque in the arteries
- chronic kidney or liver disease
- persistent genital arousal disorder (PGAD)
Also, certain medications can cause erectile dysfunction, including antidepressants and antihistamines.
Drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco, or using other recreational drugs can also cause erectile dysfunction.
“There are many psychological reasons why someone can have it as well,” says Eileen Conroy, a former therapist and mental health expert. “Being under a lot of stress, having trouble with your body image, or [challenges] suffering from depression or anxiety can affect erectile dysfunction.
If your relationship with your partner is conflicted, stressful, toxic, or traumatic, this can also contribute to erectile dysfunction.
“Erectile dysfunction can be caused by a lack of arousal or attraction to the person,” Waldron explains, “[because] emotions can contribute to this. If you and your partner have just had a fight and it’s not resolved, or if they’re still in a bad mood, you’re unlikely to be attracted to them.
Likewise, she says, your partner’s mood and behavior towards you can play a role.
“I often tell clients that a ‘prickly’ mood in a partner is like a porcupine,” Waldron continues. “Would you be excited or would you like to have sex with a porcupine? A partner’s attitude decreases arousal, which impairs the ability to get and maintain an erection.
It can also get worse or worse over time, especially if you start to develop performance anxiety due to repeated loss of erection with your partner.
“Thoughts about one’s performance, what the partner thinks or says, all impact arousal and therefore erectile functioning,” Waldron explains. “Men often have performance anxiety even after just one time they had an erection problem.”
Physically and emotionally abusive relationships can also contribute to erectile dysfunction.
“Because stress is one of the psychological factors associated with erectile dysfunction, someone in an abusive relationship could definitely fall victim to it, especially if they end up with PTSD,” says Conroy.
“There is actually
In short, yes. Especially if you feel guilty or stressed because you cheated on your partner. Stress, guilt, and other emotional blockages can all prevent you from getting or keeping an erection.
This is also true if your partner is aware of the cheating.
“To maintain an erection, focus is required, so any distracting thought or behavior has the ability to reduce an erection,” Waldron explains. “There are a lot of emotions in both people after the infidelity that impact both people’s ability to focus,” she says.
“A partner may not be as interested in sex if they wonder if their partner is turned on by them or if they’re not good enough,” she continues. “The unfaithful partner may worry about whether their partner is taking advantage and react to the fact that the partner isn’t as interested.”
Waldron adds, “It can become a feedback loop where their emotional reactions cause the other to be less aroused.”
Erectile dysfunction can put a strain on a relationship over time, especially since some research has shown that it affects your partner as well, sometimes making them feel confused, anxious, unwanted or even suspicious of you.
Chronic erectile dysfunction can also make you feel ashamed, which makes it difficult to communicate openly and honestly about erectile dysfunction, resulting in a negative feedback loop, as Waldron described it.
But here’s the thing: ED doesn’t have to destroy your relationship.
“A relationship can definitely survive chronic erectile dysfunction,” says Conroy. “Intimacy and romance are more than sex.”
Communication is key
You can work as a team by talking with your partner, being honest about your feelings, and being willing to listen to their feelings.
“A lasting relationship should have an ‘us versus the problem’ mindset, not a ‘me versus you’ mindset,” says Conroy, and you can only achieve that by talking to each other.
If your partner has erectile dysfunction, try to be compassionate and empathetic
It can help your partner feel less shame and stress, reducing performance anxiety.
Showing more empathy could also help reduce tension in your relationship.
Other forms of intimacy
Remember that sex doesn’t always have to be about penetration.
“Hugging, kissing, touching and talking are fabulous ways to keep the spark alive,” says Conroy. It can help you maintain both
Consider contacting a couples therapist or sex therapist.They might be able to help you work through issues in your relationship, overcome negative attitudes toward sex and psychological barriers, and find new ideas or ways to connect and have fun in the bedroom.
Also keep in mind that if you suddenly suffer from chronic erectile dysfunction, there could be a physical cause.
Consider speaking with your doctor or primary care physician to see if there might be a medical reason contributing to your ED. They might also be able to prescribe medications, such as Viagra, to help you get or keep an erection.
Erectile dysfunction is a common sexual condition that can affect anyone with a penis. It can become more common with age, and certain medical conditions can cause it.
Also, some of the causes can be psychological. Stress and relationship issues can contribute to erectile dysfunction and affect your relationship.
Nevertheless, if you work as a couple and perhaps seek the advice of a therapist, you can find ways to deal with erectile dysfunction.