Today we’re concluding a 3-part series on sexual dysfunction in marriage, and today we’re going to wrap it up by talking about ED in marriage–and how to keep your sex life alive.
We talked on Monday about the different causes of ED (erectile dysfunction), and how to deal with them. And yesterday we tackled premature ejaculation and delayed ejaculation. We looked at how porn was often, though not always, the underlying cause of ED and other problems.
But what about when porn isn’t the problem? What about when it is a physical issue, and it doesn’t look like there’s an end in sight?
Here’s an email I received from one woman, for instance:
ED has been an ongoing health issue for my husband for years. It happened gradually, but now we never have sex. Of course that has left a huge void in our marriage. But we’ve been together 29 years, so it’s not a deal breaker either. He’s seen a doctor who found an enlarged prostate, and he takes meds for that. The other stuff to enhance erections are not covered by our insurance, and we can’t afford the out of pocket expenses. He’s also very sensitive to some meds and does not like the long string of side effects that can happen from those.
So how has that affected our relationship? “There is other intimacy you can have,” you say? Well, when a man loses his ability to perform sex, he also gradually loses his other intimacy practices. i.e., playful touch, hugging, flirting — basically anything that might lead to sex. It’s disappointing to us both — we talk about it rarely — it’s hurtful. I get resentful sometimes that he won’t knock down the doors of every medical institution to “get it fixed,” like I imagine he should want to. But the truth is, that even with couples who still have a healthy sex life, it takes work, and sometimes planning to make that time happen. It’s easier to skip because you are too tired or whatever so you get content not having sex. Same thing for us, only it’s because it’s too hurtful to try and disappoint. I feel like we’ve settled.
Am I happy with the sexless part? Not at all. Do I Iove my husband? Dearly!
I still have hope that one day God will restore this part of our marriage. But I’ve accepted that He might not as well.
What do you do when ED, or other sexual dysfunction, is a physical problem, but you don’t want the sexual side of your relationship to end? You do want to feel intimate. You do want to feel pleasure. You want to be able to laugh again without this BIG THING between you–this feeling like you’re distant, and you’re settling, and things will never be totally good again.
I want to give just a few thoughts today, and hope that others who have gone through something similar will chime in, too. I’m not going to talk about how to cure ED today, since I talked about that on Monday. I want to just talk about how to revive your sex life even if things still aren’t working like clockwork.
Acknowledge that He is Grieving about His ED
If your husband can no longer have intercourse, chances are he’s really grieving. A huge part of his life–what many would say is the most important part–seems gone. Let him air these feelings without having to fix them. Now is not the time to say, “but we can still do X…” Just let him vent. And hold him. And tell him, “I will always love you, and we will get through this, and we will find our way.”
But let him grieve.
You Need to Be Able to Communicate About the Sexual Dysfunction and what it Means
That being said, you can’t stay in the grieving process. You have to move on, and you have to find your way through towards a new kind of intimacy.
Now, you aren’t going to be able to do anything if you can’t first talk about the issue. So the question isn’t really “how can we save our sex life if he has ED”, but rather, “how can we keep talking about our sex life if he has ED, and not ignore the elephant in the room?”
Here’s some general guidelines for keeping these lines of communication open. And these suggestions build on each other–as in do #1 before #3.
1. Laugh everyday. Do things together OUTSIDE the bedroom and work on your friendship.
2. Find other hobbies to do together so that you still feel like a unit.
3. When you talk about wanting a sex life, stress that you want intimacy, not intercourse. Stress that you do not think he is a failure or that you want him to be different; the issue is simply that you don’t want to lose what you still can have. Your life is simply different, but your relationship can still grow.
For more ideas you can see my post here about how to talk to your husband if he has no libido, since the issues are actually quite similar.
See Sex as More Than Intercourse
Sex is about being intimate together. It’s about becoming one flesh. It’s about sharing something with one person that you don’t share with anybody else. It’s about becoming open and vulnerable together.
And you can do all of those things without intercourse.
Obviously intercourse is the culmination of this, and when health problems aren’t a factor, I would never recommend giving up intercourse. But if intercourse just doesn’t work, that doesn’t mean that you have to stop being sexual beings.
Sex can be about being naked together; sex can be about doing full body massages with massage oil, switching places. Sex can be about taking baths together and talking about your dreams for the future. Sex can be about deep kisses.
Talk to him about how you still want these things in your life. Our letter writer wrote that when ED hits, it’s not just sex that she loses. It’s kissing and touching and affection, and it doesn’t have to be this way. Let him know that you still want to touch him. Again, acknowledge his grief, and tell him you’re grieving, too. But you’ve lost intercourse. You’re not willing to lose everything else, too.
Do What You Can Despite the ED
Some men have intermittent ED, where it works sometimes and it doesn’t work others. Or perhaps he suffers from premature ejaculation where he doesn’t like to have to sex often because he’s afraid he won’t perform well. Agree that you will do what you can–meaning you’ll have intercourse when it works, and when it doesn’t, that’s okay. But it’s not a PASS/FAIL system. Don’t think of each sexual encounter being about orgasm; think about it being about pleasure. See how much pleasure you can give each other, whether or not you come to orgasm.
In fact, start talking about it that way. Instead of, “can we make love tonight?”, or “can we have sex tonight?”, let’s say, “can we feel good together tonight?”
If he honestly can never reach an orgasm, he may be reluctant to do anything sexual. But you can ask him to help you feel good anyway, and see if you can help him feel pleasure when he can. And remember–you can still massage and kiss and feel close. If an encounter doesn’t go the way you had hoped it would, don’t get upset, just go with the flow. It’s really okay. Yes, you’re missing something you once enjoyed, but you still have your husband. You can be sexual without intercourse. Be grateful for what you do have, and think positive things, instead of casting a negative pall over the marriage.
Schedule Your Sexual Times
The default when sexual dysfunction like ED hits your marriage is to cut way back on sex. He doesn’t even want to try. And then when you initiate sex, he may turn you down. You feel rejected, and he feels like a failure, and you don’t want to keep bringing up those feelings, so you stop initiating. Yet every night, there’s that unspoken question, “should we try anything?” Even if nothing is said, it’s there, between you. And you feel it every time you roll over and turn your back to him as you go to sleep.
One way around this that works well for some couples is to schedule sex. It isn’t necessarily the time that you have intercourse; it’s the time that you spend together naked, massaging, feeling whatever pleasure you can, kissing, and just dreaming and talking together in bed.
I firmly suggest, as forcefully as I can, that shortly after the diagnosis of some sort of sexual dysfunction (with a physical cause), that you agree that at least once a week you will have a “sexual night”. Make it regular, like every Tuesday or every Saturday, and don’t change it except in extreme circumstances. That way you both know what to expect, you don’t feel rejected and nervous and on edge all the other nights of the week (because you do know what’s coming), and he can start anticipating things so that he can also get in the right frame of mind.
Now, this isn’t going to work if you can’t talk about things, which is why it’s so important to work first on communicating. I realize that many people will say, “my husband just won’t do this”, because he feels so much like a failure he’d rather shut down completely than be reminded of what he’s missing. But that’s not a good solution, and couples would be better off if they saw this. So I’d keep at it–keep praying, keep talking to your husband, keep laughing, and keep communicating, stressing intimacy and pleasure, not intercourse. Don’t give up. See a counselor if you have to. But intimacy is still possible, and is so important in your marriage. Don’t write it off just because sex doesn’t work like it once did.
I’d love to know: how is this working in your marriage? How have you find talking to your husband about this? Have you found ways around it? Let me know in the comments!