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How to Deal With Erectile Dysfunction in a Relationship

Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Reviewed by Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Written by Geoffrey C. Whittaker

Published 03/06/2021

Updated 03/05/2024

Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects roughly 30 million men in the United States, so if you’ve got it, you’re definitely not alone. Unfortunately, if ED is causing relationship problems, your partner isn’t alone, either.

ED can make firm erections and satisfying penetrative sex hard to come by. This and other sexual dysfunctions can really do harm to intimacy, satisfaction, communication and connection with a sexual partner.

There’s more than one person in a relationship. So it’s vital to remember that even if you’re the one with ED, you’ve got two people’s feelings to respect and protect.

Below, we’ll outline key strategies and activities to help you deal with ED problems in your relationship. We’ll also go over a few things you can (and probably should) do about erectile dysfunction itself — treatment options, lifestyle changes and more.

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Let’s get right to it. There are numerous safe and effective treatments for erectile dysfunction. However, ED treatment doesn’t often address the dysfunction in another critical area: your relationship.

Keep scrolling for tips on how to communicate, connect and find balance with your better half while working out the (other) kinks in your sex life.

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Communicate With Your Partner

As a romantic partner or husband with ED, communication is key — but it’s about more than simply saying, “Hey, I have this problem.” It’s how you say it and what you say you’ll do about it.

Talking about ED can feel embarrassing and uncomfortable, but try to reject the shame.

Communicate what you know, what you don’t know, what you’re worried about and what your plan is to fix the issue. That might include seeing a urologist, asking for prescription erectile dysfunction treatment or even speaking with a sex therapist.

Listen When They Communicate Back

During the conversation, your partner will probably want to discuss their observations, feelings and experiences. 

This could be the factors they think are contributing to your ED like stress, daily habits or lifestyle issues. It could get pretty personal, but try to be patient and not defensive.

Let them know when something is sensitive or if you’d like them to be more tactful, and focus on the shared goal of improving the relationship. At the same time, remember they might have been trying to breathe, too, while the elephant in the room has been sitting on their chest.

A review in Nature Reviews Urology looked at data from women with partners affected by erectile dysfunction. It found that untreated ED caused them to experience a reduction in sexual desire, loss of arousal and, in some cases, a reduced level of general life satisfaction.

Feeling safe to share is crucial for both partners — and it’s the best way to get back to satisfaction.

Be Intimate in Different Ways

There are so many ways to spice things up in the bedroom. But whether you’re with a new partner or one you’ve known intimately for years, you can always find something to spice things up.

Want a head start with brainstorming? You could:

  • Try new positions

  • Keep oral sex on the table

  • Take foreplay into overtime

  • Experiment with sex toys

  • Explore kinks and role-playing with each other

  • Discuss fantasies

  • Make masturbation a shared activity

  • Talk more frequently about your sex drive

These are just a few off-the-cuff ideas. There are nearly endless ways to be intimate with a partner.

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Learn About the Causes of ED

We won’t hammer on the education part of sexual health too much. Still, it’s important to understand what’s going on downstairs to fix the plumbing issues — get it?

Older men are more likely to experience ED — but often for different reasons than younger men. That’s why ED in seniors differs from ED in your 30s or ED in your 20s. It’s also not the same as so-called sudden ED that shows up one week and sticks around.

Physical health issues like heart disease, diabetes, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and multiple sclerosis (MS) can affect the neurological, vascular and hormonal functioning of sexual health.

Psychological factors, certain medications and day-to-day habits could also be factors or causes of ED. For instance, anxiety, depression, antidepressants, worries about sexual performance, obesity, smoking, drinking, low self-esteem, feelings of guilt and poor sleep can all mess with your erections.

Doing your homework on the issue will help you make informed judgments about what path to take in treatment. It’ll also give you the knowledge to answer questions from a partner experiencing uncertainty. So ace the test for both of you.

Explore ED Medications

ED can often be treated using medication.

The most common erectile dysfunction drugs are PDE5 inhibitors, which increase blood flow to your penis by relaxing blood vessels in your penis. PDE5 medications include:

  • Sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra®

  • Tadalafil, the active ingredient in Cialis®

  • Vardenafil, the active ingredient in Levitra®

  • Avanafil, the active ingredient in Stendra®

You can talk to a licensed healthcare provider online to learn more about ED medications, ask about side effects and, if appropriate, receive a prescription to purchase ED medication online.

We offer several of these ED meds through our telehealth platform, along with chewable hard mints for discrete, convenient use.

Consider Therapy for Psychological ED

It’s safe to say in-person or online therapy is the best place to start when you’re experiencing psychological ED.

Several therapy forms can be used to treat ED, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Research shows CBT can improve erectile function and sexual satisfaction in men affected by ED.

Sex therapy, meanwhile, can help you and your partner overcome sexual issues using practical, results-focused solutions to improve your sexual relationship. 

Our guides to the psychological causes of erectile dysfunction and sex therapy as a treatment for ED go into more detail about these treatment options. 

Make Healthy Lifestyle Changes

Sometimes, it’s easy to maintain an erection dependably again just by living a healthier lifestyle.

If you’re not taking your health seriously, this might be a great time to:

  • Check for underlying medical conditions. If you aren’t sure why ED is occurring, talk to your healthcare provider about tests to see if a health issue is the root cause.

