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For many, erectile dysfunction (ED) can feel embarrassing or shameful to speak about. In fact, according to Mojo – a company who help people address the underlying psychological cause of ED – 52% of cisgender men would rather break up with their partner than discuss their erection issues.
Anxiety & Erectile Dysfunction
27-year-old Jamie started having anxiety related acute erectile dysfunction following an awkward group sex experience. “I was with my partner and we were having group sex – a three or foursome with all girls and then me. I got really drunk beforehand so I couldn’t get [my penis] up.”
“One of the girls in the group was trying to be funny and was like “you’re only here to be a dick – to fuck these girls. Why can’t you even do that?” It messed me up [mentally] for ages. I couldn’t get hard for weeks: I didn’t even have any morning glory or anything.”
“I didn’t tell my partner for ages because it was a horrible thing to go through. I’d see things that would turn me on and I could feel a tingle downstairs but nothing was happening. I couldn’t get hard,” he says.
“I did a load of research and found that most of the time ED is about mental health, rather than any physical reason, and realised then that talking about my problem was going to ease the issue.”
Talking To A Partner About Erectile Dysfunction
Eventually, Jamie was able to open up to his partner about his issues with ED and how it was making him feel. “I told her that the incident during our group sex escapade was really embarrassing and difficult for me and had resulted in anxiety, and thus longer-term erectile dysfunction.”
Jamie told his girlfriend that sex might be off the table for a while because he was struggling with his mental health, causing him to struggle to produce or maintain an erection. “She was really understanding, and that actually helped the physical ED symptoms because it was such a weight off my shoulders.”
The Importance Of Communication
Honest communication is an important part of sex, so it’s helpful to inform partners about any dysfunction issue and help them understand your condition and what your boundaries are. Whether you’re having a one night stand or having regular sex in a long-term relationship, it’s integral to the health of any sexual relationship to speak about erectile dysfunction openly.
Similarly to Jamie, 21-year-old Lee started suffering with erectile dysfunction because of anxiety. He was working at a stressful job that started taking a toll on him, and affecting his sex life. He’d only just started dating his girlfriend and they were yet to have penetrative sex, which made the conversation more difficult.
After some time, Lee was able to tell his partner that producing or holding an erection could be an issue for him, and talk openly about his boundaries. “I did a lot of research,” says Lee. “I realised through Googling and talking to friends that the girl I was seeing would probably not have an issue with my ED as long as she was told about it. Just as we were about to have sex for the first time, I told her that I couldn’t always maintain an erection, but that we’d have fun with [oral sex or hand sex] if that happened.”
Lee’s partner was really understanding, which he was really relieved about. “For anyone going through erectile dysfunction, I really recommend doing some research and thinking about what you’re going to say.”
Planning the conversation: alternatives to penetrative sex
“I wouldn’t just blurt out ‘I can’t get it up’ and leave it there,” Lee laughs. “I would take some time to think about what ED means for you, what’s off the table sex-wise, what’s can be done sexually, alternatives to penetrative sex you can play with. Focusing on what you can do, rather than what you can’t, will make the conversation easier.”
Angus Barge, co-founder of Mojo, says it’s never too early in a relationship to talk about any concerns or anxieties that you have around sex. “Discussing your sexual issues with a new partner can feel like sexual suicide but it’s not,” he says.
“What a lot of people don’t realise is that by opening up about your own worries you create an open conversation where your partner can share some of theirs. It often leads to the best sex.”
It’s important for people who are experiencing erectile dysfunction to know that this is not uncommon, and you’re certainly not alone. In a survey of 2000 cisgender men by Atomic Research, 50% of men their 30s experience erectile dysfunction to some degree. And yet, many people struggle to speak about the problem – perhaps due to the stigma of shame and feeling of embarrassment associated with ED.
Ultimately, talking to your partner about dysfunction will both improve your sex life and has a strong chance of helping the underlying problem too.
Beth Ashley (she/her) is a journalist and creative writer specialising in sex, relationships, politics and class. You can follow her work on Instagram at @bethashleywriter