Women and Impotence: A Female Perspective on Erectile Dysfunction
Tips to help women cope with a partner’s impotence
It’s always easy on the TV: when a man can’t get an erection, he pops a pill and that’s it. Then his delighted partner is shown appreciating the fact that her man has once again become a passionate romantic guy.
But something is hidden behind the camera in this romantic scenario: the huge stress a woman experiences when her man is suffering from impotence.
“Women tend to live through all these events and have a tendency to blame themselves at the first turn, feeling like they did something wrong or that their partner is no longer attracted to them. Basically, the first thing a woman thinks in a situation when her man is incapable of maintaining an erection is that it is her fault — but she’s totally wrong,” says Andrew R. McCullough, M.D., Head of the Sexual Health and Male infertility Department at the New York University School of Medicine Medical Center.
Impotence or erectile dysfunction is defined by doctors as a sexual disorder where a man is incapable of triggering and/or maintaining a steady erection sufficient to have sexual intercourse. In fact, all men face erection problems at some point in their lives. It may be caused by stress, depression or sometimes even without any discernible reason. Some men experience erection dysfunction transformed into the chronic stage and then impotence (erectile dysfunction) occurs as the medical diagnosis. According to the American Fund of Urologic Diseases, 18 million people have this problem in the US alone.
Many men and women still consider impotence to be an exclusively sexual issue. In fact, the most common reasons for erectile dysfunction are undiagnosed illnesses such as diabetes mellitus, high blood cholesterol and even the early stages of heart disease. Impotence is often the consequence of an intake of drugs that have been prescribed to treat these diseases. This is especially true for drugs for high blood pressure.
Unfortunately, according to specialists, the tendency of women to blame themselves for these problems, their fears and sometimes the feeling of pain and anger they experience when the problem occurs are only the result of a lack of knowledge about the root causes of erectile dysfunction.
“The majority of women begin to ask their partners questions as a result of their own fears and emotional pain. A woman can start to suspect that her partner is cheating or that she’s no longer sexually attractive to him. She starts to give hints about her suspicions to her partner,” says Sally Fowlie, a sociology professor at the University of Michigan and co-author of the book “Sexual Issues for Women”.
According to Dr. Fowlie, men typically perceive their partner’s questioning and emotional hurt as an attack and they rush to retreat.
“The woman then perceives such a response as evidence for her own failings and starts to become even more distant. Along with that, she can suffer from depression and become even more anxious, along with the suspicion that something is wrong with her partner. Her feelings of guilt tend to grow. The end result is usually that the couple stop speaking to one another not only in the bedroom but also in all aspects of their relationship”, writes Fowlie.
According to experts, such a response only deepens relationship problems between partners.
“The one thing a woman shouldn’t do in such a case is to withdraw from the problem, as this will only lead to the collapse of the relationship. When one partner retreats, the other one eventually does the same. The couple stop touching each other, then they stop talking, and then it ends up with no communication between them at all,” according to Dr. McCullough.
Women & Erectile Dysfunction: Searching for Compromise
Although self-withdrawal is unhelpful, putting heavy pressure on your partner isn’t a good solution either. In fact, while some women retreat after the first incident, others try to use the diametric approach — overwhelming their partner with erotic behavior, hoping that the problem will go away if they just try harder. This misconception only aggravates the existing problem, as professionals in the field will tell you.
“If you appear in sexy underwear bought from Victoria’s Secret or even something more pornographic, you’ll only push your man too hard, which won’t help solve the problem at all,” says Dr. Fowlie.
She also claims that pushing him to make love won’t be affective either. According to Fowlie, “The problem isn’t the fact that a man needs to be aroused more. The more his partner tries, the worse he feels about himself, and the worse she feels too. Consequently, nothing improves.”
McCullough is also of the same opinion: “You shouldn’t try to forget what’s happening or try to pretend it doesn’t matter, but turning into a nymphomaniac is also a bad solution.”
So what should a woman do when her man experiences erectile problems? Experts unanimously claim that the most important thing is to remember that the woman isn’t causing the problem.
“Don’t feel rejected, don’t personalize the problem. It’s not about you,” says Fowlie.
When you overcome this hurdle, it’s important to recognize that there’s a problem so you can begin to discuss and work on it together.
“It’s better to discuss the problem outside of the bedroom and not when it actually occurs. Return to the issue a few days or even weeks later,” advises Jennifer Downey, an MD, sexologist and psychiatrist at the New York State Institute of Psychiatry and professor at Columbia University: “During such a conversation, you should make sure your man aware that it could be a health problem causing impotence and you should encourage him to go and see a doctor.”
Downey believes that the calmer and more straightforward the woman is in such a conversation, the better her chances of her partner listening to her.
“You have to consider this issue as you would have other non-life threatening issue in your relationship and discuss it calmly,” says Downey.
Dr. McCullough advises: “If you consider the problem from a physical perspective, not a sexual one, you partner is less likely enclose himself in his shell or fence off from you.”
While some men prefer to seek treatment on their own, others prefer to have the support of their partner. Thus, you can safely offer your assistance during a visit to the doctor and let him decide what to do next.
It’s also important to use this conversation to reassure your partner that you find it highly enjoyable having a physical relationship with him and that the situation okay. Only then can you offer to search for a solution together.
“This is the time to treat your man as your best friend. Be warm and friendly, hold his hand, kiss and hug him. Let him know you’re there to take care of him, that you want to be with him, and that being close to him matters to you,” adds Fowlie.