woman sad about sexual impotence of her husband

Kevin here. . .

There is one aspect of senior sex no one wants to talk about: Impotence. Or erectile dysfunction (ED), as it’s commonly called today. But discuss it I must because dealing directly with being impotent is a make-or-break issue for those of us wanting to be sexual as we age.

But first, let’s be clear. Being impotent is a common occurrence for men worldwide. A rule of thumb is that a man’s chance of having erectile dysfunction is equal to his age. So if you are 60 years old, you have a 60% chance of having ED. This estimate doesn’t apply as well to our younger years, but whatever, it is very common!

Impotence affects both men and women

Impotence is a painful loss for the women partners as well as for the men. Since this post is written from the male perspective, I want to emphasize the grief women suffer when their men stop making love to them. It’s not just about us guys. 

The reality is our sex life and intimacy shrivel when we don’t communicate about our flagging potency. Unfortunately, no one wants to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Men are distraught because becoming impotent feels like they’re losing their manhood. Embarrassed by their unreliable erections, they clam up, withdraw, and often pretend they’re not interested in sex anymore. On the other end, their partners are afraid of hurting their pride and emotionally wounding them, so they don’t talk about it either. So, a couple who’s found solace and connection in their sex life for many years can become distant and drift into a lonely, angry silence. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Couples can continue to enjoy a rich sex life into old age because there are ways to deal with being impotent.  But first, they must learn to talk about it openly and honestly.

My story

I’m going to share my story about being impotent in hopes that it will enable others to share their story more easily.

I’m 68 years old, which means there is a 68% chance I’ll have difficulty getting and maintaining an erection hard enough for intercourse. Charming language, isn’t it? Kinda cut and dried. Doesn’t get close to describing the anguish and self-doubt that becoming impotent causes for men, the self-defeating anxiety, or the simple lack of a comforting hard-on in the morning.

For me, there’s actually a 98% chance I won’t get hard enough to fuck. Chemotherapy injured my nervous system so I seldom have an erection, and damn it, I miss them! I recall those years as an adolescent when I had erections so often I thought everyone could see, and I worried about hiding them. For most of my life, I woke up every morning with an erection. Now, that seldom happens. No lying in bed for a few moments savoring the arousal and delicious sensitivity. With an erection, I could feel sexual energy and the life force surging inside me, and it was a deep source of comfort when dealing with anxiety, pain, and loss. No more.

When I first started having problems, I was in a less-than-optimal relationship, and that didn’t help! So in the beginning, I thought my dysfunction was psychological. And of course, worrying about my loss of potency was a real arousal killer, a self-fulfilling prophecy well-known to many men.

When it finally became clear that my impotence was physiologic and not in my head, I was relieved. Get that! I was relieved that my body was so messed up I couldn’t get a hard on. The mental contortions we men put ourselves through about impotency are astounding.

Women’s response to impotence

Of course, these changes were hard on my sex life.  After I got divorced and started dating, I had to learn how to talk about being impotent with women I found attractive. I quickly learned to bring the topic up well before initiating any sexual contact.

To my surprise, I found that most women were fascinated and eager to talk about it. They had a lot of questions and seemed delighted to find a man willing to be frank about erectile problems. As I listened, I began to understand that women take it personally when their man can’t get hard. Many fear it’s about their lack of attractiveness or sexual skill—they really can’t believe it’s not about them! As I became more comfortable talking about my impotency, these discussions became easier. I found that talking about this actually fostered intimacy and connection with most women I met.

An upshot was that talking about impotency helped me screen dates. As I learned more about how women respond to impotency, I realized that if a woman couldn’t talk about it, she clearly wasn’t for me. Not because she couldn’t deal with my problems but because I need a partner who enjoys talking openly about our sex life.

A generalization about women is that they long for emotional intimacy. “Talk to me. . .I want to know what you’re feeling,” is their refrain! Well, talking about being impotent is a very intimate discussion, and most women welcome it. When you tell a woman your sexual secrets, you are sharing your feelings and including her in your emotional life! So trust me on this, most women, and especially your beloved, will appreciate you talking to them honestly about your erectile challenges.

Why men resist talking about being impotent

A generalization about men is that they prefer not to talk about about emotional issues, especially painful ones. “What’s the use in talking about that stuff? It just makes me feel bad,” is their refrain. Well men, please listen up:  These discussions are indispensable if you want a rich, satisfying sex life in old age. Not talking about it doesn’t make the situation go away. Silence turns a natural occurrence into a big problem that may ruin your relationship. Nor does shutting down allow you to reap the benefits of being impotent.

What benefits, you say? There are many. but you have to get beyond being ashamed about being impotent. Only then can you join with your partner in finding new (and often sexier) ways of making love. 

Men who’ve been in therapy often find opening up easier than those who have not. When I first started therapy 20 years ago, I told the therapist my problems and concerns over several sessions. Then I asked her, “How will we improve things? How will I heal?” She replied, “We’ve already started! We will talk about things over and over and that will heal you.” By God, she was right! So, if you just can’t get started, or things go badly when you first bring up the subject, I strongly urge you to consider therapy.

