Sex, ED, and the single midlife woman

A long-time reader asked me to address a sensitive, yet not uncommon midlife dating issue — middle-aged sex and erectile dysfunction.

He asks, “How do you handle an attempt at sex that doesn’t work? How do you decide if this is a man you want to continue to see or is this a red flag?”

Can we talk? We are adults so we’re going to use adult words.

There is lots written about Viagra and ED, but what I’ve read is mostly written for long-time partners where there is a strong bond and, one would hope, a willingness to discuss this sort of thing and find a solution that works for both parties.

However, in dating, even after dating a while, there may not be that bond. Which then complicates the matter.

Men, in my experience, equate their masculinity to their ability to satisfy their woman in bed. (Or at least to do what he thinks satisfies his woman, whether it actually does or not.) In fact, some women feel similarly — if a man can’t satisfy her in bed, he’s not fully a man, even if he takes care of the family financially, contributes equally to family chores, is active in family activities, and otherwise shows he’s an emotionally mature partner.

So a man’s ability to perform in bed takes on enormous weight — sometimes for both partners.

If he has some instances of ED there is more pressure. He knows he may not be able to get or keep an erection. He feels like a failure. He may blame the woman for not being sexy enough, or for not trying to arouse him, even though she has done her “job” in these areas previously. A beau broke up with me soon after his inability to perform. I got the impression he blamed me for this, even though I tried to be supportive.

So they go in search of the magic pill — this time a blue one. They think this will suddenly make him an unquenchable sex machine. After all the commercials say something about erections lasting more than 4 hours — “Think of all the fun we could have in 4 hours!” one or both of them fanaticize.

What they don’t know is that the blue pill works with some men and not others. A former beau told me he had ED and so we tried Viagra. Didn’t work. My beau felt like a horrible failure. It really affected his self-esteem.

Also, it’s expensive. The aforementioned DG reader said he bought a 10-pill prescription for $220! So it’s the price of a movie for the two of you. Not too bad, unless your $22 habit is every day and you are out of a job right now.

Both parties seem to expect miracles. One or both of them think he just pops it and within minutes he has his 19-year-old libido back. Well, it doesn’t increase desire. It doesn’t cause an erection. All it does is allow more blood to flow into the penis, but a man still needs to feel aroused. In many cases Viagra is needed simply because there has been vascular damage and blood flow is diminished.

Some men wonder if a women might think if he needs Viagra to have sex, he isn’t attracted to her. If a woman is astute, she understands the biology of the situation. If she isn’t, she may take it personally and feel he’s not into her enough for her to arouse him without the aid.

So what to do if you’re dating someone who isn’t able to perform? If you are connected enough to attempt the horizontal tango, you should be connected enough to talk about it sensitively and supportively. Tell him you know this is uncomfortable for most men and you wouldn’t mind at all experimenting with some pharmaceutical aid. If appropriate, offer to split the cost, although be careful as some men will find that adding insult to injury. So know your man before offering and don’t if you think he’ll be even more humiliated.

This would also be a great time to bring up your own needs, if you haven’t yet. Midlife women often need help to either get in the mood or make the experience more satisfying. Speak up so he knows he’s not the only one who could use some other aids.

This discussion will most likely bring you closer together. If it doesn’t and he gets defensive or goes poof, oh well. You’ve saved yourself from further involvement with a man who’s not emotionally mature enough to talk about solutions to issues around aging. You don’t want to spend another nanosecond of your precious time with someone like that.

Have you been in a relationship where ED was present? How did you and your partner discuss and deal with it? What worked and what didn’t?


Want to know what else you should know before venturing into midlife sex? Get your copy of From Fear to Frolic: Get Naked Without Getting Embarrassed.


11 responses to “Sex, ED, and the single midlife woman”

  1. Karen Avatar

    Most guys I’ve dated since my divorce have had bouts of ED–it comes with the territory, I think, unless you’re dating 20 year olds.

    When it shows up, it doesn’t bother my self esteem–because I already know the guy is turned on by me, because of other things he does and says. I don’t bother with men who only show their desire through their penis!

