Here’s the psychology behind male impotence and how to combat it

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  • It’s not you, it’s him, so don’t take impotence too personally – and try to have a bit of compassion...

    Words by Sam Roddick

    I can’t profess to understand the innermost workings of the penis. But what I can say is that when it refuses to perform, it can result in one of the worst forms of anxiety imaginable, causing a wealth of problems for relationships.

    Before you think ‘This doesn’t affect me’, I suggest you read on.

    Temporary impotence is something that affects all men at some point in their lives, which means it will probably affect you at some stage, too. So it’s worth arming yourself with a bit of knowledge even if it’s not a burning issue for you right now.

    There are many reasons why a penis decides not to cooperate and unfortunately, as women, we can be surprisingly penis-centric, defining a sexual experience by penetration. So when his ultimate symbol of power and virility lets him down, he becomes vulnerable, a person we feel must be cared for and treated with compassion and kindness. But this is where it gets tough. – it’s difficult for a woman to accept a man sexually if he remains in this state for long. It’s also natural to immediately focus on yourself – wondering if he’s still attracted to you, still loves you or perhaps has found someone else. But the moment you make yourself the centre of his problem, you’re simply turning up the heat on what is already an anxious situation.

    Friends with Benefits

    In my early twenties I had a boyfriend who, before he met me, had suffered from severe impotence. After a month, he confessed to being deeply insecure about the size of his (rather small) penis. But I was so attracted to him, I barely noticed. He was one of the best lovers I’ve ever had and I regularly told him so – I didn’t give him time to engage with his anxiety. When our affair ended, he thanked me for resuscitating his sex life. It was my appreciation for him that did the trick.

    We all know men need regular praise, and telling your lover how incredible he makes you feel is the first step in eradicating sexual insecurities. But be understanding and patient too. If on more than one occasion in the past month your partner has struggled to get or maintain his erection, use it as a wake up call. Is it physical? Is it because of alcohol, illegal drug abuse or prescription drugs or just work exhaustion? Could it be a mental problem motivated by stress or anxiety, either at work or from within the relationship? Do you always leave it to him to initiate sex? Are you blaming your sexual stalemate on him failing to be a constant sexual stallion? Is he feeling under pressure to conceive with you? Have financial pressures knocked his pride and confidence?

    The biggest mistake is staying silent in the belief it will sort itself out. Broach the topic outside the bedroom (where the pressure is off) and calmly ask if everything is OK, letting him talk in his own time. Avoid going into victim mode and telling him how hard it is for you. Use it as an opportunity to give your relationship and sex life an MOT. Above all, be patient. If it goes on longer than six weeks, don’t write off your sex life, seek support.

    Friends with benefits


    • Psychological factors can cause erectile dysfunction (ED), with up to 20 per cent of cases due to stress, depression, anxiety and guilt.
    • Men who become hooked on porn are at risk of developing ‘sexual anorexia’, where they are unable to get an erection from real-life sexual contact.
    • Men who exercise for 30 minutes a day are 40 per cent less likely to experience ED than couch potatoes.
    • Men who give their pelvic-floor muscles a workout have erections that are 80 per cent harder and stronger.
    • Heavy drinking causes three out of four men to experience sexual side effects, such as difficulty in getting an erection.

    For more information, contact the Sexual Advice Association on 020 7486 7262

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