One of the most common worries we hear from men who have a sexual dysfunction of any kind is that they worry that their partner blames herself and tends to feel she might be part of the problem. If a man has some sort of sexual dysfunction (usually ED or low libido), the partner often thinks something like, “He doesn’t really want to have sex with me”, “He’s no longer sexually attracted to me”, or even “I’m not attractive anymore”.
As the partner, it can be a very common feeling to assume that sexual problems are somehow connected to you. After all, the good times in sex have everything to do with you! It’s very stressful when a sexual issue seems to come out of nowhere. Something must have changed – but what? The reality is that sexual dysfunctions are medical issues rooted in medical conditions and are not a reflection of how a man feels sexually about his partner. Arousal does not equal an erection!
It is easier to see this when we consider other medical issues. Partners don’t tend to feel responsible for heart disease, diabetes, or arthritis. So, understanding sexual dysfunction means accepting that there is a medical condition causing it. Many partners unintentionally increase the anxiety and pressure if they ask the man if he is no longer attracted to them. Recognize that this is a medical issue beyond his control.
It is also normal for a partner to want to help fix it. Very often, men resist help or even discussing the issue out of shame, humiliation, anger or frustration. The feelings of sexual failure are very powerful for many men and they can cause a man to question even his sense of who he is. Some men may express anger – even with their partner. Most men tend to retreat emotionally, since every sexual thought reminds him of his failures.
Many partners can’t understand why he will pull away from all sexual contact. Many women will say something like “There is so much else we can do – but he won’t even do that!” Very often, men feel that even the slightest caress or backrub will move toward sex which will instantly remind him of his failures. This reminder can be extremely painful; so many men find that the best coping technique is to avoid touch completely.
We always encourage couples to maintain touch. Many men are all too happy to give their partner a massage if asked. The idea of giving a massage is usually a lot less pressure than the idea of having sex – even though the massage is sexual! We also encourage couples who are dealing with ED to stop trying to get an erection. Play, with no agenda or goal, is usually the best way to have a great time while keeping performance expectations out of the picture.
While intercourse may be a challenge for a while, sex and intimacy should not be. Stay connected, stay playful, stay sexual. Let us take care of the function!