    My philosophy about how to deal with ED is, if it happens, I don’t make a big deal about it–I always tell him it’s cool and we keep on playing, and I show him there’s other ways he can satisfy me. Sometimes I say, “oh, I know, I guess we drank too much tonite” which makes most men feel more relaxed about it, because it is a great excuse whether it’s true or not. Basically I try to make the guy feel relaxed about in because in my experience ED is more common early on in a relationship–if he feels more relaxed in a few weeks it usually improves. Of course, it always happens some of the time to older men, I don’t expect to never encounter it in a lover.

    If the problem with ED continues I might ask a man if he’s on SSRIs like prozac or other antidepressants in that class (so many people are these days), and suggest that he might want to talk to his dr about a dosage change or a switch to an antidepressant that doesn’t have this side effect. (prozac and similar antidepressants are well known to cause ED). I might also inquire about his blood pressure or encourage him to go to a dr for a general checkup.

    I think I’d be OK if a dr prescribed viagra for a man I was with, but I’m not sure–I don’t think I’ve ever been with a man who used it. A 4 hr erection doesn’t sound all that great to me, actually. I like the ebbs and flows, the peaks and valleys, of unmedicated sex I guess–hard to imagine how it would be to have the physical signals unmoored from the mental side & feelings.

    Would I put up with profound ED long-term? Probably not in a man I was just getting to know–why sign on for that, you know? But I’m still young enough to date men in their early 50’s and this might change as I get older and start dating men who are older where this might be more common.

    If a long-term lover developed ED, I’d stick around and work around or through it–a relationship is more important than a particular type of sex–there are other ways to have sex and satisfy each other.

  2. Been here a while Avatar
    Been here a while

    I can’t help with the stated topic, but I can give some insight on the blue pill. There are 3 ED drugs. If one doesn’t work, try another. If you are willing to buy prescriptions from India, the price of the pill (when purchased 100 at a time) can get down to $1 to $2 per pill. To save a little more, buy the largest pill, and cut it with a pill cutter.

    I did not like Cialis because it worked too well. It fulfilled its name for being the “weekend pill”. It would be great if the intention is to spend the weekend in bed. It is not so great when you have fun on Saturday, but no one to play with on Sunday.

    With the benefits comes a headache (afterwards) for me. On occasion, I use Levitra for a “boost”, so cutting the pill gives the boost without the headache. I even cut the pill into 1/3. I tried 1/4, but it didn’t work for me.

    Where the “boost” is really helpful is for a quicker response, and for “keeping it going”. I have no problem with #1. Having the “boost” allows for continued fun.

    Another side effect is that it makes it harder to go over the edge. If you are expecting it, then you know to enjoy the journey, and not worry so much about the destination. You can have a lot of fun getting 90% there (and her as much fun as she wants), but the last 10% for the guy can be frustrating if that is his goal. Cutting the pill reduces that side effect too.

    It can also make for a harder … You could earn the nickname “woody”. I have read that some ladies may find it too hard. Combine that with the guy trying to reach the destination, can quickly make the event unpleasurable for the lady.

  3. Julie Avatar

    I read this and then asked my partner if he ever blamed me for his ED problem. He laughed and said, “no.”

    ED was present in my relationship from the beginning (2 years ago). But we managed and still went through a brief stage where we were doing it more often….Since we are both in our early 50’s, we both are aware of what can happen as one ages. About a year in to our dating, he also went through early stage prostate cancer. During that time he picked up some Viagra on his own. He has a couple of work buddies who have joked about the fact that they need Viagra, now. It imagine it helped him to feel OK about it for himself? Now I seem to be rapidly approaching the time where my monthly cycle is no more… so I have my own set of they typical issues associated with physical intimacy/menopause that I did not have at all a year ago!

    So, what worked in our situation is the fact that we both understand the facts associated with aging, ED, so no one blames or takes anything personally. It was an unspoken understanding, luckily.

  4. Aplu Avatar

    Yes I have, but we dealt with it in another way, we decided that having sex was everything in our relationship, so we left that part out. Our relationship has just blossomed from day to day. The thing is you both must be on the same page, otherwise it won’t work…

  5. Lisa Avatar

    As a Relationship Coach I am always surprised about how adults who are having sex still can’t actually talk about sex. I loved this article. Thank you for this great perspective on how to deal with a tough topic.

