Reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Relationships aren’t perfect. You may feel like your partner’s love for you is always on display, except in one critical place: the bedroom. He rises to every romantic occasion and stands firmly by your side, but when it comes to intimacy, the rising and firmness just aren’t there.
In other words, you suspect your partner may have erectile dysfunction.
ED in relationships can take many forms. Perhaps his inability to perform is sudden, or maybe he can get things going but loses his erection during sex. Or you could be worried that maybe, just maybe, it’s because of you.
Here’s the good news: It’s probably — almost certainly — not. There are many causes of ED, but for the majority of men struggling to get or maintain an erection, it’s not a lack of interest in their partner — if anything, anxiety about making a partner happy is more likely the culprit.
The bad news is that a poor reaction to a failed erection can make some intimacy problems worse — even if it wasn’t your intention.
So what can you do? What should you do? If you want those answers, you’ve come to the right place.
Below, we’ll explain what to do if your partner has ED and how to support them in seeking ED treatments. We’ll also outline some do-and-don’t recommendations — because whether it’s a husband, a boyfriend or a casual thing without a label, you’ll want to be part of the solution.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common sexual performance issue where men struggle to get or maintain erections firm enough for sex. While a night of drinking might well cause performance issues from time to time, a recurring pattern of failed erections typically signals a disorder — in fact, it’s the definition of one.
Most guys view their sexual performance as a matter of pride. We’re also usually our own worst critics. If you’ve noticed erection issues, there’s a good chance he’s not only aware of them but also worried about their potential effects on your relationship.
ED is treatable, and while you may not be a doctor, it’s possible to overcome the issue together and enjoy a satisfying, fulfilling sex life by discussing it with your partner in the right way.
What you can provide him — and what will matter most — is support and judgment-free love. How to do this can be categorized into four helpful strategies:
Know the facts
Be open and supportive
Acknowledge that it’s a common problem
Remember the dos and don’ts of loving support
Let’s look at how to get in the right mindset for each strategy.
Before you do anything, you should know the facts about ED — so here’s a quick primer.
Erectile dysfunction can occur for various reasons, from physical medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease to psychological factors like performance anxiety. Even some medications can cause ED.
If you want to know more about why ED happens to some men, check our guide to the causes of erectile dysfunction.
At the end of the day, the simple explanation is that something is preventing either his arousal and/or the actual blood flow to the penis required for an erection.
Diagnosing it on your own can be tricky, especially if your partner’s ED is off and on, as with temporary erectile dysfunction.
Some men with ED are totally unable to get an erection. However, others can get an erection in some situations but not every time they want to have sex. And some guys find it easy to get an erection but difficult to maintain it long enough to have satisfying sex with their partners.
Either way, he’ll need medical help to address the problem — something you can’t provide.
What you can provide is support.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for a partner with ED is to be the first one to acknowledge the problem — as long as you do so in a judgment-free space. The truth is that guys are often embarrassed when they can’t get it up, so acknowledging that first can help warm the space for conversation.
Let him know you’re not bothered by it, that it isn’t a big deal and that you can treat it as a couple. By creating a comfortable environment in which neither you nor your partner are worried or embarrassed, you’ll be able to take the next steps and start treating his ED.
ED is often associated with older men, but guys of all ages can struggle with the condition — in fact, young men may suffer more from mental health-related ED.
Unfortunately, ED is also typically a black mark on a man’s masculinity, self-worth and perceived value to sexual partners. So if your boyfriend, husband or sexual partner is affected by erectile dysfunction, discussing it can feel really, really difficult.
One crucial thing to know about ED is that, while most guys would obviously prefer not to talk about it, it’s extremely common. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, around 30 million men in the United States are affected by some degree of erectile dysfunction.
Communication is key to ED solutions for couples. But since talking about erectile dysfunction isn’t very common, many guys aren’t aware of just how widespread ED is amongst men of all ages.
Let your man know how common erection issues are. Point out that ED occurs in tens of millions of men in the U.S. alone — and likely hundreds of millions worldwide.
Put simply, make him feel less alone. Letting your partner know ED is increasingly common and nothing to be ashamed about can make it easier for the two of you to acknowledge the issue and change your focus toward taking action.
At a certain point, it’s on them to seek treatment, and that may be frustrating if they’re taking longer to get around to it than you are.
All you can do is support them the best way you know how, starting with how you address the problem. Here are some important dos and don’ts to keep in mind:
Do discuss ED openly with your partner. When erectile dysfunction happens, it’s hard to ignore. Don’t pretend it isn’t there — instead, discuss it openly with your partner so you can work toward a solution together.
Don’t blame your partner for their erectile dysfunction. Your man’s self-esteem and mental health might already be taking a toll, so there’s no need to fuel the fire. ED is a medical issue, not a sign of weakness or lack of sexual attraction. Use sensitive language and avoid saying anything that could imply your partner is to blame for their erectile dysfunction. While you and your partner may be feeling sexually frustrated, being careful with what you say can make a difference.
