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
If you are troubled by occasional erectile dysfunction, remember that arousal takes longer as you get older and that satisfaction should not be equated with performance. If dysfunction is severe and persistent, you should seek medical help. The number of treatment options has increased in recent years.
Many doctors will recommend changes in lifestyle as a first step in treatment. Suggestions may include the following:
Cut back on alcohol.
Stop any tobacco or illegal drug use.
"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
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.