A long-time reader asked me to address a sensitive, yet not uncommon midlife dating issue — middle-aged sex and erectile dysfunction.
He asks, “How do you handle an attempt at sex that doesn’t work? How do you decide if this is a man you want to continue to see or is this a red flag?”
Can we talk? We are adults so we’re going to use adult words.
There is lots written about Viagra and ED, but what I’ve read is mostly written for long-time partners where there is a strong bond and, one would hope, a willingness to discuss this sort of thing and find a solution that works for both parties.
However, in dating, even after dating a while, there may not be that bond. Which then complicates the matter.
Men, in my experience, equate their masculinity to their ability to satisfy their woman in bed. (Or at least to do what he thinks satisfies his woman, whether it actually does or not.) In fact, some women feel similarly — if a man can’t satisfy her in bed, he’s not fully a man, even if he takes care of the family financially, contributes equally to family chores, is active in family activities, and otherwise shows he’s an emotionally mature partner.
So a man’s ability to perform in bed takes on enormous weight — sometimes for both partners.
If he has some instances of ED there is more pressure. He knows he may not be able to get or keep an erection. He feels like a failure. He may blame the woman for not being sexy enough, or for not trying to arouse him, even though she has done her “job” in these areas previously. A beau broke up with me soon after his inability to perform. I got the impression he blamed me for this, even though I tried to be supportive.
So they go in search of the magic pill — this time a blue one. They think this will suddenly make him an unquenchable sex machine. After all the commercials say something about erections lasting more than 4 hours — “Think of all the fun we could have in 4 hours!” one or both of them fanaticize.
What they don’t know is that the blue pill works with some men and not others. A former beau told me he had ED and so we tried Viagra. Didn’t work. My beau felt like a horrible failure. It really affected his self-esteem.
Also, it’s expensive. The aforementioned DG reader said he bought a 10-pill prescription for $220! So it’s the price of a movie for the two of you. Not too bad, unless your $22 habit is every day and you are out of a job right now.
Both parties seem to expect miracles. One or both of them think he just pops it and within minutes he has his 19-year-old libido back. Well, it doesn’t increase desire. It doesn’t cause an erection. All it does is allow more blood to flow into the penis, but a man still needs to feel aroused. In many cases Viagra is needed simply because there has been vascular damage and blood flow is diminished.
Some men wonder if a women might think if he needs Viagra to have sex, he isn’t attracted to her. If a woman is astute, she understands the biology of the situation. If she isn’t, she may take it personally and feel he’s not into her enough for her to arouse him without the aid.
So what to do if you’re dating someone who isn’t able to perform? If you are connected enough to attempt the horizontal tango, you should be connected enough to talk about it sensitively and supportively. Tell him you know this is uncomfortable for most men and you wouldn’t mind at all experimenting with some pharmaceutical aid. If appropriate, offer to split the cost, although be careful as some men will find that adding insult to injury. So know your man before offering and don’t if you think he’ll be even more humiliated.
This would also be a great time to bring up your own needs, if you haven’t yet. Midlife women often need help to either get in the mood or make the experience more satisfying. Speak up so he knows he’s not the only one who could use some other aids.
This discussion will most likely bring you closer together. If it doesn’t and he gets defensive or goes poof, oh well. You’ve saved yourself from further involvement with a man who’s not emotionally mature enough to talk about solutions to issues around aging. You don’t want to spend another nanosecond of your precious time with someone like that.
Have you been in a relationship where ED was present? How did you and your partner discuss and deal with it? What worked and what didn’t?