What goes down will go up

By Anna Potter

Virtually every woman I know, myself included, has dealt with a man who, at one time or another, has suffered from erectile dysfunction, and boy, can it put a damper on things.

What's a woman to think when a guy loses his erection, or can't muster one to begin with, especially when he swears this has never happened before? How's that supposed to make us feel? It's hard not to take it personally, after all, many women pride themselves on their desirability and sexual prowess, and we assume that a loss of erection must be a reflection of how our partner views us. In this sense, the male erection is a sort of sexual mirror in which we judge ourselves. It goes a little something like this: you're hard, we feel hot; you're not so hard, we feel not so hot.

However, as sex therapist Ian Kerner reiterates, many women incorrectly view the male erection as an overall representation of his level of desire. In reality, a man might be totally into his partner, but suffering from a myriad of other problems, whether it be stress, fatigue, stage fright or even a side effect from medication. Interestingly, when a guy suffers from premature ejaculation, many women will take it as a compliment. "He's so into me, he can't hold back," we think, and when a guy suffers from erectile disorder, it's the opposite: "He must not find me attractive."

But, in most cases, neither is true. "Erectile/orgasm issues generally have a cause," Kerner says. "And that cause is usually not the person they're having sex with."

So how does a man clue her into this?

Easy, tell her! More than anything, it's the guy's responsibility to let his lady know that she isn't to blame. Believe me, I know it's awkward and embarrassing, and I've been on the receiving end of that conversation. And let me assure you, our hearts go out to you guys. After all, when a woman has an arousal issue in the heat of the moment, she can usually hide it and even fake her way through the sex in order to spare the feelings of her partner (not that I'm advocating faking it, but most of us have done it at one time or another, and very often when we fake it, it has nothing to do with you or the quality of the sex, which is why we want to spare your feelings in the first place).

But with men, everything is so darn visible and so, well, up front and naked. We know it isn't easy being a guy and having to live up to all those porn-star standards, so don't go squander all of our goodwill and sympathy by trying to turn the tables on us and act like it's our fault when things go south. Instead, let's just be real and honest and human about the whole thing.

So here's the big takeaway: Never, ever, under any circumstances, make her feel like she did something to cause or deserve the sudden downturn in your below-the-belt activity. Even if you don't know what to say, don't lash out or put it on us. I've even had friends tell me that some guys, in order to offset their own embarrassment, will make disparaging comments about their partner's bodies. Talk about making a bad situation way worse. Not only did you lose your erection, but you went and called us unattractive or damaged! The same way that you'd ideally love for her to be understanding and sympathetic, mirror that and give back the same empathy. Don't add stress to an already stressful situation.

Also, avoid using phrases like "this never happens" or "you're the first person this has happened with." Even if this is true and she is the unlucky receiver of your first brush with erectile disorder, keep the comments neutral. If you're polite, and sincere and convince her it's nothing she did, you'll probably be surprised at her level of forgiveness and how open she'll be to you both fixing this problem together.

On the bright side, while a lack of erection puts a damper on intercourse, use this as an opportunity to re-ignite the fun of kissing, touching and foreplay. Say something like, "I'm sorry. Sometimes this happens. Maybe I'm a little nervous or I have a lot on my mind." Or "it's those darn SSRIs." Something that someone told me once was, "I feel so nervous to be with such an amazing woman, that I can't get it up." I was more flattered than anything, and you can sure bet that I was willing to wait it out and work with him on making sure he felt comfortable.

One thing I've learned is that when a woman detects that a man is losing his erection, she'll sometimes, in response, work all the harder to keep things going, and this could add a lot of pressure. Maybe we both just need a little breather.

So let's just count to three, touch each other a little, and start fresh.

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