Erectile dysfunction

Updated 13 July 2017

How erectile dysfunction can affect relationships

Sponsor: The inability to develop and maintain an erection increases with age, but it’s never an easy topic to discuss with a partner.


Exact statistics on the number of men who experience erectile problems are difficult to obtain, as it is estimated that fewer than half of all men with erectile dysfunction discuss the problem with their doctors.

ED prevalence is age-related and the Massachusetts Male Aging Study reported that 40% of men aged 40 were affected and 70% of men aged 70.

For many years, it was thought that ED was largely psychological in origin, but it is now understood that physical causes of ED are much more likely, as it is a complex process involving many different physical steps and systems.

Effect on self-esteem

ED can also have many causes, including problems with blood vessels, neurological causes, injuries, diabetes, kidney disease and side effects of certain medications, such as antidepressants and blood pressure medication, among others.

The effect of ED on a man’s self-esteem can be significant and can affect his confidence and masculinity, says Dr Mark L. Held, a clinical psychologist from Denver.

While relationship problems can definitely contribute to ED, it can also contribute to relationship problems. A partner can easily interpret ED as a loss of interest, making it a difficult topic to discuss. The inability to communicate about this sexual issue can aggravate anxiety around ED, according to Sexual Health Australia.

For many men, ED is an embarrassing problem to discuss, as they could regard it as a reflection of their masculinity. But the problem can leave their partners feeling confused, sexually frustrated because of a lack of penetrative sexual intercourse, rejected and insecure. ED can have a big emotional effect on any relationship.

It is essential for partners to deal with this together, or even obtain the help of a therapist. Partners need to understand diagnosis and treatment options, and need to become part of the process.
Another reason it should not be ignored is that it is often one of the first signs of a health problem like as high blood pressure, which might have no other discernible symptoms.

What causes erectile dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common condition that can be treated


Ask the Expert

Erectile Dysfunction Expert

Dr Kenny du Toit is a urologist practicing in Rondebosch, Cape Town. He is also consultant at Tygerberg hospital, where he is a senior lecturer at Stellenbosch University. He is a member of the South African Urological Association, Colleges of Medicine South Africa and Société Internationale d’Urologie. Board registered with both the HPCSA (Health professions council of South Africa) and GMC (General medical council UK). He has a keen interest in oncology, kidney stones and erectile dysfunction.

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