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Don't Be A Dick About Erectile Dysfunction

Maya Richard-Craven |
June 16, 2014 | 5:35 p.m. PDT


"Women often think a man's erection is essentially a reflex." (Rebecca Orlandini)
"Women often think a man's erection is essentially a reflex." (Rebecca Orlandini)
Women often think a man's erection is essentially a reflex—that it occurs without having to be willed, sort of like blinking or breathing. We assume that if he sees an attractive woman across the room or even catches a stiff breeze, he's ready for sex. So with all this floating around my head, I blamed myself. That's a common reaction, apparently. 

In the Men’s Health article, "What She Really Thinks of Your Penis,” sex journalist Tammy Worth describes her experience dating someone with erectile dysfunction. Like many women, she blamed herself for her partner’s inability to maintain an erection. 

Erectile dysfunction (ED), also known as impotence, affects around 20 to 30 million men in America and over 150 million men across the globe. Many people assume that impotence is a problem only among older men, however, a 2013 study released in the Journal of Sexual Medicine illustrated that 1 in 4 men with ED were actually under the age of 40.

Regarding these findings, Editor-in-Chief Irwin Goldstein expressed the following in a press release:

Clinically, when younger patients have presented with erectile dysfunction, we have in the past had a bias that their ED was primarily psychologic-based and vascular testing was not needed... We now need to consider regularly assessing the integrity of arterial inflow in young patients - identifying arterial pathology in such patients may be very relevant to their overall long-term health.

The potential serious health implications suggested by Goldstein highlight the importance of acknowledging and understanding ED in men of all ages, even when social stigma may make it tempting to sweep the issue under the rug. ED can be caused by various factors, including, but not limited to: medication, genital injury, chronic illness, hormonal problems, neurological disorders, vascular disease and psychological disorders. 

When men become sexually aroused, the brain is supposed to send a message signaling blood vessels to expand. When blood flow moves to the penis, the penis enlarges and hardens. However, men with ED often struggle to stay hard or even to get hard at all. 

The first in-depth studies of sexual behavior and sexual complications began in 1954, under William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson at the University of Washington. In their text, “The Human Sexual Response,” Masters and Johnson discuss elements of sexual behavior and sexual complications that would later contribute to the formation of “sexology,” or sex therapy. 

By 1959, the famous duo were offering two-week sex therapy programs, which had an 80 percent success rate. Just last year, Showtime premiered Masters of Sex, a television series “based on the real-life pioneers of the science of human sexuality.”  

Today, men with erectile dysfunction are encouraged to seek professional help from urologists or endocrinologists. Treating dysfunction varies depending on the individual, because of a patient's history and regular medication regiment (if any).

Drugs like Viagra, Cialis and LeVitra have proven most effective in treating ED, but not all men have the same reaction to these drugs. Some may not be able to take them at all, due to other medications they may be taking. Some men try penis pumps, injections or surgery, but the most painful option is to leave the problem unresolved. ED does not only affect the sufferer, but can also be devastating to romantic relationships.

Men with ED must communicate openly with their partners. (Rebecca Orlandini)
Men with ED must communicate openly with their partners. (Rebecca Orlandini)

Despite feelings of shame or embarrassment, men with ED must communicate (openly) with their partners. It is normal for both partners to experience feelings of anger and resentment toward one another, but treatments like sex therapy are proven to work best when men's partners get involved.

Sex therapy is a form of psychological counseling that encourages open-ended communication between partners, while also teaching patients sexual exercises to increase function. It is most important for men with erectile dysfunction to express their greatest concerns, fears and needs in order to feel fully supported by their partners.

As a partner, the best thing you can do is to be patient: patient with the recovery process, patient when your loved one seems agitated or resistant and patient with yourself. ED is a health issue, not a direct result of your actions, and is neither your fault nor your partner's fault. And seeking blame for his ED will likely worsen the condition itself. 

Worth eventually had an open conversation with her boyfriend, John. One that revealed that John had been on anti-depressants, a commonly known trigger for ED. Only a few weeks after he stopped his medication, John was able to have sex.

But Worth came to the conclusion that, “it was the time we spent not having sex that eventually made our sex life so unbelievably hot.”

And if your romantic partner isn’t willing to enjoy those moments, regardless of your physical reaction, then they probably aren't worth your time or affection.

"Shameless" is a new series by NT Columnist Maya Richard-Craven on shame and social status in the millennial generation. Read more here. Reach Maya here



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