How to stop erectile dysfunction sabotaging your relationship

Don't let penis problems ruin your chances of achieving emotional and physical intimacy with a partner.

How to prevent ED from ruining your relationship.
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Is your relationship at risk thanks to erectile dysfunction (ED)? Whether you've been together for years or you are just getting to know one another, ED can put a huge strain on any couple.

If your erection doesn't play ball it can be deeply devastating for a man, but it can be equally difficult for his partner too. ED sufferers often find it embarrassing to talk about sexual dysfunction and this can create distance in a relationship. But a floundering member doesn't have to ruin your chances of achieving emotional and physical intimacy.

We speak to Denise Knowles, a Relate councillor and sex therapist, about how to address ED and overcome this obstacle together:

What is erectile dysfunction?

ED, sometimes known as impotence, means an inability to get a good enough erection to achieve satisfactory intercourse. Most men fail to get or keep an erection every once in a while, some men suffer from occasional ED and for some it can be persistent.

Erection problems can affect men of all ages and occurs for a variety of reasons, both physical and psychological, including anxiety, stress, hormonal imbalance, substance abuse, medication side-effects, surgery and depression.



Erectile dysfunction and your relationship

While it can be frustrating and embarrassing if you struggle to maintain an erection, try not to lose hope. More often than not ED is an emotional issue, and worrying about it tends to make things worse. ED can be impacted by both physical and psychological factors, but treatment is available and it does not have to spell the end of emotional or sexual intimacy with a partner.

Try the following 7 tips to safeguard your relationship from ED and come back stronger:

1.Find out the cause of erectile dysfunction

    The more you know about ED, the easier it will be to prevent it from sabotaging your relationship. The first thing that you should do is to visit your GP and find out what is causing the ED, so you can then address the problem. If you have a medical condition, you will need to discuss it with your doctor.

    'Once you've got a diagnosis sorted out then you can actually find out what you're dealing with so you have a better idea of how to manage the issue within your relationship,' says Knowles.



    2. Don't take erectile dysfunction personally

    A lot of women will mistakenly assume their partner has either lost interest or is having an affair. When in actual fact, men who suffer with ED often become very anxious about letting their partners down, so they then withdraw from sex.

    'It's not that they have gone off their partner, it's just that they are embarrassed or they don't want to let their partner down so they don't indulge in sex, it's usually nothing to do with an affair or otherwise,' says Knowles.

    3. Keep communication lines open

    ED can often cause trouble in a relationship, not because of the lack of sex but because of the lack of communication, so it's important that you keep talking. 'If ED doesn't get talked about, it can have quite a detrimental effect on the man's confidence and how he sees himself,' explains Knowles.

    'It may cause him to withdraw from intimacy in a relationship and that in itself can go on to cause problems because the couple won't be as close,' she adds. 'When communication goes out the window, then obviously they think to themselves that there's more of a problem than there actually is.'



    4. Approach the subject of erectile dysfunction with care

    Keep in mind that ED isn't anyone's fault. If your partner suffers from ED, don't put pressure on them and be as supportive as possible.

    'If you notice your partner is struggling or sex isn't happening as often as it used to, then try saying, "I notice we aren't making love as often as we used to and I am a bit concerned about that. How about you? I miss closeness," and see what he has to say,' recommends Knowles.

    5. Extend your sexual repertoire beyond penetration

    There are numerous ways that you can achieve orgasm and give each other pleasure, which don't involve a strong erection or penetrative sex.

    'Maintain your closeness and intimacy. Obviously communication is a really big thing here but don't forget the importance of being able to just stroke and touch each other,' suggests Knowles.

    'Extend your sexual repertoire,' she adds. 'This is about exploring each other's bodies and exploring what works. If you're anxious about your performance, you have got to start to relax and enjoy other parts of your body as well. If the whole focus is on the penis then naturally this isn't going to be conducive to you getting an erection.'



    6. Talk to your GP about erectile dysfunction

    Talk to your partner first, and suggest that your partner comes along to the GP with you if this helps.

    'It's important that if you're a man and have concerns about your erection, you need to get it checked out because there could be a medical problem - such as diabetes,' says Knowles. 'If that's not the case, then you have got that reassurance.'

    If ED is because of an emotional issue, therapy can be very successful in helping to combat anxiety, get back in touch with your body and re-learn how to maintain an erection without the associated anxiety.

    7. Consider couples counselling

    Contact an organisation such as Relate, where sex therapists are on hand who are trained and skilled to deal with ED. Relate therapists understand the dynamics in a relationship and will actually be able to help the couple manage it.

    'There may be other things that contribute to the erectile deficiency at a psychological level, such as someone's been made redundant, has recently been bereaved or has financial problems,' says Knowles. 'So it's about exploring the things that they can do something about.'



    Further help and support

    For further advice about erectile dysfunction or any other relationship or sexual concerns you might have, try one of the following resources:

    • NHS.UK: to check for any medical issues or be referred to a therapist.
    • Relate or Relationships Scotland: for relationship support.
    • COSRT: find therapists that are able to work with any relationship or sexual issues.
    • Sexual Advice Association: help to improve sexual health and wellbeing.
    • IPM: education, training and research in psychosexual medicine.

      Last updated: 09-12-19

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