It’s common for men — mostly older men, but also sometimes young men — to have erectile dysfunction (ED).
There are things that can make this situation better for your sexual relationship with your partner. And there are things that can make this situation worse.
What can definitely worsen erectile dysfunction is male socialization: What I call “Man Rules.”
Psychologists have been writing about male gender socialization for many decades. If you are a man having erectile problems, or if you are in a relationship with someone who is having such problems, hopefully this will help you have a productive and truthful conversation about it.
ED consistently correlates with increasing age; it is common among men over 50, and it is nothing to be ashamed of. Unfortunately, it undermines men’s sense of youth, self-confidence, wellness, wholeness, and virility.
The rules of manhood are not all that complicated. Certain feelings are acceptable and certain ones are not. As one of my colleagues has said, “You’re allowed to be angry, and you’re allowed to be proud, and that’s it.”
One major prohibition is appearing vulnerable. Weak feelings are forbidden, as are feelings of anxiety.
And despite having vulnerable feelings, there is no way to discharge the anxiety. It’s not okay to ask for help.
Notice that if you buy into these Man Rules, you will hold back valuable information from the people around you, from the people who love you, and possibly even from yourself.
Men are actively indoctrinated into this set of masculine values and behaviors in a very active way. Typically, in the family, they are passed from father to son. They are also promulgated by institutions such as the military and police.
Years ago, I saw a state trooper and his wife, both in their 50s. She complained that he no longer spoke with her, that he was not interested in sex, and that he was irritated and angry all the time. He sat stone-faced through many of our sessions, and I had a terrible time getting to his real feelings.
Eventually, the wife found pornography on his computer. She confronted him with this fact in the couple’s session.
Finally, because his secret had been discovered, he was able to share the truth. He had been unhappy with his erections the last few times they had had intercourse. He felt ashamed and like a failure.
His terrible self-critical statements about his lack of manliness shut him down emotionally. He was unable to have a direct discussion with his wife about his fears about disappointing her.
Irrationally, he was so worried about having this one dreaded conversation that he shut out all verbal contact.
Once these two people were helped to have a detailed discussion of what “Plan B for E.D.” might be, he was able to reengage in their relationship, emotionally and sexually.
Thankfully, the Man Rules did not triumph. This couple was able to reconnect. If you are having a similar problem, there is hope for you too.
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