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Erectile dysfunction 
and your relationship

Although relationships aren’t always perfect, spending time with your partner in a relaxed, intimate way can feel wonderful and enriching to life.

If you’re living with the symptoms of ED, you may feel at a loss. If you’re a partner of someone with ED symptoms, maybe you’re unsure of exactly how to support him – or maybe you could do with some support yourself. You may be wondering “how can I help my partner with his ED?”. It can feel daunting.

The good news is that much can be achieved together, through talking, understanding and openness.


How ED affects your relationship

ED is more common than you might think. Research indicates that one in three Irish men have experienced difficulty achieving an erection. 1 in 5 indicated they experience ED regularly. So don't worry - you're not alone and you can take action to get help.


Part of the Talk E.D. series with Hector Ó hEochagáin. Relationship advice with Allison Keating
Part of the Talk E.D. series with Hector Ó hEochagáin. Mental Health with Richie Sadlier.

How erectile dysfunction affects your relationship

Even though the immediate symptoms of erectile dysfunction may be happening to one person, it can put strain on the entire relationship, undermining both of you and causing tension or arguments.

It’s not unusual to feel angry, disappointed or upset. It’s important to stay open, honest and not withdraw from the relationship. Supporting each other is key.

Confidence and self-esteem can be affected
If both of you ignore the problem, it’s more likely these thoughts will eat away at your confidence and self-esteem. Talking is the first step; not communicating means feelings of loneliness, resentment or even suspicion may only increase and further damage your relationship.

Partners may think they are to blame
Many people whose partners have ED symptoms think they might be to blame. “Does he still find me attractive?”, “Is he seeing someone else?” or “Is our sex life over?”. Even if the man with ED symptoms reassures their partner, the worry can be difficult to shake. But partners should know that it’s nobody’s fault.

It’s not just your relationship – it’s also about your health
Most men will find it easier to cope with addressing erection problems if they understand that it has nothing to do with their masculinity – the majority (90%) of men with ED have at least one underlying physical cause and only 10% have purely psychological causes.

ED can feel like a threat, but it doesn’t have to
Some couples avoid talking about sex and intimacy, but in the case of ED, this is exactly the kind of conversation you need to have.

Talking to my partner about ED


Although it may feel awkward at first, talking can help

Talking to your partner about
erectile dysfunction

If you have or your partner has erection problems, it can be difficult to know how to start the conversation. If ignored, ED can create a lot of tension in a relationship and drive a wedge between you. A lot of men are concerned that talking about it may make the problem worse when actually, talking about it can help. Although it may feel awkward at first, you’ll both feel at ease once you’ve discussed it, so take some time now to find out why, when and how.

Understand what is causing this problem

ED is much more common than you might think. Research indicates that one in three Irish men have experienced difficulty achieving an erection, 1 in 5 indicated they experience ED regularly.

Some of the most common underlying physical causes that are linked to ED and can cause ED symptoms include:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes

Your partner might be experiencing erection problems regularly or just occasionally. In either case, you should not ignore the issue as it can be a sign of underlying health issues.

Know that nobody is to blame

As wonderful as relationships can be, they are not perfect all the time. You might have been having difficulties anyway and ED problems might make things feel worse.

When initiating a conversation about ED, always try to keep the tone positive and upbeat, rather than accusing or blaming. Keep in mind that ED is a medical condition. Even if your relationship is going well, staying positive can be a challenge if the conversation never happens – that’s why talking about it is so important.

Choose your moment

So, you’ve made the decision to talk about erection problems. What now? How, where and when should you start the conversation?

Choose a time when you know you are both free from other distractions. Do not have the conversation while you are getting ready to go out, during a meal or driving in the car, for example. Make sure you have the conversation when you will not be interrupted by children, family, visitors, phone calls or anything else.

Choose a place that is neutral, quiet and private. Do not have the conversation in the bedroom, or when there are domestic jobs or work distractions. Avoid times when either of you might feel exposed and vulnerable, such as getting ready for bed or when taking a bath or shower.

What should you say?

Start any conversation with ‘I’ or ‘We’, for example, “I’m worried that you aren’t feeling well”, or “We need to talk about my health, I’m really worried about it”.

If you are the partner, avoid saying “You need to recognise that you’ve got a problem” or “Don’t you find me attractive anymore?”, as it may be too confrontational.

What to do if the conversation becomes difficult?

Some men find it very difficult to talk about erection problems, even when the conversation has been carefully opened.

If this happens, you should accept that for whatever reason, now is not the most receptive time for either of you. Do say that you both need to talk soon. This is the point where, if you are the partner initiating the conversation, you could mention the health issues associated with ED symptoms.

You could say: “I’m just worried that you might have some underlying health issues”. He may not accept your concerns, but once you’ve mentioned that it is his health that is concerning you, he may start thinking about his symptoms in a different way.

What to do when the conversation starts

As the partner of a man with ED symptoms, understand that he could respond right away or days later. He might ask you why you are worried about his health. Most people would be concerned if someone who cared about them thought they might have underlying health problems.

Most men will find it easier to cope with addressing erection problems if they understand that it has nothing to do with their masculinity. You already know that the majority of men with ED symptoms may have underlying health issues, so your partner might begin to realise that his erection problems may not just be in his head.

Stay positive

Having the ED conversation should mean the beginning of something better for both of you.

Even though erection problems can be caused by underlying physical issues, psychological causes such as depression, anxiety and stress can also have the same effect. Either way, ED symptoms can cause damage to relationships and should be investigated as soon as possible.

As well as talking things through together, talking to someone trained to help men treat their ED symptoms like your GP or pharmacist can be really straightforward. Whether it’s talking to your partner, or speaking privately with a trained professional, you can take action to get help.

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