He’s successful, caring, and honest – but he can’t get an erection. Claire is worried that this problem could ruin her relationship. Can Healthista therapist Sally Brown fix it?
I currently live with my boyfriend. We have been together for a little over a year, but living together for eight months. He is great in so many ways – successful, caring, thoughtful, honest, communicates well, includes me with his friends, etc.
However, he is unable to get an erection. We cuddle and kiss, but that’s it. I try giving him oral but I swear I’ll be down there for 30-40 minutes and it might get a little bit hard. But never a full erection. We’ve had sex twice this year, but he is unable to last long enough to climax. I think at this point he is insecure about the whole situation, so he doesn’t try to initiate sex.
We have had many arguments about this sensitive topic and all I ask is for him to make healthier decisions or see a doctor for help
I have bought natural over-the-counter supplements, try to get him to exercise and drink less alcohol, but it doesn’t seem to help. I am an attractive 29-year-old who just wants to have sex. I don’t want it with anyone, just him. It kills me to not be able to be intimate with him. It hurts my feelings that he doesn’t try and go see a doctor. We have had many arguments about this sensitive topic and all I ask is for him to make healthier decisions or see a doctor for help.
Additionally, he is 39 years old and drinks heavily Thursday-Sunday. I always seem to make excuses for him ie that this way of drinking is pretty standard where we live. On top of all of that, he doesn’t want kids. I’m not sure I want kids, but I would still like the option to be available. Even if he changes his mind, I’m afraid he isn’t even able to perform. I’m afraid of leaving him because I might not find someone who is equally successful, committed, and honest.
As we get older and wiser, when we realise that there is more to a relationship than sex, we often experience a shift in who we find attractive, basing our choice of partner on more than just a feeling in our loins. It’s a sign of your maturity that you have chosen a man who appears to have great husband and father potential. But just because sex moves down the priority list doesn’t mean it stops being important, as you are discovering. Hot sex may not have been your top criterion for moving in with your man, but that doesn’t mean you should sacrifice ever having it again. Apart from anything else, he rules himself right out of the ‘good father material’ category by not being able to have sex with you.
Just because sex moves down the priority list doesn’t mean it stops being important
You say that it hurts your feelings that he hasn’t been to see a doctor about his erection problems. I think I might officially nominate that for understatement of the year! I suspect that hurting your feelings is just a tiny fraction of the impact that this situation is having on you.
You are an attractive young woman with a man who never tries to have sex with you and who seems happy to keep that as the status quo. I can only guess at how that is eroding your self-esteem and making you feel less attractive and desirable every day. On top of that, there is no doubt a layer of frustration and anger, all churned up with a generous helping of guilt. It’s a toxic combination and if you are managing to protect your mood and emotional resilience while dealing with that inner maelstrom, I take my hat off to you.
I am struck by that fact that both times you list your boyfriend’s many positive attributes, one word comes first: Successful. I wonder if this is your Achilles’ heel?
I am struck by that fact that both times you list your boyfriend’s many positive attributes, one word comes first: Successful. I wonder if this is your Achilles’ heel? Perhaps you know deep down this relationship is flawed, but I wonder if it is the social kudos that comes with being your partner’s girlfriend that acts like golden handcuffs, keeping you from finding a more fulfilling relationship? Perhaps he has a prestigious job, or earns a certain amount of money. To the outside world, and perhaps to your friends and family, he is a Good Catch. Because he’s a Good Catch, you overlook the fact that he can’t have sex with you, and may have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
Because he’s a Good Catch, you overlook the fact that he can’t have sex with you, and may have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol
Be honest, without the ‘success’ element of his personal jigsaw, would you have stayed so long with a man that you say you ‘always seem to make excuses for’? Would you accept a relationship with no sex from a man who earned little or had no ambition or drive? The self-esteem boost you get from being seen as having landed that Good Catch, perhaps even being on the receiving end of envy, may have so far made up for everything this relationship doesn’t give you (such as intimacy and the potential to become a mother). But I suspect that won’t be the case for much longer.
Hope is a wonderful thing, isn’t it, and you’re hanging onto that thread of hope that there could be a simple solution to this problem, and then your almost perfect man really will become perfect. I can understand why you feel so frustrated that he refuses to see a doctor. But let’s just look at that for a moment. A man who is in a loving relationship with an attractive woman experiences erection problems, yet does not seem at all motivated to get it sorted. What that suggests to me is that this is not a new problem for your partner. He may have even explored the medical route in the past.
