The impact of erectile dysfunction (ED) is like throwing a man and his partner into a wasteland after a wildfire swept through.

It is easier to for me to talk about erectile dysfunction than most, because I can trace my physical problem back to prostate cancer treatment. Otherwise I’d worry that you would think “it’s all in my head.” Here’s my experience of ED as it happens.

Erectile dysfunction strikes at the most vulnerable moments

Everything is on track for a fulfilling sexual connection. I feel horny. My partner does too – not that she shows it as obviously as I usually do, but there are subtle signals between us as a 40-year couple.  Our bodies speak: a microsecond longer in a kiss, a brush of hand against hip or butt, a warmer shade of approval in an apparently unrelated conversation.

I feel tingling and some swelling. The essence of promise. Female readers, please remember that for me as a man, sex and orgasm are the most exciting things I can do with my body.

Then we are in bed and loving and cuddling and stroking and both swelling. The sense of anticipation mingles with love and connectedness to perfume the air. Next thing I am sliding into heaven. We are melding in the most primal way we know. It is too deeply fulfilling to describe – except with a roar of joy and love and lust and passion. Our bodies undulate together in timeless existential bliss.

Awful impact of erectile dysfunction

We are both connecting with our own and each other’s essence, with our love and joy, and with the origin of our species. Then I notice that the actual physical sensation of this joyful connection has faded a little. I can’t actually feel that my erection is not longer hard, I just notice the pleasurable friction is fading.

First it’s 95%, then 90%, then 80% and I can’t ignore it. I try thrusting harder and faster…. now down to 70% of the exquisite sensation remaining. And as I notice that, the beast of ED grabs my attention.

That’s it: the joy of sexual intercourse has vanished and the gap it leaves is palpable. I am softening and shrinking even more. Our love and deep connection are still precious, but their manifestation is in danger of literally slipping out.

My emotions are going crazy. She stays calm. We both tell ourselves and each other that it is OK. But there is an immense hollowness for me. Like a wasteland after a fire.

What I have lost since onset of ED

  • Sexually, the most thrilling way I can find physical joy has slipped out of reach. It is taunting me from behind an invisible curtain that feels more like a wall.
  • Connectedness with my wife is deeply challenged. If this disappointment is how it is going to end, then maybe I don’t want to even start getting close to my wife. Anger starts to boil up.
  • My confidence is shattered. Sexual potency is imprinted in my bones and my balls as a core of my identity and now I know I can’t rely on it.
  • Hope fades. The sense of sexual possibility always buoyed me up – throughout the day not only in sexual situations. Now it is like somebody has sucked the warmth and colour out of my entire life. I realise how that hope was a deep part of my now-cracked foundation.

Impact of erectile dysfunction on my marriage relationship

In my marriage, I can sense myself pulling away – not just in bed, but all the time. I am not angry with her, but the look in her eyes shows that I am behaving like an angry man. I am angry about what I have lost.

Outside the blankness of this wasteland, of course I love my wife. I am committed. I know we can still make love somehow. But right now, I don’t want to get close. Because I just know it will end in tears.

Bleakness of an ED world

Somehow, it feels like I am humping into a vacuum. I am hurt, angry, frightened and sad all at the same time. It is hard to imagine how anyone including me can be positive. The disappointment of erectile dysfunction hangs like a stench in the air, a sourness in the pit of my stomach.

It’s a stench that only I can smell, a sourness only I can taste in full. My wife certainly gets the bad air that goes with it. And millions and millions of other men and couples are battling the same beast.

——————— Editorial notes:

An edited version of this post also appears online in

Psychology Today

Watch out for more hopeful posts about recovery and rehabilitation coming soon!