The reluctance to talk about impotence can be heartbreaking. I knew one sexually active and reliably potent man with a medical condition that reduced his sexual response. He and his wife had been happily sexual throughout their long marriage, but suddenly he had “no interest in sex.” His wife grieved the loss of their sexuality, and both worried their love life was over. And yet, he was so embarrassed he refused to talk about it!  But there is hope. . .

Different ways to accept impotence

Of course, there is more to my story. Every time I discuss it, I remember more and go deeper because it takes time to process this major loss. Your story will be different, and your job is to find the words to describe your experience and share them with your partner.

  • Find the words for your story. Your story is unique and deeply personal. It may take some time and effort to uncover what’s happening and how you feel about that. Read about the topic—the more educated you are, the less helpless you’ll feel, and the more confident you’ll become.
  • Journal on the topic. Journaling is simply writing to yourself with no intention of sharing. It is written in a free-form style, usually for a period of weeks or months. Journaling has a way of waking up your memory and bringing hidden emotions to consciousness.
  • Write a letter. Some men find writing a letter to be more comfortable than initiating a conversation. Sharing written pages with your beloved can be easier than talking about it. Writing also has the advantage of keeping the discussion on track.
  • Seek professional help. Some couples do better when a professional facilitates the sharing. If you choose therapy, make sure the therapist is interested, experienced, and comfortable dealing with sexual issues. Some are not, and sex education is surprisingly inadequate for many counselors.
  • Consider sharing this post.  I hope this post helps you and others start a conversation about impotence with your beloved.

Look to your partner as a loving co-conspirator to talk to about impotence. Working together will deepen your relationship and intimacy more than almost anything.

How to include your partner as a co-conspirator

Keep in mind that your partner has her fears and concerns as well. When a woman’s partner becomes impotent and withdraws sexually and emotionally without explaining why, she usually believes one of four things:

  1. She is no longer attractive to him
  2. He has fallen out of love with her
  3. He is having an affair
  4. All the above.

So please, be honest with her about your distress about being impotent. Because there is fear and shame on both sides, consider her feelings as well when you tell your story.

These discussions are not one-time affairs. To become co-conspirators with the same agenda, the two of you must become comfortable talking about impotence. The discussion never really ends, but your sex life will improve when you begin working on it together. Talking openly about impotence improved my ability to talk about other sexual issues, to the great benefit of our sex life.

Vicki and I usually decide together if and when I should give myself an injection. Sometimes, we forego the shot and make love without a hard penis. Sometimes, I like to surprise her with an erection. Whatever we do sexually, we do it together as a couple. We savor the emotional connection and appreciate that our partner is committed to keeping the relationship alive and erotic!

One upside of being impotent

Fortunately, we are blessed with modern medicines, which for me means I can have an erection whenever I want! Although Viagra and similar drugs like Cialis work for many guys, I can’t use them because I get migraine headaches. I hear that penile pumps work well, but I haven’t tried one yet. However, I can inject medicine directly into my penis with a tiny needle. That combined with arousal by my lover gives me a rock hard erection for as long as two to three hours.

I’ll write later about the many medical and surgical options for dealing with impotency, so I won’t go into that here. This post is focused on coming to terms with impotency and sharing it with your partner.

The injection-initiated erection I use is no “Franken-penis” as I have heard some doubtful women call these chemically assisted erections. This is the real deal. My erection is exquisitely sensitive and alive, and it feels like the good old days. I require emotional arousal and physical stimulus to get hard, which is another benefit of Loving Massage. The big difference from a natural erection is that if Vicki and I care to carry on, I can sustain this erection for hours! I’d say quite an upside.

Do you know what’s been called the world’s greatest advertising slogan? “Call your Doctor if your erection lasts more than four hours.” Well, perhaps that marathon erection could be yours. I hope you are beginning to realize there are upsides to erectile dysfunction.

happy elderly couple talking about impotence

Vicki here. . .

Well, my darling, you certainly put it out there! You told it like it is without embarrassment, no mincing of words, just the truth. What a guy. . .that’s one reason I love you!

I was trying to remember when you first told me about being impotent. I was in my late 60s and dating older men, so I was familiar with the situation and not surprised when you told me. The fact I don’t remember the specific discussion means you spoke matter-of-factly, making it no big deal: We could still have intercourse—just not spontaneously—and there were other sexy options we could explore as well.

To be honest, I don’t miss the spontaneity and rather prefer the planned sex we have now. Because the erection is a given, we explore other sensual pleasures. Plus the hardness and staying power of your chemically induced penis is an entirely new experience for me. We can make love as long as I want, stop a while, then begin again, and go for hours. It’s even better than being in our sexual prime because we’re in no hurry and take time to try new things.

Another gift of impotence is the tenderness I feel for you when you give yourself an injection. My heart melts knowing you do it for us, and I feel closer to you than ever.

Kevin, I am so proud of you for writing this! I realize being this honest took considerable time, introspection and bravery on your part. But you wrote it anyway, because it’s time the silence ended. Impotence doesn’t have to be shameful or traumatic, but for many it still is. I want to testify as your wife that being impotent has not diminished our sexual intimacy in any way. In fact, we’re having the best sex of our lives!

2 hands making heart around setting sun

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter!