DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I am not sure how to address this problem and I am hoping that you can offer guidance.
I am a single retired male in my 60s. I live alone and have never been married. I would like to date and I would like to be in a relationship. However, sexually ….. I am not able. No, not even with blue pills.
So my question is at what point in a relationship should I bring up this topic? Certainly not when I am introduced, certainly not after we are married.
I want very much to be in a committed long term romantic relationship. I would feel very uncomfortable getting deep enough into a relationship that sex is about to happen, and then stop and explain and apologize and leave her unsatisfied and confused and probable angry at me.
I don’t know how or when to bring this up. It is stopping me from even trying to find someone and I am here by myself unhappily alone.
Your advice would be appreciated.
Thank you very much.
Lacking Important Marital Possibility
DEAR LACKING IMPORTANT MARITAL POSSIBILITY: Erectile dysfunction can be a motherf
ker, LIMP, not going to lie. One of the toxic tropes about manhood and masculinity is that men are satyrs, ready to bang at the drop of a hat. We’re supposed to be so continually hornt that a strong breeze is enough to get us harder than Chinese trigonometry, ready to go with absolutely no warning. So when you don’t, or can’t, rise to the occasion, it can feel like a direct assault on your identity as a man. It can screw with your sense of self-esteem, your belief in your value as a man and even make you feel as though love, dating and relationships are simply not in the cards.
What we rarely talk about is not just how common erectile dysfunction can be, but how easily it can be triggered. Dicks are like Pavarotti: if things aren’t perfect, they often don’t want to perform as expected, and the things that can affect a person’s erections are vast and varied. Alcohol is the most obvious — damn near everyone has either heard of or experienced the dreaded “whiskey dick” phenomenon before. Stress is another potential boner-killer. So too are issues with blood pressure, weight gain, cigarette smoking, hormone imbalances, prostate issues and a large number of commonly prescribed medications.
In your case, LIMP, if medication like Viagra or Cialis can’t resolve the issue, then it’s likely that you have structural problem. It might be a case of damage to the spongy tissues around the penis, an inability to get sufficient blood flow to cause and maintain an erection, even prostate surgery. This doesn’t necessarily mean that erections are permanently off the table, ranging from using a cock-ring to keep the blood flow from leaving the tissue in your penis to surgical implants — all options that you would have to discuss with a urologist, not a loudmouth with an advice column. However, the fact that you can’t get an erection doesn’t mean that sex and relationships are off the table for you. After all, plenty of folks without penises — men and women — have loving, fulfilling and sexually active relationships… and you can too. Yes, even if erections are physically impossible for you.
The first step is to adjust your ideas around sex. You, like a lot of folks, are equating sex with penetrative intercourse — particularly penis-in-vagina penetration. While this is the most commonly accepted definition of sex, it’s also the most limiting. Sex, especially good sex, is far more about “Insert tab-A into slot-b, repeat”. In fact, penetration is often the least effective way to please a female partner; less than a third of women can reach orgasm through vaginal penetration and 45% of women can’t orgasm from vaginal sex at all. This is no small part of why fewer than 2/3rds of hetero or bi women achieve orgasm via penetrative sex, while 98% of straight, cis-gendered men do. Taking the emphasis off penetration on the other hand, changes the equation entirely; 88% of women who sleep with other women reach orgasm regularly. The difference is that in those encounters, there’s an emphasis on foreplay, deep full kissing, manual stimulation and oral sex… all things that you’re perfectly capable of providing, LIMP. If you’ve got a mouth, hands, a can-do attitude and a willingness to follow directions, you’ve got everything that you need to be an incredible lover for any of the women you ever date.
And penetrative sex isn’t necessarily off the table either. You may not be able to achieve penetration with your biological penis, LIMP, but there are plenty of substitutes out there that you can employ instead. Sex toys — starting with simple vibrators and dildos — can provide the penetrative sex that your partner may want. And if you both want that old-school sensation of body-to-body thrusting, there’re harnesses designed for men that let you situate a strap-on toy over your groin; put that sucker on and you don’t just have a cock that’ll never go soft on you, you can custom-fit it to the needs of the evening. Does your partner want something long and girthy for that “incredibly full sensation”? Those are available. Does she want something designed to stimulate her clitoris during penetration? Those are ready and waiting for you. Hell, you can even get crazy, non-human toys from companies like Bad Dragon in case you and your lady friend feel like getting a little freaky.
Nor does your inability to achieve erection mean that YOU can’t have orgasms either. Digital stimulation of the prostate gland — whether with a well-lubed finger or a prostate massager — can help you reach orgasm and ejaculation, even if you can’t physically have an erection. Plus, there are toys like the Pulse Solo or Duo, which are designed to be used with a flaccid penis; they use vibrations to stimulate the frenulum on the underside of the penis. The Duo even comes with a remote control, allowing your partner to be directly involved with your orgasm.
And while we’ve focused on how sex isn’t an impossibility for you, there are people who have romantic relationships without sex. Many people, especially older couples, have companionate marriages; their relationships are about love and companionship and emotional intimacy, but don’t have a sexual connection. These are a perfectly valid and satisfactory relationship model for more people than you’d realize. They might have an open marriage, where one or both parties are allowed to seek outside sex partners, or one or both partners may fall on the asexual spectrum and simply aren’t interested in sex. Asexual women do exist, after all, and many of them despair of finding love, companionship and marriage because they don’t want or like sex.
But regardless of the options that work best for you and your needs, none of this can happen without your using your words first. You’re going to need to be willing to talk with your potential partners about what you do and don’t have to offer, what you need and what you can provide them. The ideal time is going to depend on the relationship and the person involved. This isn’t a conversation that I would roll out on the first date, but it’s not one I would necessarily hesitate on. My rule of thumb would be that you would want to have a couple of dates first before bringing up the subject. This gives you and your date an opportunity to get to know each other, decide if you have sufficient chemistry and interest and, importantly, decide if this is a relationship you even want to pursue in the first place.
If you both decide this is something you’d want to pursue, that’s when you have The Awkward Conversation. Schedule a time for the two of you to get together in person, when you won’t be interrupted, then sit down and explain your situation in a calm and matter-of-fact manner. Tell her exactly what’s going on — you’re not capable of having erections — but also what you can do, the kinds of sex you can have and enjoy having. Then give her a chance to share her side. Let her ask questions, share what her needs, must-haves and boundaries are… then move forward from there.
What you don’t want to do is roll this out as though you were broken or to treat this as something shameful or a deep dark secret. The fact that you can’t have erections isn’t something to be embarrassed about, nor is it the totality of who you are as a person. It’s just a single fact, a datum in the constellation of you as a hollistic man. If any potential partner finds that one thing about you to be a dealbreaker, then all that’s happened is that she’s proven to be someone who simply isn’t right for you. She’s self-selected out of your dating pool and now you’re free to find someone who is a good match for you.
Oh, and one more thing, LIMP: I think it might not be a bad idea for you to seek out an escort or sexual surrogate. Visiting a sex worker or surrogate who are experienced in non-penetrative sex can help you get in touch with the kinds of sexual experiences that you enjoy and would want to have with your future partner. Having a good understanding of what you want or enjoy makes it easier to share your needs with the women you want to date. Being able to walk them through what sex with you would look like from a position of experience can help make that conversation easier. It’s a little less intimidating if your partner can say “here’s exactly how we can do X, Y or Z” instead of worrying that you’re going to have to try to make it up as you go.
I realize it can feel overwhelming or hopeless, but you have far more options and opportunities than you realize. There are some amazing adventures and relationships waiting for you, LIMP; all you have to do is reach out for them.
You’ve got this.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org