Asking For A friend: My partner has erectile dysfunction, what can I do?
23rd February 2023

Asking For A Friend is the series where we answer the questions you don’t want to ask.

From opposite libidos to completely different kinks, sex can be a balancing act for some couples.

Then, there are the issues that make having sex difficult in the first place. Some people might want to have sex, but due to a sexual dysfunction, they struggle to do so.

Erectile dysfunction (ED) – when a person finds it hard to get or maintain an erection – is really common: according to the NHS, it affects half of all men aged 40 to 70 in the UK.

Studies have shown that ED can cause or exacerbate depressive moods – something that can, unfortunately, become a self-perpetuating cycle as depression, and antidepressants, can also be the cause, not just a symptom, of ED.

Those with ED are also more likely to have lower levels of self-esteem, a lower quality of life and lower sexual satisfaction than their partners.

And, if your partner is struggling to get an erection during sex, it’s difficult not to think it might be a ‘you’ problem. Your brain may jump to conclusions: are they no longer attracted to me? Am I doing something wrong? Are they cheating? 

‘Unfortunately, for many living with ED, it can be extremely embarrassing as well as increase the chances of experiencing low mood and anxiety, when it comes to getting intimate with a partner,’ Dr Liz Jeffery, a research physician studying ED at MAC Clinical Research, tells

‘If your partner is struggling to get an erection, you should try not to take it personally. 

‘I know this is easier said than done, but there’s a whole host of reasons why they could be living with ED, none of which involve you.’

ED can be caused by a range of things from tiredness, stress, and high alcohol consumption to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and hormone problems.

With it being such a sensitive and emotive topic (for both parties), it’s important to adopt an open and understanding approach when discussing it.

Here’s how you can help your partner if they’re struggling with ED.

How to help a partner with erectile dysfunction

Discuss the issue

Don’t ignore what’s going on. Refusing to talk about ED will make it feel even more taboo, and your partner might be too embarrassed to bring it up.

But, warns Liz, make sure the conversation centres them and not you.

‘Sit down with your partner and discuss how they are feeling and how it is affecting them,’ says Liz.

‘Simply being present, listening to and supporting your partner is an essential first step in easing anxiety surrounding ED.’

Reassure them

For the person struggling with ED, getting intimate can bring a lot of unwanted anxiety and fear.

‘That’s why it’s important to reassure your partner that there isn’t any pressure to perform,’ says Liz.

She says that it’s important to create a safe space, rather than putting the pressure on them to get everything right. 

Offer to attend a doctor’s appointment together

The embarrassment felt around ED may be a barrier for talking to their GP, which is why Liz says you should offer to go with them.

‘Your partner may feel less alone and better supported by attending with someone they trust,’ she tells us.

Support their lifestyle changes

There are certain lifestyle changes that are associated with improving ED.

As Liz says: ‘It is recommended that anybody living with the condition eats a well-balanced and healthy diet, exercises regularly, stops smoking and if required, loses weight.

‘They should also reduce their weekly alcohol consumption and if they’re diabetic, ensure blood sugars are under control.’

Where you can, it’s a good idea to support your partner with these changes, whether that’s cooking healthy meals or perhaps suggesting you both cut back on your alcohol intake.

Educate yourself

Educating yourself won’t only help you understand and empathise more with your partner, it will also show them that you care and that you’re invested in helping them to feel better. 

‘There’s a whole host of online resources available, which can help you feel equipped with knowledge to support your partner,’ says Liz.

‘Do some research into the condition and treatment options so you can help with next steps in terms of treatment options.’

Show affection in other ways

Finally, remember that penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex isn’t everything. 

You can still feel intimate without having penetrative sex.

‘Find other ways for you and your partner to feel intimate, to release the pressure in the bedroom,’ says Liz.

‘Special date nights, time away and little reminders that you love them can do the world of good, reaffirming your love in a non-sexual way.’

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