I got an email from a reader, I’ll call him Jonathan, who wants my help with an issue. Instead of answering him privately he agreed that we could post the question and my thoughts here in a public venue.
My disclaimer: I am not a sex therapist or a medical expert. I am a 58-year-old woman with some experience, both personal and researched, about dating, sex and sexuality for older individuals. The ‘advice’ I offer is just one woman’s opinion.
Sex is complicated. As we age we bring the good and bad, the fears, real and imagined, issues with body image, and our sexual dysfunctions to the bedroom. Whether you’re married or single, male or female, there will come a moment when you will have to face sexually-related problems. And, as part of a couple, you will have to work together to find a mutually satisfying solution. Lack of desire, erectile issues and/or menopausal-related symptoms may affect your sex life at some point And, the best preparation is to begin talking openly with your partner about your needs, desires, problems and hopes about sexuality.
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I am 56 and have been divorced now going on a year. On the dating site I joined, there seem to be quite a few very nice ladies that I would be interested in pursuing. But I have a concern. I have had ED for maybe two years that is very likely medication related. However, I just saw a urologist who told me that his patients reported 93% satisfaction with penile implant surgery.
I am looking into the costs this week, and plan to do this surgery as soon as possible.
My concerns are twofold: (1). I am unsure whether to start dating (at all) with this ED still very present. I know that for many women (and rightly so), it is a deal breaker if a potential mate cannot penetrate. (2) If I did start dating before surgery (problem still present), how soon in getting to know someone might be prudent to discuss this with issue?
BTW, I have tried all the pills.
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You’re really asking two questions. How soon do I share personal details with someone I’m dating? And, how do I talk about my erectile dysfunction with a woman?
I’m only going to address the ED issue here and (forgive me for making this complicated) talk about the sharing of details on The Diva of Dating, in a few days. It’s a more general question that will be useful for anyone in the dating process. However, I will say that you want to have a certain level of comfort with a woman before you delve into this kind of personal detail. You want to know that your date/partner will treat you with respect and delicacy when you’re sharing something so deeply personal.
So, let’s talk about sex and dysfunction and relationships between a man and a woman.
First of all–men are all about the penis. Women, ehhh, not so much so. The power to satisfy a woman sexually and romantically does not lie, exclusively, in an erect penis! Sorry to disappoint anyone. But most women achieve orgasm through clitoral stimulation typically with oral stimulation, fingers and/or with sex toys. We don’t always need an erection to be sexually satisfied but we may enjoy it and we know how important it is to you…so we ‘talk it up’, so to speak.
I don’t know that the inability to get an erection is a deal breaker for women over the age of 50? Sex has traditionally been thought of in terms of male penetration. And, we’re used to assuming that men get erections and naturally want intercourse. But with age, erections become less certain or can stop happening all together. That means we have to rethink our concept of ‘normal’ sexual activity and find new ways to experience intimacy.
Dealing with erectile dysfunction, regardless of the severity, requires both parties to be comfortable talking about their sexual needs and their issues. It means your partner needs to care enough about you and the relationship to help create the kind of sexual connection that pleases both of you.
Jonathan, if you meet a woman who develops feelings for you and the two of you begin developing a strong bond, she should be willing to work with you on this. The two of you can talk about the physical limitations and come up with creative and satisfying alternatives. You can turn to books, erotic movies, sex toys or sex therapy as tools for developing a mutually satisfying sex life. I would not automatically assume that women won’t be interested in you just because you can’t get an erection.
You say you’ve tried the pills and are now considering the penile implant. Is this because it’s what you want? Or is it because you think you can’t find a woman who wants you unless you can get an erection? You should think about that one as you make the decision to have surgery. I assume you’re looked at every possible reason for your difficulties? You mention medications you’re taking and the lack of success with erectile meds. I don’t want to pry, but are you having difficulties when initiating sex with a woman (as opposed to masturbation)? And, if yes, might there be reasons that are more about the quality of the relationship than your physical abilities? Does she arouse you? Are you having a good connection in and out of the bed, when the erection issue isn’t present?
Would it be easier if you got into a relationship first, then approached surgery and your new sexual life together? I don’t know the answer; hopefully the questions will be useful for you in thinking about what’s going on. And, they may not. I’m not automatically assuming that your Urologist is addressing these issues or even knows how to tease out the answers unless he’s had some training in sexuality.
Let me offer you a few general resources relating to sex. First of all, Joan Price is a writer and blogger who writes and lectures about sexuality and older adults. Her blog, Better Than I Ever Expected, while focused on the over 60 crowd, is full of sound advice for any older individual with questions about sexuality in general. Specifically, this article, Erectile Dysfunction:Michael Castleman Talks to Men,might be useful.
Here are two books I own and highly recommend:
Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex by Joan Price
She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman by Ian Kerner (the author suffered ED issues and wanted to be able to satisfy his wife in other ways).
As you can see I haven’t really given you a direct, specific answer. There are no easy answers. But, I do think that the right woman for you is the one who understands the complexity of your situation and is willing to stick with you. If she can’t see past the immediate issue, then she doesn’t deserve you. At our age we have to be realistic about the aging process and it’s impact on the total relationship, not just the sexual component.
I hope that I’ve been able to help you figure out to how to proceed. Feel free to respond via email or use an anonymous name and comment here on the blog.
I want you to know that I admire you for reaching out for assistance. You are not alone, I’m sure there are many men in your situation and many women with a partner who has similar difficulties and concerns.