According to Harvard Medical School, about half of men ages 40 to 70 have erectile dysfunction (ED) to some degree. Wyoming-based family physician Lance M. Owens, D.O., gives us the lowdown on what causes ED (it might not be what you think) and how to move forward and be supportive of a partner experiencing it.
ED can seriously affect a relationship and, as a result, a lot of blame can be cast and assumptions made. Dr. Owens treats ED on a daily basis, and the common causes he sees range vastly. Among them are:
- Psychological issues: stress, anxiety, relationship difficulties, inadequacy and performance issues.
- Neurological issues: spinal cord injuries, pelvic surgeries, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy.
- Vascular issues: high blood pressure and arterial disease.
- Metabolic issues: diabetes, thyroid disease and low testosterone.
- Certain medications: antidepressants, sleeping medications and allergy medications.
Treatment for ED is based on its cause and can vary. Most common treatment options include oral medications such as Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra; others include injectable medications, physiologic treatment, vacuum assistance, and implantable devices.
Owens explains that men who suffer from ED often deal with feelings of embarrassment, shame and inadequacy. They often don't want to admit these issues to their partners and begin to withdraw from initiating sexual activities, which can lead to further relationship difficulties.
"Women who have partners that are suffering from ED often feel it is them—that their partner is no longer attracted to them or that they are having an affair," said Owens, who finds that is not a common reason at all.
So, how can a partner be helpful and supportive?
"This is a very complicated answer and is often the barrier to seeking treatment," said Owens.
"Sexual frustration is VERY common, in even the healthiest of relationships; add erectile dysfunction and it becomes even more complicated."
To avoid resentment and deeper issues in the relationship, Owens said, men need to be honest with their partner early on; in return, partners should express support. This could include going with them to doctor's appointments, being as informed as they are regarding causes and treatments, and keeping honest lines of communication open.
Be sure your partner knows your relationship is a safe space to share fears and concerns and that you'll never pass judgment. Don't be afraid to explore new ways to be intimate with each other.
Owens notes neither partner should interpret the ED as a sign of inadequacy unless a lack of sexual attraction is the true root of the issue.
"Then the person who is not happy with the sexual relationship needs to be honest and couple's therapy may be in order, in this instance."
According to Mayo Clinic, the best way to prevent ED is to make healthy lifestyle choices and to manage any existing health conditions. Encourage your partner to:
- Manage diabetes, heart disease or other chronic health conditions with their doctor.
- Make regular doctor's office visits a priority.
- Stop smoking, limit or avoid alcohol and illegal drugs.
- Incorporate regular exercise into their daily routine.
- Take steps to reduce stress.
- Get help for anxiety, depression or other mental health concerns.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for West Michigan Woman.