Dealing with erectile dysfunction in a relationship


Editorial Team


July 4, 2021

couple embracing smiling on porch after dealing with erectile dysfunction in their relationship
Erectile dysfunction can be hard on your intimate relationship(s), but there are ways to foster connection even when ED is present.

For most people in an intimate relationship, sex is a meaningful way to deepen your connection. But the pleasure and satisfaction of sex can seem to disappear if you or your partner experiences erectile dysfunction (ED). But don’t panic—let’s look at how to deal with erectile dysfunction in a relationship.

For people with anxiety and depression, purposefully engaging in pleasurable activities can improve mental health.
Erectile dysfunction can be hard on your intimate relationship(s), but there are ways to foster connection even when ED is present.

For most people in an intimate relationship, sex is a meaningful way to deepen your connection. But the pleasure and satisfaction of sex can seem to disappear if you or your partner experiences erectile dysfunction (ED). But don’t panic—let’s look at how to deal with erectile dysfunction in a relationship.

What causes erectile dysfunction (ED)?

Most men will experience ED at some point in their life, but it doesn’t necessarily point to a clinical disorder. For many, it’s situational and episodic. It’s essential to understand what causes ED since this is the first step to managing it.

ED, which is defined by the inability to achieve or maintain an erection, occurs when blood flow to the penis is constricted or cut off. It can be caused by various factors typically related to physical, psychological, or lifestyle issues.

Common physical causes of ED include:

Psychological causes may be:

Lifestyle causes of ED include:

It’s not uncommon for multiple factors to be at play when it comes to ED. It’s possible to be a combination of physical and psychological influences, as well as lifestyle issues.

If you’ve been diagnosed with a health condition like ED, anxiety is an understandable response. But erectile dysfunction doesn’t mean you’ll never have satisfying sex again. It just means you might need to take a multidimensional approach to manage it.

Learn more about premature ejaculation here.

Dealing with erectile dysfunction in a relationship

If you’re in a relationship with someone experiencing ED, both people can be negatively affected. That’s why it’s a good idea to attend to the issue together. There are two main approaches when it comes to addressing ED with your partner—emotional and physical.

The emotional tips can help foster intimacy and closeness as you navigate this issue together. The physical tips can help make sex play feel more fun, open, and lighthearted. But it’s when these two approaches are combined that people tend to experience the most positive outcomes.

Tips for emotional intimacy

Whether you’re dealing with erectile dysfunction in a new relationship or a marriage, these tips can help you address ED as a team:


Talking about the issues is a great place to start. Silence can lead to shame, confusion, and false assumptions. Plus, talking about the issue may help the person experiencing erectile dysfunction get to the root of the issue. And it can help assure the partner that it’s not a reflection of their attractiveness or desirability.

Share authentically

While discussing the situation may be difficult, many people find that vulnerability builds intimacy and, in turn, can actually strengthen the relationship. As long as you feel emotionally safe with your partner, try to be honest about your feelings and fears.

Focus on pleasure

Shift the focus from performance to pleasure. Expand your definition of sex to include more than just intercourse. Oral and manual stimulation, as well as the use of toys, can be just as much fun.

Be playful

If you lose your erection, the fun doesn’t have to stop. Stay connected and move onto other forms of enjoyment. One of the worst things you could do is roll over and lay back-to-back stewing in shame and disappointment. This will only reinforce ED by connecting sexual play with negative emotions.

Shift your attitude

If you remove expectations and approach sex with a playful and open attitude, there’s less opportunity for failure or disappointment.

Tips for physical intimacy

But there are other ways to deal with erectile dysfunction in a relationship. These exercises can help you and your partner enjoy sex play, even when ED is present.

Sensate focus

Being overly focused on “successful” intercourse can create pressure to perform, which causes sexual performance anxiety. As a result of this kind of anxiety, your sexual functioning actually shuts down.

