Erectile dysfunction (ED), or the consistent inability to get or maintain an erection that is firm enough for satisfactory sex, is a medical condition that can affect both a man and his sexual partner. When there is a change in one partner’s sexual functioning, it is important for the couple to acknowledge the change and communicate openly about how they would like to move forward. To do this, it is helpful for the two individuals to be on the same page.
Interestingly, research shows that men and their female partners are fairly aligned when it comes to their attitudes, beliefs, and experiences regarding ED. One study surveyed 293 women who were the partners of men who participated in the Men’s Attitudes to Life Events and Sexuality (MALES) study. The women completed an adapted version of the 65-item questionnaire about erectile function and sexual activity that the men had previously completed.
When the answers of the couples were compared to one another, the researchers found a high level of agreement on most of the questionnaire items between the male and female participants. For example, the women’s descriptions of the nature and frequency of their partners’ ED were very in line with the men’s own descriptions. The men and women were also generally in agreement about the importance of their relationship, the potential causes of ED, and the effects of ED on their relationship. Lastly, the couples tended to express similar attitudes about communication around ED, finding a solution for the problem, and ED medications.
These findings indicate a high level of alignment between male and female partners on aspects of ED, which is helpful for open communication on the matter. When both partners agree on the severity and frequency of the issue and are similarly motivated to find a solution, they can discuss potential treatment options as well as other ways to engage in intimacy that do not require an erection in the meantime.
There is limited information on the effect of ED in relationships of men who have sex with men, but the condition can also take its toll on these couples. It may contribute to feelings of a lack of self-worth or not being “good enough” for one’s partner. Some men may experience performance anxiety about being the “top” partner in penetrative anal sex, leading to ED. It is important for men who are in relationships with men to discuss ED and how it may affect them.
ED can have a profound impact not only on a couple’s physical connection, but also on their psychological wellbeing. This is why it is very important for couples to continue to nurture their emotional connection and work together to maintain their bond even if intercourse is off the table for a period of time. Exploring other aspects of sexuality and ways of connecting while looking for a suitable treatment option may be helpful for couples. For additional support, couples may consider speaking with a mental health professional or sex therapist.
Fisher, W. A., Eardley, I., McCabe, M., & Sand, M. (2009). Couples’ Sexual Dysfunctions: Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is a Shared Sexual Concern of Couples I: Couple Conceptions of ED. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6(10), 2746-2760. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01457.x