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Erectile Dysfunction: What You Need to Know About Your Partner’s Health

Most men will attest that the male member can be unpredictable. Losing erection during sex from time to time is very normal. We talk about erectile dysfunction or ED when a person consistently has trouble achieving and maintaining an erection.

Erectile dysfunction is a sensitive issue and one that is intimately intertwined with physical health and emotional well-being, potentially impacting both a man’s self-image and his sexual relationships. ED is a widespread condition that becomes more common with age.

When two people engage in a sexual relationship, issues that affect the health of one partner will also affect the other. Just as women have justifiably come to expect men to have some basic knowledge about the menstrual cycle and female sexuality, women also should educate themselves about male sexuality and reproductive health. We all encounter health issues at some point. This is nothing to be ashamed of and having the support of an understanding partner makes overcoming hurdles easier.


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Impotence is an outdated term for ED that comes from the Latin for “lack of power”. The more clinical term erectile disfunction is commonly used today as for some people the older term is associated with strange old-fashioned treatments or unnecessary connotations of blame and shame.


More than 50% of men over the age of 40 experience erectile dysfunction in one form or another, and 1 in 10 men will experience a severe form of erectile dysfunction during their lifetime.

It can be tricky for women in heterosexual relationships to navigate their partner’s feelings. We want to be supportive, especially in such delicate matters, and give our loved ones space to deal with their own issues, but it is also important to have clear and open communication, as well as mutual respect when problems arise.

Healthy erection

Penile erection, or tumescence, is a natural physiological process in males where the penis becomes firm and enlarged; this is often a response to sexual arousal but can also occur in response to non-sexual stimuli.

The erectile tissue of the male penis consists of three cylindrical chambers that are bound together by fibrous tissue. The two identical cylinders on either side of the penis—the corpora cavernosa—fill with blood during erection causing the penis to expand, sometimes considerably. The middle cylinder—the corpus spongiosum—surrounds the urethra and forms the sensitive tip, or glans penis.

The anatomical structure of the female clitoris is homologous with the penis. It consists of erectile tissue comprising two hollow corpora cavernosa and a smaller central corpus spongiosum that also forms the exposed sensitive tip of the organ or glans clitoris. New research suggests that the number of nerve endings in the glans for both sexes may be around 10,000!

Achieving and maintaining the erection is directly linked with various physiological, neural, and vascular factors. Along with his physical health, the man’s mental state and mood are extremely important.

An erection is not necessarily an indication of readiness to have sex or sexual consent; it is simply a physiological process that indicated increased blood flow in the penis. The penis can become erect in seemingly random and inappropriate situations in both adolescent and adult men. While quite common in adolescents, frequent random erections in adulthood may indicate a problem and are worth looking into.

An erection is necessary for traditional penis-in-vagina sex, for sexual intercourse generally, and for procreation. While ejaculation without erection is technically possible, it is not very likely. If you and your partner are planning on having a baby, erectile dysfunction can compound the stress a man feels to “perform in the bedroom”, making it even more difficult for him to be successful. Removing the stress and identifying the cause are the first steps to treatment and recovery.


What does erectile dysfunction look like?

Losing erection during sex on occasion is completely normal. Any number of things can kill the mood. Men are humans with feelings and problems to deal with, not robots. It is best to react with compassion and gentle humor, without making a big deal of it or adding blame and shame to the mix.

Erectile dysfunction is defined as the consistent inability to achieve and maintain an erection. Your partner may be willing but lack the appropriate physical response or may be experiencing low sex drive in general.

The main symptoms of erectile dysfunction include:

  • Inability to achieve erection
  • Losing erection unexpectedly
  • Premature ejaculation

Additional indications can include:

  • Low sex drive
  • Persistent erection
  • Frequent random erections

If any of these symptoms become a regular occurrence, it’s time for a consultation.

Although erectile dysfunction is more common in men over 50, the symptoms of ED may indicate underlying health issues and/or emotional stress. ED can show up in younger men as well, due to genetic or lifestyle factors.


If erection-related problems persist for several months or come up every few times you have sex, consult a doctor so problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.

Causes

There are many potential causes for erectile dysfunction, as reproductive health is interconnected with almost all other physical and mental processes in the body. The vascular (blood flow), nervous (sensory feedback), and endocrine (hormone production) systems are all crucial to achieving and maintaining an erection.

