Impotence can have a big impact on a relationship but, rather than limping along, know that help is at hand. By Helen Wallace
Intimacy is a big part of any romantic relationship and when things aren’t going well in the bedroom, this can have an effect on both parties. Erectile dysfunction is a common problem that can, at some time or another, interfere with your sex life, regardless of your age or health. What is vital is that communication remains unbarred between you and your partner, and that the proper, safe steps are taken to alleviate the problem and get back on track with your significant other.
A common concern
Impotence is when a man is unable to achieve or maintain an erection, making intercourse difficult and sometimes impossible. This often makes sufferers feel (unnecessarily) emasculated and can have substantial repercussions on their relationship with their partners.
‘Worldwide, it’s estimated that five percent of men have had one or more episodes of erectile dysfunction by the age of 40, and by 65 this number can increase to 15–25%,’ explains Dr Jan Nel, a physician at Gentlemen’s Health medical practice in Cape Town. Many people associate this problem with old age alone, but the reasons behind impotence are many and varied.
‘The basic causes include heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, alcohol consumption, diabetes and vascular disease, as well as emotional stress and relationship problems. And with daily stressors and unhealthy lifestyles on the rise, so are the cases of impotence.’
Fortunately, erectile dysfunction doesn’t have to mean the demise of intimacy: there are options available to help you overcome the symptoms. ‘Treatment comprises speaking to patients to try to pinpoint the root cause and then to treat it with the right medication or mental help. Most of the time, there is more than one element present,’ says Dr Nel. And while it may be an awkward topic to discuss, even with healthcare professionals, people are slowly becoming more willing to seek help when it comes to their sexual health. ‘Plenty of men are still reluctant to take that step, but we are definitely moving in the right direction.’
Mind over matter
While it may manifest itself in a very physical way, weak erections are often not caused by the flesh alone, but can also be linked to depression, anxiety and marital problems. Sadly, the kind of psychological impact this can have on both men and women can, in turn, have quite a detrimental effect on a relationship.
The woman may feel as though she is undesirable, while the man can often feel as though he is incapable of satisfying his significant other. Addressing this problem with your partner can be uncomfortable, but it is important to communicate with each other – this can be the first step on the road to recovery.
Last year, Lamar Odom, former pro NBA player and ex-husband of Khloé Kardashian, made headlines when he was hospitalised after being found unresponsive in a brothel with, among other things, a high dose of over-the-counter sexual enhancement drugs in his system. This was just an isolated incident, but it showed the world just how dangerous self-medicating can be, especially when the medication is not prescribed by a doctor and taken in unhealthy quantities.
Unfortunately, the first thing you come across when searching keywords such as ‘impotence’ on the internet are ‘wonder drugs’ for sale that promise to fix the problem instantly. These pills are often unregulated and not proven safe for consumption, making them dangerous, typically useless and even life-threatening.
It is important to remember that erectile dysfunction is not a disease, but rather a symptom of a different health concern (mental or physical) that needs to be addressed. And, despite being a side effect, it could show the difference between ill health and longevity.
It is essential to provide support to a partner who may be experiencing bouts of impotence and to seek help from your general practitioner or a urologist so that a formal diagnosis can be made and the necessary steps taken to alleviate the problem.
Taking the healthy approach and exercising patience not only means that things will improve between the sheets, but could also create a stronger bond between you and your partner, making for a happy, fulfilling relationship.
I was engaged to the mother of my children, but my addiction and lack of responsibility meant I lost her. Since our separation, I’ve been fighting to be a better man. We still talk, but when it comes to talking about us, she doesn’t respond. I still love her and I’m trying hard to be a good partner and father, but I don’t know if I’m fooling myself – her responses can be cold. I still love her and want to do right by her.
If you’ve been in some kind of recovery programme, you’ll have a sponsor and a group to speak to to help you engage with the world and the people around you as a sober person. It sounds like you may still have work to do acknowledging the damage addiction does.
Although you may be feeling better, the hurt you’ve caused to those around you still lingers for them. They have to go on their own path of recovery, rebuilding trust and reclaiming their power. Those who’ve decided to shield themselves from the messy influence of an addict may choose to cut ties altogether or, like your ex, close the door on romantic involvement. Respect the choices they make to take care of themselves.
By the sounds of it, you are not respecting her wishes by pursuing involvement further. Rather put your energy into making a full recovery. Visit Narcotics Anonymous (na.org.za), Alcoholics Anonymous (aasouthafrica.org.za) or Codependents Anonymous (codasouthafrica.co.za) to find the suitable support for you to complete your recovery process.