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Impotence Imposes on Relationships

Double Dysfunction
By
WebMD Feature

Erectile dysfunction (ED), commonly known as impotence, can be troubling, even devastating, to a man. But it can be equally so for his partner as well, as Beth (who asked that her real name not be used) found out.

"It really undermines a relationship," says Beth, who recently broke off an engagement with a man who suffers from ED. It's especially difficult, she adds, if the man blames his partner, as her fiancé did.

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"Even though my fiancé admitted that he had always had difficulties with his erections," says Beth, "he tried to tell me that it was my fault. After you hear that enough, you start to believe it, and it can really affect your self-esteem."

That's not unusual, says Karen Donahey, PhD, director of the Sex and Marital Therapy Program at Northwestern University Medical Center in Chicago. "A woman may struggle with the notion that she's no longer attractive to her man," says Donahey. "Even if the man assures her it's not true, there's still a worry there."

The stronger a woman's self-esteem is, says Donahey, the less threatened she'll feel by her partner's erectile dysfunction and the more supportive she'll be able to be.

ED Is Not Uncommon

"It's important for both men and women to realize that ED is not at all uncommon," says Donahey. Indeed, most estimates suggest that at least 50% of men in the U.S. experience some form of sexual dysfunction at some point in their lives. ED is one of the most common male sexual problems, affecting an estimated 30 million men in the U.S. and approximately 140 million men worldwide.

Though ED may indeed be common, it's still stressful, and in a study conducted by Pfizer (which makes the impotence drug Viagra), research showed that most women, where their quality of life is concerned, rank ED higher in importance than menopausal symptoms, infertility, allergies, obesity, and insomnia.

In a series of focus groups, Pfizer researchers found that when faced with ED, women -- and their partners -- either acknowledged that they had a problem or denied the existence of a problem. "While this may be intuitive, our research showed that there are differences in how women acknowledge the problem and how they deny the problem," says Janice Lipsky, PhD, senior marketing manager for the sexual health team at Pfizer.

How Couples Approach the Problem

Some couples are what Lipsky calls overcomers, with a strong desire to resolve ED. Others are resigners, who admit there is a problem but decide not to seek treatment to resolve it.

Then there are avoiders, couples who refuse to admit and discuss ED, and, finally, alienators, women who feel so angry that they not only withdraw from their relationship, but may even demean their partner or seek intimacy elsewhere.

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