That’s why taking the focus off intercourse can reduce anxiety and teach you and your partner to enjoy other forms of pleasure. The clinical term for this approach is sensate focus or sensate focus therapy.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Start by slowly undressing each other.
  • Take turns being the giver and the receiver. The person who is the receiver will lie on their back for 15 minutes and then switch to their stomach for 15 minutes. The giver moves their hands over the other’s body, slowly pleasuring them with long flowing caresses.
  • Focus on sensuality. Rather than giving a massage, which focuses on rejuvenating and relaxing muscles, think of it as sensual surface gliding. The giver should avoid stimulating the genitals. And the receiver should focus on experiencing the physical pleasure of being touched.
  • Switch roles. After 30 minutes, switch from being the giver to the receiver. Communicate with each other about the speed and pressure.
  • Repeat. Engage in this exercise a few times a week until you feel you have mastered the technique. Eventually, you can add genital stimulation.

Hard to soft

For some men, the sight of their flaccid penis during sex can produce anxiety and further inhibit the ability to achieve or maintain an erection. But it’s not unusual for a penis to move through various stages of rigidity during sexual play.

This exercise allows you to get used to the sensation and visuals of having your penis go from hard to soft.

During solo masturbation, work yourself up to an erection, and then let your penis go flaccid. Repeat this 3 times. Eventually, you can allow your partner to join you in the activity. You’ll both learn that a soft penis isn’t a problem and doesn’t need to cause anxiety.

Deep breathing

ED can be caused by anxiety, but it can also lead to more anxiety. In fact, extreme anxiety can actually override the effects of ED drugs, like Viagra and Cialis.

But using breathing exercises can calm anxiety symptoms and restore blood flow to your penis. You can also try these relaxing exercises to reduce anxiety when you’re intimate with your partner. You may even decide to start other sex play exercises with some physical relation techniques.

Learn more about premature ejaculation here.

Getting a little more help

Many couples find that couples or sex therapy can help make these tips feel more accessible. These therapies can help encourage positive mental health while helping you and your partner approach sex play in ways that feel good for both of you.

If you’re wondering about how to deal with erectile dysfunction in a marriage or long-term partnership, some extra help can have a significant impact.

Psychotherapy, especially cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is an effective intervention for ED caused by psychological or emotional factors. Therapy may include psychosexual education, relationship skills building, working through past traumas, as well as challenging negative thinking and narratives.

ED drugs such as ViagraCialis, and Levitra are also highly effective and the most well-known intervention. These meds work by increasing blood flow to the penis, but you’ll need to be sexually aroused for the drugs to work.

Talk with a clinician now to see if ED drugs could be right for you.

Living with erectile dysfunction

If you or your loved one are experiencing ED, it doesn’t negatively impact your relationship or sex life. There are multiple ways to approach treatment, and you’re likely to find something that helps if you keep an open mind.

As part of addressing the issue, you may have questions. Here’s a common one: how long can the average man stay erect? Erections vary depending on multiple factors and typically last anywhere from a few minutes to a half-hour.

That being said, an erection is not the sole indicator of pleasure and arousal. Remember, your brain is your biggest sex organ!

Sexual intimacy is more than just a hard penis. It’s about connection, playfulness, emotional intimacy, and pleasure. Approaching the issue with emotional and physical techniques, plus a playful sense of humor goes a long way.


  • Want to learn how to deal with erectile dysfunction in a relationship? Start by communicating openly and compassionately with your partner about ED.
  • You can try emotional and physical techniques to foster intimacy and connection in your intimate relationship.
  • ED is very treatable, so if you’re open-minded and persistent, there’s a good chance you’ll find something that helps.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. (2019). Erectile dysfunction.
  2. Harvard Health Publishing. (N.D.) Erectile dysfunction.
  3. Harvard Health Publishing. (2020). Which drug for erectile dysfunction?
  4. Mayo Clinic. (2021). Erectile dysfunction.
  5. Myers & Smith (2019). Pelvic floor muscle training improves erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation: A systematic review.
  6. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Diabetes and Men.
  7. Lamina et al. (2011). Effects of aerobic exercise in the management of erectile dysfunction: a meta-analysis study on randomized controlled trials
  8. Maiorino et al. (2015). Lifestyle modifications and erectile dysfunction: what can be expected?
  9. Selvin et. al.  (2007). Prevalence and Risk Factors for Erectile Dysfunction in the US.
  10. Shamloul & Ghanem (2013). Erectile dysfunction


Editorial Team


July 4, 2021

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment or medication.