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Women Suffer from Erectile Dysfunction, Too

Women Suffer from Erectile Dysfunction, Too

by Dr. Barb DePree

We received this submission from UK-based kindred spirits, looking to maintain intimacy for women--and their partners--just as long as they choose.

Erectile dysfunction affects millions of men in the UK and there is often embarrassment surrounding the issue. Erectile dysfunction is when a man cannot get or maintain an erection which makes engagement in intercourse impossible. In fact, the NHS estimate that 50 percent of men aged between 40 and 70 will suffer from erectile dysfunction at least once in their life.

The main causes of erectile dysfunction are both psychological and physical. Sometimes hormones can be the problem, as can high blood pressure and high cholesterol which cause the blood vessels to narrow and sometimes erectile dysfunction can occur as a result of surgery or an injury. Not only can erectile dysfunction be a symptom of other health problems, it can also be the cause of psychological effects.

Erectile dysfunction can have a serious effect on a man's mental well-being, because it can damage his self-esteem. However, the relationship between erectile dysfunction and psychological issue can be seen as a vicious circle; not only can erectile dysfunction be the cause for reduced self-esteem and depression, but anxiety and depression are also listed as common causes of erectile dysfunction.

It's not just men who are psychologically affected by erectile dysfunction, either.

How Erectile Dysfunction Affects a Woman

Women can get emotionally hurt when their partner is unable to get an erection or maintain one, because they blame themselves and think they could be doing something differently to help their partner. It may lead to feelings of frustration, disappointment, and a decrease in sexual satisfaction. Additionally, it can impact the overall intimacy and emotional connection within the relationship.

Of course this does not help make the situation any less stressful for the male suffering from erectile dysfunction and the situation is often made worse. Relationship problems can often occur as a result, because tense situations arise and couples are too embarrassed to talk about the issue.

According to clinical psychologist Mark L. Held, PhD, the best thing to do is talk about erectile dysfunction before it becomes a strain on the relationship. Held says discussing the issue is crucial because:

“Almost all men have erectile dysfunction at some point... it’s how they deal with it that counts.”

Sex therapy can be an effective solution for couples whose relationship is suffering as a result of erectile dysfunction. A qualified therapist can help couples talk through the issues that have arisen, as well as help them identify and work through the psychological reasons that are causing it in the first place.

There is a plethora of medications that can help against erectile dysfunction. Perhaps the most famous one is Viagra, but there are now many more that work better for different patients. In any case, sufferers should discuss the issue with their doctors to determine if and which medication is appropriate for their case.

For some help in responding when ED's been countered, see our blog post, "He's Got His Groove Back. O Happy Day?"


  • You wrote: “It’s not just men who are psychologically affected by erectile dysfunction, either. Women can get emotionally hurt when their partner is unable to get an erection or maintain one”

    That makes a lot of sense, and I’ve seen that mentioned many times in other advice columns. But I’ve never seen any mention of the exact opposite situation, which I’m sure occurs just as frequently,namely, when a man has an erection and the woman’s reaction is dismay that she now has to do the “chore” of having sex. I’m sure this must by typical of situations where the man is healthy and has easy erections in his 60’s, but his wife is menopausal and has pain with intercourse, etc. It’s difficult for a man to integrate his sexual feelings with his sexual attraction to his wife when she reacts negatively to seeing him having an erection as a result of her being attractive. It’s a buzz-kill and makes the man feel like his sexual feelings are bad and wrong. And certainly pushes the man to think about other erotic things instead of his wife.

    I would imagine a woman would also find it very erotically discouraging if her husband was dismayed at signs that she was sexually turned on.

    I know, what really should a woman do if her man is easily aroused and ready for sex, and she just isn’t in the mood or can’t even have intercourse?

    Just had to comment on this because I’ve been on the receiving end of this kind of negative feedback from my wife for many years (not that she intends to be negative, I understand it’s not really her choice to be so disinterested).

    Gary on

  • This is a great point. Consistently, when I talk with patients who are no longer ‘sexually active’ (having intercourse), I will inquire about remaining intimate sexually and they reply that they are not intimate and have not explored this. It seems for many that once they can no longer participate in the routine they have been accustomed, they step away completely. You say it well, that exploration is always exciting and endearing. As a colleague of mine often says, ‘novelty is needed’. Instead of seeing this as a loss, maybe we should instead see this as an opportunity to introduce novelty.

    Dr. Barb on

  • Could I add that failure to get an erection need not be the end of sex. Please add this to my previous comment.

    Dinda on

  • As men get into their 70’s and 80’s it may no longer be possible for them to take the medications to remediate ED, for a variety of medical reasons. Women have other issues discussed in this blog. That needn’t mean that partners cannot find great sexual pleasure, intimacy and closeness by mutual simulation, oral sex, mutual use of vibrators, communication, etc, etc, etc.
    By my age (70’s-80’s) we have hopefully become tolerant, flexible adults who understand each other’s limitations, but find a mutually agreeable way to remain sexually active with the one that we love. Concern for each other’s pleasure and willingness to experiment are endearing to your partner. Don’t be afraid…take a chance.

    Dinda on

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