But getting stuck on him making an appointment with a doctor has put you in a bit of a holding pattern, turning you into a nag, and him defensive and evasive. The more you push him to make that appointment, the more he resists.
The more you push him to make that appointment, the more he resists.
So it’s time to try a different approach. Next time it comes up in conversation (and I’m guessing that it’s you that brings it up, so choose a time when you’re both relaxed and you feel connected), tell him you understand that he must have reservations about seeing a doctor about something so intimate, and that he must wonder if there is anything the doctor could do anyway. Then see if he opens up with the fears and reasons behind his resistance. You may have already done this, but ask him if he’s ever been to a doctor about it in the past. Keep your approach super-understanding and non-confrontational at all times.
Keep your approach super-understanding and non-confrontational at all times.
There’s a chance he may quite quickly try to close down the conversation by saying, ‘I’ll make an appointment next week’, while having no intention of doing so. However tempted you feel, try not to jump in here and say, ‘Great, let’s look at the diary and see when you could go.’ As soon as you start pushing, he will retreat back into defensive, evasive mode. Instead, come back with a gentle question, ‘Do you really feel comfortable doing that?’ Your aim is to communicate that it is 100 per cent his choice to see the doctor.
In the meantime, I want you to make an appointment with a qualified sex therapist in your area. Make it at a time when you can both attend, then invite your partner to join you. Tell him you have made the appointment so you can both work on your sex life together. Present it as a joint project, not just ‘his problem’. If he refuses or tells you he’s busy, go on your own, and continue to go on your own, while inviting him to attend every week. This problem is way too big for you to deal with on your own. You need professional support.
With limited information, it’s pointless speculating about the cause of your partner’s erection difficulties. I am sure you have already done some research, and you are well aware that erectile dysfunction can be a side effect of depression, some prescription medication, hormone imbalance, high blood pressure and heart disease, diabetes and alcohol and drug abuse. These are all good reasons to get checked out by a doctor.
Erectile dysfunction can be a side effect of depression, some prescription medication, hormone imbalance, high blood pressure and heart disease, diabetes and alcohol and drug abuse.
You may also know that the cause can sometimes be psychological, and may be triggered by fear of getting you pregnant, performance anxiety or addiction to porn. Sometimes it’s a symptom of past emotional or sexual abuse. If any of these do lie at the root of his problem, you will need the help of a qualified sex and relationship therapist to work through the issues together.
Erectile dysfunction can be addressed, often with a combination of medication and therapy. Sometimes, there isn’t a solution, but couples manage to achieve a satisfying sexlife, which may involve the use of sex toys.
But at the heart of this problem is another relationship – your relationship with yourself. You seem almost surprised that you’ve landed someone who is ‘caring, thoughtful, honest, communicates well, includes me with his friends’, which makes me wonder what your past relationships were like? Perhaps you had a long spell without meeting anyone, and you have a fear of being single again. Whatever the reason, you seem convinced that you will never meet another decent man, as if it’s a fluke that you managed to meet this one, admitting that you feel ‘afraid’ of leaving him. That’s a very strong emotion and I wonder what it says about your self-esteem? I also wonder whether your partner, caring, thoughtful and honest as he may be, recognises this insecurity in you, (consciously or subconsciously), and it’s this that allows him to take his evasive approach to the problems in the bedroom, to ignore your concerns about his drinking, and to not take your views into consideration when he declares he ‘never’ wants children. Perhaps he knows he can push the boundaries of what is acceptable because he knows you will stay?
you seem convinced that you will never meet another decent man, as if it’s a fluke that you managed to meet this one, admitting that you feel ‘afraid’ of leaving him
It’s time for this ‘honest’ man to really start being honest, and face up to a serious problem that he is currently doing his best to pretend doesn’t exist. It’s time he proved that he really is ‘thoughtful’, by considering the impact it’s having on you. And it’s time he really did show that he can ‘communicate well’ by explaining why he resists seeing his doctor. If he’s not prepared to do any of that, then it’s time for you to consider whether your Good Catch is as good as you think.
Sally Brown is Healthista’s resident therapist and agony aunt. She loves finding out what makes people tick and will winkle out your life story if you sit next to her at a dinner party. She feels lucky to make a living from hearing those stories, and helping people make sense of their lives and reach their true potential. Registered with the British Association of Counselors and Psychotherapists, which means she has the qualifications and experience to work safely and effectively, she also writes about emotional and psychological health for the national press.