Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/2/2022
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common sexual performance issue in which a man might struggle to get or maintain an erection that’s firm enough for sex.
Although ED is often thought of as something that primarily affects older men, it actually occurs in men of all ages. In fact, research suggests that around 40 percent of men are affected by ED by the time they reach 40 years of age.
If your boyfriend, husband or sexual partner is affected by erectile dysfunction, discussing it can feel really, really difficult.
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 that he’s not only aware of them, but also worried about their potential effects on your relationship.
The good news is that ED is treatable, and by discussing it with your partner in the right way, it’s possible to overcome the issue together and enjoy a satisfying, fulfilling sex life.
Below, we’ve explained how. We’ve also covered important topics such as why ED happens (it’s almost never your fault, just so you know), which habits can increase a man’s risk of ED and the steps that you can take together to treat it as a couple.
Before we get into the specifics of talking about erectile dysfunction with your partner, let’s take a minute to go over the basics of what ED actually is.
When most people hear the words “erectile dysfunction,” they picture a man who is completely unable to get an erection. While this does describe ED in some situations, the reality is that ED can vary in severity from mild to much more severe.
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. Others find it easy to get an erection but difficult to maintain it for long enough to have satisfying sex with their partner.
For some guys, ED is a long-term issue that affects them for years at a time. For others, it’s an occasional problem that comes and goes.
Put more simply, the term “erectile dysfunction” applies whenever a man is unable to develop or maintain an erection that’s firm enough to have satisfying, fulfilling penetrative sex.
One important 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.
Erectile dysfunction can occur for a variety of reasons, from physical medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease to psychological issues such as depression or anxiety.
Common physical causes of ED include heart disease, atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), chronic kidney disease and injuries that affect the penis and surrounding areas of the body.
These issues can cause or worsen ED by harming blood vessels and affecting blood flow to the penis, affecting nerve function or both.
Common psychological causes of ED include anxiety, depression and feelings of guilt about sex or sexual performance. For some guys, issues such as low self-esteem and ongoing stress can make it more difficult to get and stay hard.
Sometimes, ED is caused by health-related behaviors, such as using some types of medication or practicing certain habits.
For example, some antiandrogens, antidepressants and types of blood pressure medication can cause or worsen erectile dysfunction. Some habits, such as smoking, drinking lots of alcohol or being overweight can also increase a man’s risk of developing ED.
Our guide to the causes of erectile dysfunction discusses these factors and their effects on male sexual function in more detail.
If your intimate partner is experiencing erectile dysfunction, reaching out to provide support can be a really, really helpful decision. However, there’s something of an art to supporting a partner with ED without making the process uncomfortable.
Use the following tips and tactics to bring up erectile dysfunction with your partner and focus the conversation on making progress.
Talking to your partner about ED can feel daunting. The key is to be open, supportive and bring up the subject sensitively and carefully.
Are guys embarrassed when they can t get it up? If you’re struggling to find the right words to broach the subject, you might find it helpful to begin by acknowledging that the subject is a little embarrassing -- it may help to break the ice.
Let them know that 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 their ED.
Because talking about erectile dysfunction isn’t very common, many guys aren’t aware of just how widespread ED is amongst men of all ages.
If your partner feels embarrassed about ED, one way to make the situation less awkward is to let them know how common erection issues are. Point out that ED occurs in tens of millions of men in the US alone, and likely hundreds of millions worldwide.
Put simply, make them feel less alone. Letting your partner know that ED is both common and normal can make it easier for the two of you to acknowledge the issue and change your focus towards taking action.
Erectile dysfunction can be a sensitive subject, and there are a few things that you should try to avoid while discussing it with your partner. Use the following tips to focus your conversations on making progress, not assigning blame:
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 that you can work towards a solution together.
Don’t blame your partner for their erectile dysfunction. 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.
Do ask your partner how you can help. When ED occurs in a relationship, it becomes an issue that you can solve as a couple. Let your partner know that you’re happy to help them and ask if there’s anything you can do to make things better.
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. ED medications like sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®) and others are highly effective at improving sexual function, but many men are hesitant to try them.
One reason is that lots of guys associate ED drugs with older men and have concerns about the way their partners might react.
If your partner brings up the topic of ED medications, let them know that 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 that you support them if they choose to use medication can have a big impact. For many men, your approval might help them to get over a mental hurdle that previously stood in the way of seeking treatment.
Although erectile dysfunction can be a frustrating issue to deal with in the short term, the good news is that it’s almost always treatable.
Once your partner has decided 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 that specializes 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.
In order 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 that your partner’s symptoms are caused by a physical issue, they may ask them to take a blood test.
Blood testing can help to uncover “hidden” physical causes of ED, such as diabetes, clogged arteries and/or testosterone deficiency (low testosterone levels).
Other types of testing, such as Doppler ultrasound imaging, can detect cardiovascular issues that can cause or worsen ED, such as poor blood circulation inside the penis.
Most of the time, ED is treated using medication. Common medications for ED include sildenafil (Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®), vardenafil (Levitra®) and avanafil (Stendra®).
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 to maintain a firm erection during sex.
All of these medications come in tablet form, making them easy for your partner to use 15 to 60 minutes before sex, depending upon the medication.
We offer several ED medications online, following a consultation with a healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
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 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.
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 to 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 more and provided actionable tips to make maintaining them an easier process in our guide to naturally protecting your erection.
Sexual intimacy is essential for a healthy, happy relationship, and few things can get in the way of it and contribute to relationship issues 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.
If your partner has ED, don’t feel afraid to help them. Use the tips and techniques above to talk to them about the problem, let them know that you care and provide them with the support and information they need to treat it.
With a supportive partner, most men will feel totally comfortable treating their ED and improving their sexual performance.
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 will 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.