What Should I Do If My Partner Suffers From Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the persistent inability to get and maintain an erection firm enough for satisfactory sexual intercourse. 

Having ED can be distressing for the person with the condition, but it can also strain your relationship with your partner. 

Fortunately, there are steps that you and your partner can take, individually and as a couple, to manage their ED and maintain a long-term relationship. 

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Talk to your partner about the problem

Communication is an integral part of overcoming many relationship problems. 

Open, honest, and calm conversations about ED can help you re-establish a sexual life that’s satisfactory and enjoyable. 

However, it can be a difficult subject to navigate. It’s a good idea to have these conversations when you both feel relaxed and have time to have a discussion. 

Firstly, remember ED is a medical condition. It’s not a choice that your partner has made, and it’s neither the fault of you nor your partner. Having ED doesn’t mean your partner is no longer attracted to you. 

Ask your partner how you can best support them through this time. One study found that 94%¹ of males with ED believed having support from their partner was important. It’s okay if you don’t fully understand ED, but you should explain your worries and concerns to your partner and encourage them to voice theirs too. 

How serious a problem is ED for you and your partner?

ED can affect couples in different ways. For some, ED can cause obvious relationship problems, while it may feel like a more personal problem for others.

The effects on your partner with ED

Understandably, having ED and not being able to have sex in a satisfying and pleasurable way can take a toll on your partner’s mental health. 

Your partner might blame themselves for having difficulty getting an erection or think they’re not doing something right. People with ED often deal with stress, anxiety, embarrassment, and low self-esteem. 

The effects on you 

ED can affect the female partner and cause worse sexual function for them. For example, one study found that female partners of men with ED had lower scores on the ‘Female Sexual Function Index’ than those with partners with normal erectile function. 

Additionally, you may experience a reduced sex drive (libido). Some partners of people with ED may unintentionally imagine or prepare themselves for an unsatisfactory sexual experience, even if they understand that ED isn’t their partner’s fault. This can make maintaining a sexual relationship more complicated.

Sometimes, ED can cause trust issues. For instance, you may worry that your partner with ED is no longer attracted to you or that they’re engaging in another relationship.

These potential problems show the importance of clear and healthy communication from the very beginning so that you can work through your partner’s ED together. 

The couple as a whole 

Studies¹ have shown that ED can cause couples frustration, anxiety, and depression. 

If you want to have children together, ED may complicate this. 

For couples who aren’t very sexually active, it may seem like ED isn’t much of a problem for you and your partner. However, your partner should still speak to their doctor. Aside from affecting sexual activity, ED can have negative health implications. 

Find out what may be causing their ED

Working out what may be causing your partner’s ED is a helpful first step because it often determines the best way to treat or deal with it from a medical point of view. 

Possible causes of ED include: 

  • Medications such as antidepressants, antiandrogens, appetite suppressants, and blood pressure medications

  • Medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, Peyronie’s disease, and heart disease

  • Physical trauma or injuries to the penis, prostate, pelvis, bladder, or spinal cord

  • Surgery for bladder and prostate cancer

  • Psychological problems, including anxiety, depression, guilt or fear about sexual performance, and low self-esteem

  • Certain lifestyle factors, such as smoking, inactivity, being overweight, chronic use of alcohol, and use of illegal drugs 

Communicate with each other during sex

Communicating with your partner is essential during sex. 

Try not to put pressure on your partner, and remember to be patient. Sex should be an enjoyable experience for both of you. 

You and your partner should share your likes and dislikes about how you have sex, how it makes you feel, how satisfied you are, and how much pleasure sex brings you. 

Remember, your partner’s ED hasn’t developed because they see you as unattractive or find sex unsatisfactory. So, trying harder during sex won’t necessarily help your partner get an erection. 

Experiment with different sexual positions

ED can make it difficult to have sexual intercourse.

Although there haven’t been any direct studies on the best sexual positions for erectile dysfunction, experimenting with different positions or techniques could make your experience more enjoyable and help you discover what works best. 

According to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA),² you don’t need to ‘fix’ your sex life. Instead, they recommend playing or exploring new forms of sexual activity. 

Additionally, since ED affects the penis, sexual acts that don’t focus on it could be beneficial. 

Also, despite being less traditional forms of sexual intercourse, anal or oral sex could be good alternatives for when your partner is struggling to get an erection. 

Practice a healthy lifestyle together

One way to manage and treat ED is through making lifestyle changes. 

Breaking unhealthy habits, and building new ones, can be challenging to do alone. Giving your partner encouragement is helpful, but it may be more beneficial to join in as they make these lifestyle changes to motivate them further. 

It also provides more opportunities to draw you closer to your partner, so you can try to correct any distance or detachment that ED may have caused in your relationship. 

