How to Deal with Erectile Dysfunction in a Relationship

Erectile dysfunction (ED) can impact a couple in ways that are uncomfortable, embarrassing, and difficult to navigate. As a couple, explore ways to deepen your intimacy in ways that don’t include sex. Communicate clearly and don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings or your desire. And remember, even though erectile dysfunction can be difficult, stay away from blame, criticism, and harsh judgment and instead meet each other with love, support, and empathy.


EditOffering Support

  1. Empathize with each other. Erectile dysfunction can affect each partner. If you’re the partner with ED, recognize that changes to sex might be alarming or different for your partner. If you’re the partner to someone with ED, recognize how they might feel about their dysfunction and how that might affect their self-esteem or desire to engage in sex. Be loving and empathetic to one another and recognize each other’s struggles.[1]
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    • While this experience may be hard on you, it’s likely hard on your partner as well. Show them that you understand (or want to understand) and support them.
  2. Avoid blaming yourself or your partner. Blame is not something that will help you or your partner feel better or perform better. Avoid blaming yourself or wondering if your partner isn’t attracted to you, is cheating, or you’re not pleasing them. Often, dysfunction is linked with external factors such as medication or health influences, age, and stress.[2]
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    • If your partner suffers from ED, remember that the sexual dysfunction is likely not related to you. Don’t put undue pressure on yourself to improve your performance.
  3. Take the pressure off performance. Putting sexual pressure on yourself or your partner to perform is rarely an effective method. Focus on other parts of your partner’s body and your own body. Do other intimate activities together that do not involve the genitals.[3]
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    • For example, agree to get naked together and pleasure one another, but not have sex or involve the penis. Take turns blindfolded and explore each other’s bodies through different senses and touch.
    • You could also give each other full-body massages with massage oil. Avoid concentrating on the genitals, and instead just circle around the area.
  4. Increase physical intimacy in other ways. Physical intimacy isn’t just sex and doesn’t only involve the genitals. Hold each other and cuddle regularly as a way to physically connect, with or without clothes on.[4] Deeply hug each other, hold hands, and kiss passionately! Take the pressure off sex and purely enjoy physical touch and connection.
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    • Focus on giving pleasure to one another without having to use the genitals. For example, kiss your partner’s body, caress them gently, and make the activity only about intimate touching without the expectation of sex.
  5. Be supportive in treatment. If your partner is interested and willing to treat their ED, be supportive in them seeking treatment. This might mean encouraging them to make a medical appointment or consider changing or adding medications. If your partner is already seeking treatment, show your support for them without putting them down or making fun of them. Ask them what support they want or need.[5]
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    • Whatever steps your partner is doing (or thinking of doing), show your support.
    • For example, attend medical appointments with your partner as support if they want you to or ask you to.

EditCommunicating Openly

  1. Listen to one another. Emotional intimacy is comprised of empathy, understanding, and compassion, which all hinge on being a good listener to your partner. Build your emotional intimacy by learning to listen and truly understand one another. When your partner speaks, lean in and let them finish their thoughts before cutting them off or adding what you want to say. Aim to understand their thoughts and feelings before contributing your own.[6]
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    • Ask questions to better understand each other. Reflect your understanding back to your partner to make sure you’ve got it right by saying something like, “What I hear you saying is that you haven’t brought it up because you’ve been ashamed.”
  2. Speak candidly about sex. For some couples, sex is a taboo subject and it’s difficult to talk about problems, desires, and needs. Allow each other to voice concerns, fears, and feelings. Open communication means that both partners can contribute to work together instead of blaming or shaming one another.[7]
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    • Bring up the topic by saying, “I think it’s important to address sex and find ways to help both of us feel fulfilled.”
    • Talking about sexual frustrations and problems can help partners not build anger, disappointment, and resentment.
  3. Talk about sex positively. You or your partner may feel ashamed or embarrassed about erectile dysfunction. Never put yourself or your partner down or make them feel judged or ‘less than’ sexually. If you blame your partner for a lack of sex or are critical of their performance, this can make them feel ashamed and can make the dysfunction worse. Be careful when talking about your partner’s performance and try to keep all language and discussions hopeful.
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    • For example, use “I” statements so that you are not blaming your partner but still speaking truthfully. You can say, “I’m having a hard time, too. I love having sex with you so it’s difficult for me to adjust to this change.”[8]
    • Tell your partner which aspects of your sexual relationship you enjoy and value. Place any problems with your sex life within this context to ensure the conversation remains positive.
  4. Ask what your partner wants sexually. Good communication can improve satisfaction for both you and your partner. If your partner is struggling to get an erection, take the pressure off and ask them what they want. They may want you to touch them or kiss them in a different way or different area. Ask them to tell you what they want or show you what they want.[9]
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    • While it’s nice to put the focus on your partner, make sure you still feel comfortable and engaged. Don’t be afraid to speak up if something is outside of your comfort zone.

EditSeeking Treatment

  1. Get a physical examination. Erectile problems can sometimes be a symptom of coronary disease, liver disease, or diabetes. Make an appointment with a general practitioner and tell them the symptoms. They may do a series of tests to determine any health risks or medical causes of the dysfunction.[10]
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    • If your partner is hesitant to get an examination, let them know that there may be medical causes for the dysfunction and that simple changes can make a difference.
  2. Discuss your medications with your provider. Some prescription medications can influence performance. If you suspect this might be the case, talk it over with the physician and ask if there are any alternative medications. Additionally, medications can be added to help increase sexual performance. Talk with your prescriber about your options.[11]
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    • Tell your provider what symptoms you experience and when they began to occur. You may change medications, change doses, or add a medication to help with arousal.
  3. See a specialty therapist. Problems with sex can cause damage to relationships, especially if you’re struggling to know what to do or how to handle these changes. If you and your partner are struggling to move forward, consider seeing a therapist. Professional help can encourage you and your partner to relate differently, create solutions, and discuss about what’s going on in a safe and supportive atmosphere.[12]
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  4. Treat contributing mental health factors. Anxiety, depression, and relationship problems can contribute to erectile dysfunction. If you’ve noticed problems increase when you or your partner are under stress or feeling anxious, treat these symptoms first. Treating mental health can help alleviate sexual problems and help you or your partner feel better, too.[13]
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    • Make an appointment with a psychologist or psychiatrist to talk about mental health, diagnosis, and treatment. You can find a provider by contacting your health insurance company or calling your local mental health clinic.
  5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle. If you or your partner are not taking good care of your body at the moment, now is the perfect time to make some changes and improve health. Exercise regularly, eat a nutritious and balanced diet, and cope with stress in an effective way. Taking care of yourself can help your body run better and help you feel better, too.[14]
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    • Stop smoking. Smoking can interfere with sex, so it’s best to cut back or quit altogether.
    • If you’ve been drinking excessively, cut back on your alcohol intake as well, as alcohol can contribute to sexual problems.

EditSources and Citations

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