Help! My Date Nights End with Erectile Dysfunction!

Couple sitting on edge of their bed looking sadIn my neck of the woods the majority of therapists see mainly women (probably about 80% of their clients). Not so for me – more than half my clients are male, and when I work with a couple it is more often the men who initiate conjoint therapy. I think this is because many guys tend to become very uptight about their penis, what Paul Joannides (author of The Guide to Getting It On) calls “deadwood – the bummer in your pants”. Many of the men I work with are concerned about their system crashing when their pants are off!

I’m not comfortable diagnosing erection problems as “erectile dysfunction.” I hate labeling, and the “dys” implies failure and the overwhelming shame that goes along with it. I never click on the links that come with the numerous ads in my spam folder offering “your instant cure for impotence” (why are they sending these to ME?). Viagra can make a huge difference but masks the issues that cause the tissues to stay soft.

It’s not just men over 50 who have erection problems. They happen to men of all ages, from teens on up. Often erectile challenges crop up quite early in a sexual relationship when folks are just beginning to find their sexual rhythms together. Many guys are nervous that their performance is not up to par – they may require a few weeks or even months to find their groove. Especially when the couple moves from dating to mating in domesticity!

So gals, remember that expecting a guy to get it up straight away could be a big mistake – especially if you truly feel that he’s the man for you.

It can make for a big opportunity to look beyond sexual performance to deep bonding with each another. The danger is not the lack of an erection, but what each of you makes of it. When a woman needs her partner’s erection to validate that she’s desirable, a short term problem can quickly become long term.

Recently a 23 year old client described a typical scenario with his fiancée, with whom he has a long distance relationship. “So it’s Friday evening and we’re coming home from a romantic dinner. She says, ‘Wanna have sex when we get home?’ and I panic! I feel like all the blood is draining from my body. It’s this deep seated fear that I won’t be able to get an erection 30 minutes from now and it becomes self-fulfilling and self-defeating. How do I get control over my own body?”

He was extremely surprised when I suggested that trying to “get control” was precisely the problem. Viagra did indeed help with his attempts to stave off what he called “hydraulic failure.” But the blue pills were only part of the picture for this couple. In this kind of situation I usually sit down with both people separately as well as seeing them together. I call this my three-legged stool approach. When you eliminate one leg the stool often topples.

His fiancée had been blaming herself, “He obviously doesn’t find me attractive any more. I’ve gained some weight…” etc. Once I helped her to realize that his erection problems had nothing to do with her, it turned out that she wasn’t nearly as attached to a hard penis as he had imagined.

Viagra produced the requisite hard-ons but was no help at all when this couple couldn’t laugh together or let go of their attachment to having things go a certain way between the sheets. They needed to learn more about intimacy. Many couples require some help deepening their intimacy, and therapy can provide the tools.

Joannides again: “When it comes to making love, relationship issues trump d*** issues.”

© Copyright 2011 by Jill Denton, LMFT, CSAT, CCS. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Paige

    December 5th, 2011 at 5:55 PM

    I guess this has happened a few times with my boyfriend and me, and like so many other women I have a hard time thinking that when it happens that it is not about me. And we are not over 50 I might add. It is a real problem, and I have to be honest when I say that we have even arguedaboutit.Not that that really helps the mood, needless to say

  • Tracy

    December 5th, 2011 at 11:39 PM

    Although this has not affected my boyfriend,I think the problem is that once this happens to a guy and a girl speaks about it,it becomes a fear in his mind.The problem need not even reappear from the next time.It only needs the fear in the guy’s mind to reappear and the fear makes it happen.What does the author think of this?

  • Carl J.

    December 9th, 2011 at 6:46 PM

    Heh, deadwood. Funny.

    Even if men can get stiff easily most of the time, if it’s his first time having sex, then nerves can make it very difficult for him to sustain an erection. It’s often purely psychological and all they need is to get over the cold feet.

  • fiona stephens

    December 9th, 2011 at 8:14 PM

    Not being sexist here btw Jill! I was surprised to see you say that many men come to you about this, what with you being a female therapist. I actually did a double take on the name when I saw it was a female.

    I’d have thought they would have been more comfortable discussing this with a man who could relate. It makes me wonder why generally they would prefer to do so with a woman than a man. Any thoughts? I’m genuinely curious.

  • Terry Drake

    December 9th, 2011 at 8:29 PM

    @fiona stephens – ” It makes me wonder why generally they would prefer to do so with a woman than a man. Any thoughts? I’m genuinely curious.”

    I can answer that and I’m just a guy. Because men don’t want to talk to other men about sexual problems, duh. It’s unmanly.

  • Haley Nolan

    December 9th, 2011 at 8:40 PM

    Am I the only one that found it amusing that Jill could say penis all the way through her excellent article yet the filters censored the very last line for the d word that rhymes with brick? LOL. Thumbs up for a good post.

  • Opal

    December 9th, 2011 at 8:46 PM

    Loved your article, Jill. Your straightforwardness about what can be a sensitive subject is a breath of fresh air. No wonder all those guys come to see you! I like your approach, especially you dumping the “dys”. Thanks for sharing that.

  • Kirsten Randolph

    December 9th, 2011 at 8:54 PM

    It bugs the LIFE out of me when a woman starts blaming herself for her man’s inability to get a boner. Ladies, please hear this and hear it well. It’s not his fault and it’s not your fault-it’s purely something that happens to men occasionally.

    That would be like a husband blaming himself for his wife going through menopause-it’s part of life, ladies and gentlemen! Can happen to any guy any time.

  • Frasier Wallace

    December 9th, 2011 at 9:01 PM

    @Paige–WHY would you argue about him being unable to get an erection? I’m serious about that, why? What if he turned around one day and started blaming your weight gain or mood or the state of the house or whatever?

    You would be absolutely shattered about the injustice even though you’re doing the exact same thing to him. Stop turning it into a big deal because the more stressed you both are, the less likely he’ll be able to rise to the occasion.

  • kelly h.

    December 11th, 2011 at 5:26 PM

    If you’re both getting in a lather about how often it’s not happening, quit focusing on the erection at all. There are other ways to be intimate like taking turns to give each other a massage or have a bath or shower together. Take the pressure off and relax.

    In my experience things get better when neither of you are so anxious about it. Let nature take its course in its own time. Waiting to see if he gets one or not is a real mood-killer, so agree to put that aside awhile and get creative.

  • sharonbug

    December 15th, 2011 at 12:09 AM

    When men don’t discuss their ED with their dr. then nothing gets solved and issue remains same or gets much worse. i know it’s hard to talk about it and i wish men courage to not let ED hurt their sense of manhood.

  • Melanie Cruz

    December 18th, 2011 at 9:08 PM

    A woman knows when her man has ED and SHE IS RESPONSIBLE to take action. If the man does not like the prescription pills because of the psychological stress it gives or because they are “green” in relation to health), she could give him natural remedies. Personally my girl friends and I have used an infusion with herbs and roots that we gave to our men, with excellent results.

  • Marvin

    July 18th, 2013 at 11:27 PM

    ED is a very embarrassing topic to discuss for most men. This has happened to me, end of the night and puff, fun is over. I did get help, but it really is something you need to discuss with your doctor for help.

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