Over the years I’ve had countless men in long-term, loving relationships share their questions and concerns about suddenly being unable to get or maintain an erection with a partner they never encountered sexual problems with before. In fact, their humble admission usually comes only after it starts to negatively impact their sex life. Both partners beg the question “what should I do?” I’d like to give you a few facts about arousal and erection in males as they mature to help you along your journey. Fact #1: Medical conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, tobacco use, diabetes, and obesity can cause erection problems. Don’t believe you’re old enough to be worried about any of these issues just yet? Think again. Research studies show that we have reached near-epidemic rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity in the U.S. within the past 20 years, and it’s happening within younger generations. If you are taking medications for any conditions such as the ones previously stated, be sure to research the side effects and discuss them with your doctor. Even if you had a physical a year ago or you’ve never experienced side effects before, a great deal can change in a 12-month period. Homework: When was the last time you had a physical exam? Make an appointment with your primary care provider for a physical and don’t forget to mention your erection concerns to your doctor. If your doctor informs you of any medical concerns that could be contributing to your erection issue, take them seriously. Make space in your life for small but positive changes until the issue is resolved and then work hard to make those changes a part of your permanent lifestyle. Any medical issues that could be causing an issue with your erection can also cause more life-threatening problems that may not be reversible if left untreated. Fact #2: Subtle lifestyle changes can play a major role in your ability to get and maintain an erection. Small physical and environmental changes can impact you physically as you mature. Did you lose a loved one or hear some disturbing news recently? Have you had a houseguest for an extended period of time? How are your relationships with your friends and family members? Take some time to think critically about your eating habits, exercise level, sleep pattern, work changes, financial obligations, and any other aspect of your routine that has changed. I strongly encourage you to look in every nook and cranny of your life for recent disruptions that began around the time of your erection problem. You just might find a link to your concern. Homework: Take a moment to jot down any changes you discover in a journal or on your cell phone’s notepad. You may need to revisit your findings later or add to your list since you may not remember any significant changes on your first try. As the days go by, continue to notice your routine and be thoughtful about how you’ve been feeling outside of a sexual context. If you discover that you are experiencing some negative emotions that haven’t been processed then make preparations to deal with them. Confiding in your partner, a close personal friend, family member, or a therapist to help you deal with any anger, frustration, hurt, loss, or identity confusion will put you on the path to reducing any emotional roadblocks that may be hindering your ability to get or maintain an erection. Fact #3: In men under 50 years of age, the majority of erection problems are caused by psychological or relational factors. As men age, hormones and other systems age as well. This makes emotional and mental connections more important as your ability to perform like a machine decreases. The idea that men can perform sexually on command no matter what age you are and regardless of the circumstances is a myth. It’s quite possible that you simply require more stimulation than you previously did to get aroused in the past. Confusion about this change can create a high-pressure situation that can impact you and your partner physically. Homework: When the need to ask your partner to become more of a sexual initiator comes up in relationships, some men discover that they don’t have the tools to communicate this without causing damage. Use the additional facts I’ve included below as conversation starters between you and your partner or simply forward a copy of this blog to them and engage your partner in a discussion about it. Did you know… that by age 40, 90% of males have experienced at least one failed attempt at getting or maintaining an erection sufficient for intercourse? Did you know… that common problems like distraction, anger, frustration, fatigue, and not feeling sexual at the same time as your partner can cause an inability to get or maintain an erection? Did you know… that losing your erection does not necessarily mean that you are sexually disinterested or turned off by your partner? It is especially natural for erections to come and go during lengthier sexual encounters. Keeping these things in mind, it’s important for you to view your recent difficulty as a situational problem versus a permanent one. Allowing yourself to think negative thoughts such as “I’m a failure” only complicates an already delicate process of understanding what shifts need to occur to restore you to optimal sexual health. Focusing on pleasure versus performance can reduce anxiety and lead you to request behaviors from your partner that produce genuine enjoyment, which can ultimately lead to an organic erection.
Resource: Metz, M & McCarthy, B. (2004) Coping with Erectile Dysfunction.