Do ask your partner how you can help. When ED occurs in a relationship, it becomes an issue you can solve as a couple. Let your partner know you’re happy to help them and ask if there’s anything you can do to make things better. Foreplay, flirting and sex toys can also help you keep the sexual activity fun and functioning without penetrative sex.
Don’t insist on doing things your way. Let your partner explain why they think the ED is occurring, as well as what they think might help. They might be relieved to finally have a chance to talk openly about a problem that’s been bothering them.
Do let your partner know about treatments. If your partner isn’t aware of the treatment options for ED, consider letting them know that they may be able to improve their erectile function and sexual health with medication or healthy habits.
Don’t pressure your partner to treat their ED right away. ED can be a stressful issue for most men, and your partner might need some time to think about their options before they’re ready to consider ED treatments.
If your partner has ED, it can be hard to cope — for both of you. We know it, and even if they’re not saying so out loud, they do too.
Here’s the silver lining: Although erectile dysfunction can be a frustrating issue to deal with in the short term, the good news is it’s almost always treatable.
Once your partner decides to treat their ED, their first step should be to consult a licensed healthcare provider.
This could mean talking with their primary care provider, meeting with a urologist (a doctor specializing in the male reproductive system) or talking to a licensed healthcare provider about ED medication online via our telehealth platform.
Since ED can be difficult to talk about, your partner might choose the option that feels best for them.
To diagnose ED, your partner’s healthcare provider might ask them about their sexual history, general health and symptoms. They might also carry out a physical exam to check for health issues that could cause or contribute to erectile dysfunction.
If the healthcare provider thinks your partner’s symptoms are caused by a physical issue, they may recommend a blood test.
Blood testing can help uncover “hidden” physical causes of ED, such as diabetes, clogged arteries and/or testosterone deficiency (low testosterone levels).
That said, several common treatments will typically help most men get back in the game: medication, therapy and lifestyle changes. Here’s some perspective on each of these to help you navigate the conversation.
Lots of guys associate ED drugs with older men and have concerns about the way their partners might react if they take them.
The fact is that ED medications — like sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra), Stendra (or the generic avanafil), tadalafil (or the brand-name Cialis) — are highly effective at improving sexual function. Still, many men are hesitant to try them.
These medications belong to a class of drugs called PDE5 inhibitors. They work by dilating the blood vessels that provide the penis with its blood supply. This improves blood flow and helps men with erectile dysfunction maintain a firm erection during sex.
All these medications come in tablet form, making them easy for your partner to use about 15 to 60 minutes before sex.
If your partner brings up the topic of ED medications, let them know you’re comfortable with them using prescription medication to improve their sexual performance and reduce the severity of their ED.
While it might not seem like a big deal to you, letting your partner know you support them if they choose to use medication can have a big impact. For many men, a partner’s approval can help them to get over a mental hurdle that previously stood in the way of seeking treatment.
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When erectile dysfunction is caused by a psychological condition, psychotherapy is sometimes the best way to treat it.
Several forms of therapy are used to treat ED, including sex therapy techniques. Therapy for ED may involve your partner meeting with a psychotherapist or sex therapist independently. Or it could be the two of you taking part in therapy as a couple.
Psychological treatments such as therapy can be effective on their own or in combination with ED medication.
Directing your partner to convenient and less embarrassing ways to get help (like online therapy) can speed up the process while letting them know you’re sensitive to their feelings.
Sometimes, a person’s habits and overall lifestyle can increase their risk of developing ED. If your partner has unhealthy habits, working together to change them can help improve their sexual performance and general health.
Good habits for improving sexual dysfunction include exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and quitting smoking. Others, such as eating a balanced diet and getting a healthy amount of sleep, may also help to reduce the severity of sexual issues.
We’ve discussed these habits and provided actionable tips for maintaining them in our guide to naturally protecting your erection.
Sexual intimacy is essential for a healthy, happy relationship. Few things can get in the way of it and contribute to relationship issues quite like erectile dysfunction.
The good news is that with active, ongoing treatment, most guys are able to put erection issues behind them to enjoy satisfying sex and a better quality of life.
Erectile dysfunction can be a sensitive subject. There are a few things to avoid when discussing it with your partner, like expressing disappointment or that you’re feeling unfulfilled.
With a supportive partner, most men will feel more comfortable treating their ED and improving their sexual performance.
If your partner has ED, don’t be afraid to help them. Use the tips and techniques above to talk to them about the problem, let them know you care and provide them with the support and information they need to treat it.
Interested in helping your partner get treatment for ED? We offer a range of FDA-approved ED medications online, following a private consultation with a licensed healthcare provider who’ll determine if a prescription is appropriate.
You can also give your partner a quick and easy read on the causes and symptoms of ED with our full guide to erectile dysfunction. Or you can both give this article on how to have sex with ED a read-over.