Please Note: This article is presented for informational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or treat any illness. If you have any health concern, see a licensed healthcare professional in person.
Some years ago, I was diagnosed with erectile dysfunction. My condition was “mild to moderate,” and I was able to manage by taking Viagra.
However, in 2016, my life changed when I had my prostate removed due to prostate cancer. Before the surgery, my doctor clearly informed me of the tradeoffs. Many men live for years, and even decades, with prostate cancer. But if the cancer metastasized to other parts of my body, the prognosis would be much worse. Having my prostate removed offered a cure.
However, that cure would come at a price: a significant chance of severe erectile dysfunction, and possibly incontinence.
I decided to have the procedure, which went extremely well. It was only after my recovery that I began to have doubts about my decision. I found that Viagra no longer worked for me. Intracavernous injections were hit-or-miss. My sex life, as I had known it, was over.
I went into a period of mourning. I lost self-esteem. I became depressed. I worried about the impact on my relationship.
My doctor was little help. He had saved my life — but was unprepared to deal with my sexual health, beyond prescribing medications.
I attended meetings of prostate cancer survivors and their partners, only to find that most of the men had questions about dealing with ED… and there were no answers. I began to participate in online discussion forums dealing with ED. Again, I found far more questions than answers. Internet searches delivered contradictory information about treatments for erectile dysfunction. And none of the websites or forums dealt with the emotional impact of ED.
As a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, I decided I would “solve the problem.” I assembled a team of medical advisors to create a website with accurate information on the causes and treatments of ED, substantiated by clinical research. Our site countered the misinformation found on the Internet with scientific research and findings.
But what we could not provide was advice on dealing with the emotional impact. There was simply no information to be found.
To understand how men and their partners are affected by ED, we conducted surveys of men with erectile dysfunction and their partners. We asked people in forums about the impact of ED on their emotional health and their relationships. We searched the scientific literature for studies dealing with the impact of ED on mental health.
We found that 80.8% of men, and 80% of their partners, reported that ED had Some Impact or a Major Impact on their relationship. In a study conducted by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer (manufacturers of Viagra), women reported that ED had a higher impact on their quality of life than menopausal symptoms, infertility, allergies, obesity, or insomnia.
A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that men who respond well to oral ED medications score significantly higher in the “Self‐Esteem and Relationship (SEAR)” questionnaire than men who don’t respond to treatment.
In short, ED has a big impact on the emotional well-being of men and their partners, and there are few resources to help them deal with this impact.
Based on what we learned, we’ve constructed our own roadmap for living with ED, and maintaining a happy and healthy relationship… including sex and intimacy.
Step 1: Take Control of Your Sexual Health
Our surveys show that men don’t feel that their doctors, and even urologists, are giving them the information and support that they need. Men need to take control of their own sexual health by fully understanding the causes, treatments, and impact of ED.
There are many accurate and informative websites dealing with ED and sexual health – but there’s also a lot of misinformation.
Before trusting a website, consider four things:
- Does the site identify the authors, and their specific areas of expertise?
- Does the site refer to independent studies and clinical research to support their claims?
- Is the site attempting to sell a product or service?
- Does the site disclose how it is funded?
Websites that display the Health On the Net (HON) logo have been independently certified as meeting rigorous standards for authoritative information and transparency.
Step 2: Get Healthy
The most common cause of erectile dysfunction is a cardiovascular problem. A healthy lifestyle — including regular aerobic exercise and a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet — can lessen the effects of ED.
Moreover, studies have shown that exercise can reduce anxiety and depression, and increase self-esteem.
Step 3: Improve Your Sex Life
Many men are ashamed of having ED. As a result, they don’t want to discuss it, and they withdraw from intimacy. They don’t understand the emotional impact this has on their partners.
In our survey of partners of men with ED, one of the biggest complaints is the loss of intimacy. And the information that partners request most is advice on improving their sex lives!
It’s important to communicate with your partner about how erectile dysfunction is affecting your relationship.
Whether you have mild or severe ED, the lack of an erection need not mean an end to sex and intimacy. There are many books available on improving your sex life; reading a book together can be a good way to open your sexual communication.
For some couples, getting advice from an intimacy coach or sex therapist can help break down barriers to communication, restore intimacy to your relationship, and have a satisfying sex life.
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