What Not To Say When A Partner Has Erectile Dysfunction

Although we think of erectile dysfunction (ED) as something that only happens in older people with penises, ED can affect younger people too. A 2013 research found that about a quarter of people under 40 have reported suffering from ED, via The Journal of Sexual Medicine. The reasons why younger men might experience ED can be any number of things, from medication (antidepressants are notorious for messing with sexual function) to anxiety, depression, stress, to simply being exhausted. "Sometimes a man's penis knows more than he does about how he's feeling. Any negative emotion at all can sink an erection," sex therapist Stephen Snyder, M.D. tells Glamour. "Loss of an erection is usually just his penis saying no in the only language it knows." 

While this is the case, it says nothing about their attraction to their partner or their ability as a lover because our society puts too much pressure on those with a penis to be masculine, sexual creatures, and not being able to get it up can be embarrassing and even cause shame. In these situations, knowing what to say to your partner and what not to say can be difficult. You want to be supportive and let them know it's okay, but sometimes it's hard to know where to start.

Learn to define sex differently

Sex isn't just intercourse. Once you start realizing that the term "sex" is just an umbrella for all sex-related acts, it can take some pressure off the situation for your partner to perform, via Healthline. Sex can include oral sex, mutual masturbation, being sexually intimate by cuddling, and using sex toys — lots of things. Intercourse isn't the only way to have a pleasurable sexual experience. With this in mind, don't tell your partner that intercourse is all there is when it comes to sex because that's simply not true. It couldn't be further from the truth, and focusing on other things that are pleasurable instead of just intercourse can help them.

"When we equate intercourse and sex and call everything that comes before intercourse' foreplay,' we are buying into the cultural script that sex should proceed as follows: foreplay (just enough to get her ready for intercourse), intercourse (during which both women and men orgasm), and game over," therapist Laurie Mintz tells CNN. But once we throw out that cultural script, we begin to understand that sex isn't just intercourse — it's far more than that, and there's so much room for exploring other ways to be sexually intimate and satisfied.

Talk about it and possible treatments

Whether you address the ED early on or let it play out for a bit in the hopes that it will work its way out on its own (which could happen if it's related to stress, anxiety, or exhaustion), you need to talk about it and the treatments that come with ED. You don't want to bring this up when you're naked and in bed — your partner is already feeling vulnerable, and bringing it up in that situation adds layers of insecurity they don't need, via Health Harvard Publishing. When you do talk to them, don't try to force your agenda on them.

"Not all erection problems are purely psychological," sex therapist Stephen Snyder, M.D. tells Glamour. "For a variety of physical reasons, many men have vulnerable erections." Work together on what might be the reason for the ED. Don't jump to conclusions and pressure them into seeing a mental health professional or switching their meds. You may think you're helping, but it can come off aggressive when you want to be supportive. Instead, let your partner know you'll be figuring this out together as a team.

According to The Journal of Urology, more than half (52%) of people with penises experience erectile dysfunction at some point in their lives. With percentages like that, it's proof that anyone suffering from ED is undoubtedly not alone. Stats like that and the fact that there are ways to help erectile dysfunction is where your focus should be for you and your partner. There's nothing shameful about ED, and no one should ever be made to feel bad about it. So leave your judgment at the door and work together to figure it out.