When Men with Erectile Dysfunction Avoid Physical Touch, Sex and All Forms of Intimacy

People in bed avoiding sex

As a certified sex therapist, I frequently receive inquiries from people regarding erectile dysfunction. If not managed well, erectile dysfunction impacts much more than a couple's sex life. Men often avoid all forms of physical touch or types of intimacy that could potentially lead to sexual activity. Thus, for this episode, I want to focus on the impact of erectile dysfunction on physical and sexual intimacy and the need for open communication about it to help individuals and couples manage the condition within their relationships.



Erectile dysfunction and its causes.

Erectile Dysfunction (ED), a condition characterized by the inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse, is a complex sexual health issue with wide-ranging implications for mental health and overall well-being. It often involves impaired blood flow to the penis, which is crucial for achieving and maintaining an erection. There are numerous causes of erectile dysfunction. ED can have an underlying physical cause or result from psychological factors such as performance anxiety. High blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases can impact blood vessels, diminishing the efficiency of blood circulation throughout the body, including the penile area.

Also, certain prescription drugs, particularly those used to manage high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease, may have side effects that contribute to ED. Prostate cancer treatments, including radiation therapy, contribute to ED. Thus, an individual's medical history plays a crucial role in identifying potential risk factors for ED.

The prevalence of erectile dysfunction.

The prevalence of erectile dysfunction (ED), a form of male sexual dysfunction, tends to increase with age, underscoring its status as a common issue faced by many individuals and couples. And by the year 2025, it is projected that a staggering 325 million people worldwide will be struggling with erectile dysfunction. The problem, however, is that this is still a matter many people tend to avoid discussing openly despite erectile dysfunction being a prevalent issue, and thus, it is often unaddressed. Additionally, many men with ED will also have premature ejaculation.

It's important to diagnose erectile dysfunction so you can try various treatment options and to ensure there aren't more serious health conditions causing erectile dysfunction. Typically, diagnosing ED involves a comprehensive assessment. In some cases, specialized tests like blood flow studies may be used to identify the root cause before treating erectile dysfunction entirely. Fortunately, there are other various medical treatments available to improve blood flow to the affected area. For some, they opt to have penile implants after other erectile dysfunction treatments prove to be ineffective for them.

Open and healthy communication is crucial to couples working together to treat ED and manage it in the context of their relationship. A lack of diagnosis or inability to work together as partners to manage ED can lead to feelings of frustration for both partners and difficulties on the part of healthcare providers to treat erectile dysfunction.


What happens when ED first occurs?

The first time erectile dysfunction occurs, both partners are typically shocked. Sometimes, they will talk about it and if they are lucky, they will shake it off and move on to doing other sexual activities that don't require an erection. For many men, as they continue to engage in sexual activity and don't worry about their erection, it might come back. However, for a large percentage of couples, an experience of erectile dysfunction doesn't go this smoothly.

In many cases, partners tend to overlook or pretend not to notice when their male partners experience erectile dysfunction, creating an uncomfortable unspoken issue, and it becomes the "elephant in the room." As we know, you can't hide it when you can't get an erection. It's quite obvious to your partner. Not being able to get or keep an erection can contribute to feelings of inadequacy, as societal expectations link masculinity to sexual performance, particularly in terms of having strong erections and satisfying their partner through intercourse. However, the reality is that not all individuals, especially women, achieve orgasm solely through penetrative intercourse.


What happens when ED continues?

When ED continues on multiple occasions, it can cause both partners to become frustrated and upset, to play the blame game, to feel intense shame, to go to the doctor for treatment in secret, to take the little blue erection pill in secret, and sometimes, to give up on sex.

Many myths surrounding masculinity make it difficult for men to accept that they can still be wonderful sexual partners even if they experience erectile dysfunction or difficulties with erections. These misconceptions or misunderstandings can lead to various coping mechanisms, such as pretending erectile dysfunction didn't happen or even blaming their partners, unfairly attributing the issue to a lack of proper stimulation or desire.

Unfortunately, partners often internalize these criticisms, feeling that they are somehow inadequate or unattractive, even when their partners don't explicitly blame them. The misconception that their desirability is the root cause of erectile dysfunction can take a significant toll on their self-esteem. 


Erectile Dysfunction and its impact on relationships.

Intense shame is commonly felt by those struggling with erectile dysfunction, which goes beyond mere embarrassment. This stems from a deep-seated feeling of not being good enough or feeling like they have failed their partner. And such profound shame can be emotionally debilitating and lead individuals to avoid intimacy altogether.

Partners of those experiencing erectile dysfunction often struggle with emotional distress. This stems from the fact that individuals with erectile dysfunction frequently shy away from all types of sexual intimacy and even physical contact, primarily due to overwhelming shame. They fear the risk of not achieving an erection, which would result in feeling terrible about themselves. They are afraid of letting their partner down if they start lovemaking and can't finish.

In turn, however, their partners end up feeling undesired, unloved and even rejected when they avoid physical touch and sexual intimacy. Unfortunately, this avoidance even extends to activities that do not involve penetrative intercourse, which can still offer both pleasure and emotional connection. They may even avoid things such as a romantic dinner or going to bed at the same time out of fear that those events would lead to sex. Consequently, both partners begin to disconnect from one another. The partners' anguish runs deep, as they long for physical and emotional connection with their partner. They often feel disappointed and resentful that their needs are not getting met.

Additionally, avoiding physical touch and sexual intimacy can exacerbate erectile dysfunction because it deprives individuals of positive sexual experiences that could mitigate performance anxiety, a key contributor to erectile dysfunction. This avoidance may make them overly anxious, causing recurrent erectile dysfunction episodes and preventing them from fully experiencing the pleasures of intimacy. Moreover, such avoidance has the potential to lead to detachment within a relationship, effectively reducing partners to the status of mere cohabitants, which can lead to bitterness and unhappiness within a relationship.


Managing erectile dysfunction

The good thing is that there are ways to treat ED, minimize performance anxiety, maintain sexual desire, and cultivate a loving, sexual relationship.

Early intervention is vital to addressing the challenges associated with erectile dysfunction diagnosed. It's essential to address erectile dysfunction openly and seek solutions together with a partner rather than seeking secretive medical solutions. Partners, too, need to understand the pain they are feeling is common, and that intimacy doesn't solely rely on an erect penis. Open communication, empathy for one another, and a willingness to explore different forms of intimacy and sexual stimulation with your sexual partner are key to overcoming these challenges and maintaining a healthy sexual relationship.

To learn how to manage erectile dysfunction, take my course called "Take Charge of ED."

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