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How to Deal With Erectile Dysfunction in a Relationship

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is frequently referred to as the "couple's disease," which is very fitting because it affects more than just one partner. Stress on a couple's sex life can spill over into other aspects of your relationship. It's important to talk with your partner if he is experiencing ED.

Sometimes men are embarrassed to talk about their ED or to see a doctor for it. Instead, they become distant from their partners. This can leave you feeling like he isn't interested in you or isn't attracted to you anymore—this is rarely the problem.

Causes of ED

ED can be associated with another health condition like heart disease or diabetes. Other times, it can be a side effect of a treatment for something like prostate cancer. Some men also experience ED after a sexual encounter in which they don't perform to their "normal level." This can lead to anxiety overall getting and maintaining erections.

Regardless of the cause, men experiencing ED should seek care from a medical professional.

"Putting yourself in your partner's shoes is a great first step to tackling ED as a couple," says James Hotaling, MD, a urologist at University of Utah Health. "Many men with ED feel they've lost self-confidence inside and outside of the bedroom, which can lead to anxiety and depression. Acknowledge your partner's struggle and be supportive."

How to Talk About ED With Your Partner

Starting the conversation about ED sounds uncomfortable, but it's the first step in finding a solution. Think about when and where you want to talk about this with your partner. The bedroom might be a great place to talk about it if that's the only place you can get some privacy, but make sure it's not during or following sexual intimacy. Remind your partner that you're in this together and that ED is treatable.

ED Treatment

When you get treatment, we recommend you attend doctors' appointments together so that you both are well-informed on the treatment options available. These treatment options can include:

  • Oral medications such as sildenafil, vardenafil, or tadalafil are common first therapies and they work in about 60% of men.
  • A penile vacuum pump may be a good option if medications have failed or cause side effects. A vacuum pump goes over the penis and, when pumped, pulls blood into the penis. You then place a special ring over the base of the penis to keep it erect.
  • Injection therapy involves injecting medicine directly into the side of your penis with a very small needle each time you want an erection. About 70% of men are satisfied with this treatment option.
  • Penile implants can be placed by a surgeon. They are a permanent solution for ED and last an average of 12-15 years. Men with penile implants have a very high satisfaction rate for both them and their partner, with over 95% of patients being very satisfied with the procedure.

When you are ready to find treatment for ED, let your partner know that you will support them.