Common risk factors

In the regular day-to-day any number of things can contribute to temporary erectile problems. This is quite common and no cause for worry. Well-known risk factors for erectile dysfunction include:

  • Alcohol and drugs
  • Smoking or nicotine
  • Obesity
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Steroids
  • Stress and fatigue

If any of these factors become chronic and habitual, enjoyment in the bedroom is also likely to suffer.

Men over 40 are at greater risk for erectile dysfunction simply due to natural physical “wear and tear”, but it is possible to maintain healthy sexual function well into old age and ED should not be ignored, as it often signals a more serious underlying problem. Health problems are easier to treat when caught early.


Physical and emotional health

Erectile dysfunction may be a symptom of a more serious condition. Some of the most common underlying causes for ED include:

  • vascular disease
  • diabetes
  • kidney disease
  • high blood pressure
  • epilepsy
  • multiple sclerosis
  • low testosterone
  • Atherosclerosis

Pretty much anything that messes with blood pressure or hormones can also have an impact on sexual function.

Emotional factors are equally important for male sexual health. Apart from the stress of daily life, more serious conditions that can also influence erectile function include:

  • depression
  • anxiety disorders
  • disordered sleep
  • other mental health concerns
  • problems in the relationship

What’s more, some medications used to treat mental and physical problems can contribute to ED, including:

  • antidepressants
  • certain pain medications
  • muscle relaxants
  • diuretics
  • antihistamines
  • tranquilizers
  • prostate cancer drugs
  • hormonal medications

Treatment options

Erectile dysfunction can be treated. The first step is to evaluate one’s lifestyle and overall health. Has your partner been under more stress than usual? Has he been leaning on unhealthy habits to get through? Bloodwork and other routine health tests can shed light on potential underlying causes, so support your loved one in getting over any initial embarrassment he might feel so he can consult a doctor to find out what’s up.

If your partner’s ED is the result of an underlying health concern, getting a diagnosis is the first step to treatment and recovery. If no underlying condition is discovered, your partner may appreciate support in creating healthy habits for stress and anxiety management, ensuring proper nutrition, and regularly engaging in enjoyable physical activities.

The symptoms of erectile dysfunction can be treated with medications: sildenafil or Viagra is the most famous, but others such as avanafil or vardenafil can also be used. 

These medications usually come in the form of an oral pill, but injections are also available, especially if hormone therapy is prescribed by your doctor. Sometimes several medications need to be tried before arriving at one that works.


Disclaimer: while it is only normal to support and encourage the partner you love; at no point should you feel solely responsible for his health and doctor’s appointments.

It is important to be understanding, though.

Relieving emotional pressures

Men are socially expected to be ready for sex 24/7, especially in stereotypically masculine social groups such as fraternities or certain fast-paced office cultures. That is, of course, not true. Men are also complex human beings with rich emotional lives who will not always be ready for or interested in having sex. And sometimes his body may not cooperate even when he really wants to. That’s just how the body works sometimes.

“Performance anxiety” is a phrase sometimes used to describe a man’s fear about not being able to maintain an erection or “not doing sex right” in some other way. This feeling can be very distressing.

Addressing erectile dysfunction generally requires some emotional vulnerability from both partners. For a romantic couple to develop a successful and supportive relationship they must cultivate the maturity to communicate clearly and be open with one another. Unfortunately, upbringing and cultural expectations often create obstacles to emotional maturity for both men and women.

While compassion and sensitivity are vital for human connection, emotional coddling tends to be just as counterproductive as ridicule or dismissal. If you aren’t sure how best to support a partner dealing with erectile dysfunction, the simplest way to find out is to ask him: How can I help? And remember, our needs change over time so what we need today might not be what we need tomorrow.

Problems in the bedroom can be frustrating and embarrassing, but treatment is possible. Take stock of the situation honestly, move towards solutions, and find ways to enjoy each other’s company in the bedroom and in your lives as you figure things out.

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https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/erectile-dysfunction/symptoms-causes/syc-20355776
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4721040/
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/erection-problems-erectile-dysfunction/
https://www.urologyhealth.org/urology-a-z/e/erectile-dysfunction-(ed)
https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/symptoms-causes
https://www.healthline.com/health/erectile-dysfunction
https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/10035-erectile-dysfunction
https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/5702
https://www.sciencealert.com/we-may-finally-know-how-many-nerve-endings-are-in-the-human-clitoris
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