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How I Got My Husband to Face His Erectile Dysfunction

It wasn't easy. Here's what I had to do.

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erectile dsyfunction, plug, illustration
Kiersten Essenpreis 
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To our utter dismay, my virile husband of 35 years developed erectile dysfunction, the inability to get and keep an erection firm enough for sex. When first faced with this malady, we were clueless. It would take a willingness to learn and frank discussions over two years to get our once treasured sex life back on track. From the start, my 62-year-old husband’s inability to maintain an erection was puzzling. Throughout our marriage, we’d cherished our lovemaking. It was a way to come together as one and celebrate our relationship, a balm after the trials of the day.

After repeated unsuccessful attempts, my husband began to laugh it off, saying he was getting old and tired. Initially, I blamed myself, focusing on my aging body brought on by menopause. My husband tried to assure me that it wasn’t my fault, but his persistent lack of erections only strengthened my belief that I no longer turned him on.

Then during one poorly timed discussion about it, he snapped that he didn’t want to talk about it anymore. He went on with life seemingly unconcerned. I worried that we’d have to adjust to a sexless marriage. I was unwilling to make that adjustment, given what we were losing. But I needed a new strategy.

I discovered the book Dr. Ruth’s Sex After 50. The words below the title — “Revving Up the Romance, Passion & Excitement!” — gave hope to my flagging spirits. After reading a few chapters, I asked my husband if he’d like to read the book with me. In the past, we’d enjoyed taking turns reading a book we were both interested in out loud to each other. My husband was not interested.

As I read by myself, I learned that a man’s desire for sex diminishes as he ages. In their younger years, men experience psychogenic erections that don’t require physical stimulation. “At some point every man will cease to have psychogenic erections altogether,” the renowned sex therapist Ruth Westheimer wrote. Where once there was no need for physical stimulation of his penis, an aging male required it. I tried every means of physical stimulation, but unfortunately, this didn’t spell the necessary solution for us. While stimulation worked to achieve an erection, it didn’t stay firm enough for penetration. I tried not to be disappointed. My husband focused increasingly on his work. I returned to Dr. Ruth’s book, where I learned about erectile dysfunction. I learned that there could be underlying health conditions that cause ED. At my request, I asked my husband to have his doctor check for those conditions at his upcoming yearly physical. He came back with a clean bill of health. As far as my husband was concerned, the subject was closed. From my reading, I knew prescription pills were an option.

Knowing my husband was not a pill taker, I gently suggested that he discuss our situation with his doctor when his next yearly physical rolled around. I think he was willing because he trusted his longtime doctor. To my relief, my husband was open to me accompanying him to his doctor’s appointment. My plan was to say as little as possible during that visit and let happen what would happen. 

At the clinic, my husband’s doctor assured him that he treated many men for ED. He said that for many of them, a pill had proven effective with minimal or no side effects. He told my husband that he could decide to try one and, if he didn’t like it, try another, or he could decide to stop altogether.

Unbelievably, the first pill my husband took did the trick. His only side effect was a minor headache that went away within an hour of taking the pill. Erectile dysfunction caused my husband and I to talk about uncomfortable issues. We had to face our insecurities and ask ourselves how important our sex life was to us as a couple. Recently, I asked him if he would be happy with a sexless marriage, and he unequivocally said “No!” My husband and I are now reading Dr. Ruth’s book together.

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