  • Exercise frequently. Research shows aerobic exercise may have a positive effect on erectile health when performed regularly.

  • Maintain a healthy body weight. While fat isn’t exactly a cause of ED, obesity is a significant risk factor. Research shows obese men are three times more likely to develop erectile dysfunction than men in the normal range.

Stop smoking. Tobacco can damage the cardiovascular system and affect blood flow to the penis. So quitting may be hard, but it’s the best way to get harder, ya know?

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Let’s get real for a second: Your partner is the priority when ED is making the bedroom a problem place.

Before you go stocking up on erectile dysfunction medications and training for a marathon, talk to your partner.

  • Sometimes, solving the sexual function problem without communicating about it does more damage than reaching out. 

  • Don’t leave doubt. Talk it out.

  • Be clear, honest and a good listener when talking about ED.

  • Look into treatment options and discuss your health honestly, even if it means sharing health concerns, admitting to performance anxiety or revealing a health condition that’s undermining your intimacy.

  • Remind them that your erectile dysfunction isn’t their fault — it’s a health condition.

  • Seek medical advice for the physical and mental health issues you might be dealing with.

  • If you’re here researching your partner’s ED, check out our many men’s sexual health guides. We’ve covered premature ejaculation, sexual performance anxiety and endless other related topics.

Erectile dysfunction is almost always treatable. You may be able to treat ED and improve sexual performance using medication, healthy lifestyle changes or a combination of these things.

But start with what matters: your partner. Talk to them today. The doctor can wait until tomorrow.

10 Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.-a). Definition & Facts for erectile dysfunction - NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/definition-facts.
  2. Yafi, F. A., Jenkins, L., Albersen, M., Corona, G., Isidori, A. M., Goldfarb, S., Maggi, M., Nelson, C. J., Parish, S., Salonia, A., Tan, R., Mulhall, J. P., & Hellstrom, W. J. (2016). Erectile dysfunction. Nature reviews. Disease primers, 2, 16003. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5027992/.
  3. Li, H., Gao, T., & Wang, R. (2016). The role of the sexual partner in managing erectile dysfunction. Nature Reviews Urology, 13(3), 168-177. https://www.nature.com/articles/nrurol.2015.315.
  4. Dhaliwal A, Gupta M. PDE5 Inhibitors. [Updated 2023 Apr 10]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK549843/.
  5. Montague D. K. (2002). Nonpharmacologic treatment of erectile dysfunction. Reviews in urology, 4 Suppl 3(Suppl 3), S9–S16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1476026/.
  6. Lamina, S., Agbanusi, E., & Nwacha, R. C. (2011). Effects of aerobic exercise in the management of erectile dysfunction: a meta analysis study on randomized controlled trials. Ethiopian journal of health sciences, 21(3), 195–201. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3275865/.
  7. Skrypnik, D., Bogdański, P., & Musialik, K. (2014). Otyłość--istotny czynnik ryzyka zaburzeń potencji u mezczyzn [Obesity--significant risk factor for erectile dysfunction in men]. Polski merkuriusz lekarski : organ Polskiego Towarzystwa Lekarskiego, 36(212), 137–141. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24720114/.
  8. Kovac, J. R., Labbate, C., Ramasamy, R., Tang, D., & Lipshultz, L. I. (2015). Effects of cigarette smoking on erectile dysfunction. Andrologia, 47(10), 1087–1092. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4485976/.
  9. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.-d). Treatment for erectile dysfunction - NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/treatment.
  10. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.-c). Symptoms & causes of erectile dysfunction - NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/symptoms-causes.
Editorial Standards

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Kelly Brown MD, MBA
Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Dr. Kelly Brown is a board certified Urologist and fellowship trained in Andrology. She is an accomplished men’s health expert with a robust background in healthcare innovation, clinical medicine, and academic research. Dr. Brown is a founding member of Posterity Health where she is Medical Director and leads strategy and design of their Digital Health Platform, an innovative education and telehealth model for delivering expert male fertility care.

She completed her undergraduate studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (go Heels!) with a Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Science and a Minor in Chemistry. She took a position at University of California Los Angeles as a radiologic technologist in the department of Interventional Cardiology, further solidifying her passion for medicine. She also pursued the unique opportunity to lead departmental design and operational development at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, sparking her passion for the business of healthcare.

Dr. Brown then went on to obtain her doctorate in medicine from the prestigious Northwestern University - Feinberg School of Medicine and Masters in Business Administration from Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management, with a concentration in Healthcare Management. During her surgical residency in Urology at University of California San Francisco, she utilized her research year to focus on innovations in telemedicine and then served as chief resident with significant contributions to clinical quality improvement. Dr. Brown then completed her Andrology Fellowship at Medical College of Wisconsin, furthering her expertise in male fertility, microsurgery, and sexual function.

Her dedication to caring for patients with compassion, understanding, as well as a unique ability to make guys instantly comfortable discussing anything from sex to sperm makes her a renowned clinician. In addition, her passion for innovation in healthcare combined with her business acumen makes her a formidable leader in the field of men’s health.

Dr. Brown is an avid adventurer; summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (twice!) and hiking the incredible Torres del Paine Trek in Patagonia, Chile. She deeply appreciates new challenges and diverse cultures on her travels. She lives in Denver with her husband, two children, and beloved Bernese Mountain Dog. You can find Dr. Brown on LinkedIn for more information.

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