  6. Mark Avatar

    Karen wrote: “A 4 hr erection doesn’t sound all that great to me, actually. I like the ebbs and flows, the peaks and valleys, of unmedicated sex I guess–hard to imagine how it would be to have the physical signals unmoored from the mental side & feelings.”

    That’s a rare side effect. Viagra and other similar pills simply allow more blood to flow into the penis. They don’t increase desire or have any direct effect on libido.

    “Would I put up with profound ED long-term? Probably not in a man I was just getting to know–why sign on for that, you know? But I’m still young enough to date men in their early 50′s and this might change as I get older and start dating men who are older where this might be more common.”

    I suspect more men in their 50’s and even 40’s use these drugs from time to time than you realize. It’s not a black and white issue where a man absolutely can’t perform without aid. Many men with mild ED can achieve an erection without any aid, but viagra helps them achieve a better erection and the chance of not achieving is reduced.

    In other words, a man you could be seeing could be using one of these drugs and you would have no idea unless he told you.

    A completely separate middle-aged issue that affects both men and women is a lessening of desire. In men it may be due to declining levels of testosterone. In women, I dunno — I’ve heard that decreased desire isn’t uncommon after menopause, so again it may be hormonal.

    Anyway, decreased desire isn’t tied directly to ED, though it’s easy to see how ED can eventually result in decreased desire. I think sex can be a habit you get into or a habit you get out of.

  7. Suzanna Avatar

    I’ve just had a relationship finish entirely because of ED. The guy was lovely, but barely a year out of his marriage with a lot of issues from it. We went to bed once, and he experienced ED right from the start.

    I tried to explain – kindly, and several times, that sex doesn’t necessarily mean penetration – but he is just overwhelmed by what he sees as his ‘problem’ and finished with me some time later over the issue.

  8. Judith Avatar

    I had the most wonderful, caring, sexual relationship with a fabulous man for seven years. He had diabetes which effected his ability to have an erection. We have hands and mouths and other parts of our bodies. He knew how to satisfy me in every way. He was generous of spirit and very supportive. The only thing I could have asked for was more time with this loving, caring, sexy person. It has taken me most of this year to recover from the fact that he died the beginning of the year.

  9. Lisa Avatar

    I had a relationship with a guy in his 50s who had been on a break from dating during most of his 40s. I was his first sexual partner in a long time. He was not able to keep an erection — but he was really clueless about this being a symptom of ED. I tried to talk about this with him, but he brushed it off, pretending there was no issue. We would be having quite a mutually exciting time and then he’d go limp. I took it personally that he wasn’t willing to figure out (or admit) that the loss of his erection wasn’t about him or me (and he doesn’t drink). The relationship is now in the past.

  10. Lysa Avatar

    I’ve recently started dating a man who’s got ED. I can tell he’s embarrassed and doesn’t really want to talk about it. Says he’s “broken”, but I disagree. He’s wonderful in all ways and honestly, I don’t really care. There are other ways of love making that don’t include getting penetrated and he’s so awesome that it’s such a small thing to be worried about.

    I’m falling head over heels for this one. He’s everything I’ve ever dreamed about in a man. And we have intimacy that’s amazing…hugging, long periods of kissing, touching, caressing…and he makes sure I get as many orgasms as I want.

    When he gets back from his business trip, I’m going to talk to him more about it because I don’t want him thinking for even ONE second that he’s less of a man because of ED.

    I hope he doesn’t get insecure like some of the guys I’m hearing about on here and decide we can’t see each other.

  11. Cristina Avatar

    I read all these comments with+++ interest, but didn`t read anything about how long a middle aged woman should wait till she gets intimate with her date…I haven`t dated after my last relationship 3 years ago, and was never on the dating scene prior to that…

    I don`t feel that type of chemistry with my new male friend, but wonder if it`s due to the fact that menopause has affected my libido…

    Is being friends for a while a good bet in a situation like mine.