Some lifestyle changes you and your partner could consider making include:

Exercise 

Doctors recommend regular exercise to manage and treat ED. Evidence suggests that moderate to high physical activities are associated with a lower risk of ED. 

Exercising with your loved one can make this easier, hold you accountable, and boost your motivation. 

Reach a healthy body weight

People with ED should maintain a healthy body weight and lose weight if overweight. Evidence from short and long-term weight loss studies led to improvements in sexual function in men with ED. 

Stop smoking 

It’s best for you and your partner to stop smoking, 

Tobacco increases the risk of having ED. Research has determined that exposure to second-hand smoke is also a risk factor for ED. If you smoke around your partner, it may contribute to their difficulty getting an erection. 

Studies found that ED status improved after a year in over 25% of people who quit smoking.

Alcohol and drug use 

Reducing alcohol intake from excessive to moderate can protect against ED. If you and your partner are heavy drinkers, you could consider reducing your intake. 

Stop using illegal drugs and other substances that could affect your state of mind. 

Dietary changes 

A Mediterranean-style diet has links to a lower risk of ED. It focuses on:

  • Eating more whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruit

  • Limiting red meat, full-fat dairy, and sugar-sweetened food and beverages 

Improving your mental health 

Since research has linked anxiety and stress with ED, you could find ways to relax together to reduce stress in your daily lives. 

A review of several studies found that psychological intervention combined with medication led to the significant restoration of erectile function. Psychological treatments include sex therapy, couples counseling, and sex education.

Don't be afraid to ask for help from friends or family members

Many people feel embarrassed, ashamed, or insecure about ED, but it’s important to recognize that your partner is not alone. Chances are, other people you know have ED. It's estimated to affect around half of men between 40 and 70 years old in the US. 

Asking for help from trusted friends or family can be beneficial if you’re having relationship problems that stem from ED or mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or feelings of guilt affecting you or your partner. 

They may also be able to give you advice on a good medical professional, a therapist, or a sex therapist who can help your sexual relationship.

Speaking to friends and family could be a stepping stone towards your partner having the courage to seek professional help. It’s an important aspect of managing and treating erectile dysfunction. 

Remember to always ask for permission from your partner if you want to speak about their ED-related problems to family or friends. Although it affects both of you, it’s still private information they may not wish to share. 

Try other forms of intimacy

Although sex is an effective way to build intimacy between you and your partner, it’s not the only way. 

Other forms of intimacy can help you maintain and grow your sexual desire without an erection. Most people with ED can still have an orgasm. 

It’s also thought that people who have mild ED could treat it at home, with support from their sexual partner through partner-accommodated activities, which help to improve and increase intimacy.

This could help reduce anxiety and stress, potentially improving the psychological associations with ED. 

Remember, all couples show intimacy in different ways. Do what makes you and your partner feel comfortable and loved, so you can boost the attraction you have for each other without letting ED get in the way. 

Some forms of intimacy may include: 

Sexual forms of intimacy

  • Mutual masturbation is when you and your partner stimulate either your own or each other’s genitals at the same time

  • Using sex toys, such as a vibrator

  • Foreplay (the erotic or intimate physical stimulation before sexual intercourse)

  • Oral or manual sexual stimulation 

Non-sexual physical forms of intimacy 

  • Hugging

  • Holding hands

  • Kissing on the cheek

  • Stroking hair

  • Massaging each other

Verbal expressions of affection  

  • Letting your partner know you love and care about them is another way to show intimacy.

Experiential or temporal intimacy

Similar to practicing a healthy lifestyle together, there are many ways you can become more intimate with your partner through shared life experiences and activities. These could include: 

  • Going for a walk

  • Watching a movie

  • Dancing

Set time aside where you can just relax with your partner and enjoy their company. 

When to see a doctor

If you think your partner may have ED, they should see a doctor as soon as possible. 

There may be underlying medical conditions contributing to their erectile dysfunction, which may need medical treatment. 

Likewise, ED increases the risk of developing some medical conditions, such as heart disease, which their doctor may want to monitor.

Before your partner sees their doctor, they shouldn’t start any medications claiming to treat ED or stop any medicines potentially causing it. 

Their doctor may refer them to a urologist or an endocrinologist for more specialized support. 

While mental health issues can cause ED, they can also lead to it. Seeing a traditional therapist or sex therapist with your partner is recommended. 

The lowdown

It’s understandable if you’re worried about how to navigate a sexual relationship when your partner has ED. 

By regularly communicating with your partner, experimenting with other forms of sexual activity, and encouraging them to seek professional help, you can maintain a healthy sexual and emotional relationship.

Have you considered clinical trials for Erectile dysfunction?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Erectile dysfunction, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64


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