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Erectile Dysfunction Health Center

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Impotence Imposes on Relationships

Double Dysfunction

How Couples Approach the Problem continued...

When women are angry, says Karen Donahey, this anger is frequently present before the sexual difficulties have begun. In such instances, says Donahey, marital therapy, as opposed to sexual therapy, may be in order to get to the underlying cause of the anger.

For a woman who wants to help her partner -- as most do, says Donahey -- understanding why ED occurs can help ease her concerns as well as allow her to help her partner confront the problem, something many men are hesitant to do.

Being able to talk about it is the first step. "Opening the lines of communication is paramount" in resolving ED, says Marian Dunn, PhD, clinical associate professor and director of the Center for Human Sexuality at the State University of New York Health Science Center. "ED is not initially easy to talk about. But not talking about it can seriously damage a relationship."

Sandy (also not her real name) has been in a relationship for six months with a man who suffers from ED. "We've worked hard on handling it," she says, "and we talk about it all the time, which really helps." In addition to encouraging her partner to see his doctor for a physical exam, Sandy says that being able to talk about the situation has actually brought the two closer together.

"It defuses whatever anger and frustration there may be," she explains, "so that it doesn't carry over into other aspects of the relationship, and it has shown us that we can work on this together."

"Women don't need to take responsibility for their partner's ED," says Dr. Janice Lipsky. "But many women can and do play a critical role in supporting men to seek treatment."

Expanding Definition of Sex

One of the benefits of treatment -- be it medical or psychological, or a combination of the two -- says Donahey, is that it can educate both partners about ED. It's important to realize, for example, that just as a woman's sexual responses may change as she ages, so, too, do a man's. "A man's sexual response rate also slows down as he gets older," Donahey points out. "Whereas in his 20s, he might have been aroused simply by looking at his partner, in his 40s or 50s, he may need more direct stimulation of the penis. A woman shouldn't take this as a sign that her partner finds her unattractive."

Donahey also suggests that couples expand their definition of what sexuality is so that they can maintain their physical intimacy. "Be more flexible," she advises. "There's more to sex than just intercourse ... try manual stimulation, oral stimulation, stroking, kissing. These are all a part of an intimate relationship and can lead to an orgasm for both partners.

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