Help! I’ve Lost Patience With My Husband’s Erectile Problems.

Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 12 2013 6:00 AM

Won’t Stand for It

In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman annoyed at her husband’s erectile problems.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at prudence@slate.com.)

Q. Anonymous, Please!: My husband has been having trouble sustaining an erection for over a year now. It happens only sometimes, but lately it has been more and more frequent. I have tried to be calm, loving, supportive about it, and not to get upset. A few nights ago, though, I burst into tears and asked him why he hasn't seen a doctor to try to get to the bottom of this. I said that I was too young (30) to live like this. He immediately agreed and made an appointment for a few days from now. Last night, it happened again, and I got upset. I feel like I can't put on an act of loving support anymore, although I know this is supposed to be one of the most important things a wife can do in this situation. We haven't successfully had sex in around three weeks. Since he got a clean bill of health on a recent physical, I feel that the problem is related to stress in his job, and I feel sure my reaction has multiplied the problem. Can you think of anything I can do to offset the damage I have done? I think I have really hurt his feelings and made him feel small (no pun intended), but it's hard to just stifle all my emotions on this topic anymore.

A: It's true that a wife bursting into tears and announcing, "I can't live like this!" over the flaccid condition of her husband's penis is likely to make him limp away in defeat. The good news is there's nothing physically wrong, the bad news is that he is probably in a downward psychological spiral. Instead of enjoying sex, when he approaches you his brain just goes on autopilot with the alarming question, "What if I can't keep it up? What if I can't keep it up?" You two need to be able to talk about this, but the conversation should take place out of bed. Tell him you're thrilled he's physically fine, apologize for making a scene and compounding the problem, then tell him you're confident you two can get your love life back on track. Surely, if you husband watches sports, he's seen the endless ads showing that the majority of handsome, virile, middle-age men have erectile dysfunction. But there are pills to solve this! Your husband should go back to the doctor and ask for a prescription. Then you should read some books about sex and how couples restore good sexual functioning. Maybe the first few times he tries the pills you don't have intercourse, you just enjoy each other and he gets to feel more confident about his erection. I have every confidence that soon you two will be staring at each other in that come hither way of the people in the ads, and my only suggestion is that you not soak too long in those separate bathtubs.

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Q. Grumpy Old Men: Prudie, you often tell people who are concerned about strange behaviors to have the family member see a doctor for a complete work up. How do you suggest getting that person to actually see the doctor? In recent years, my dad's temper has become unpredictable and intense; logic is out the window (a note to a burglar on the fire box that there isn't anything of value in it so please leave it) and most recently, that he'll no longer wear anything the color of a rival sports team (down to no blue dress shirts). If I suggested he see a doctor, he'd either laugh it off or become irate—neither option resulting in his making a doctors appt. Any ideas? I truly think there is something wrong unless all old men are this grumpy.

A: I just make the suggestions, then I leave the hard part up to the letter writers. Of course I know that saying, "This is an alarming change in behavior and your loved one needs to see a doctor," almost certainly means the loved one says, "There's nothing wrong with me. I'm not going to a doctor just because I refuse to wear blue like any other Red Sox fan." My first suggestion is to call the doctor and explain what's going on. Before people get all crazed about that violating HIPAA privacy rules, it is fine for family members to disclose their concerns to a doctor—it's the doctor who is bound by confidentiality. Then the doctor should help you come up with a plan. It could be that instead of waiting for your father to take action, you just have to be decisive: "Dad, it's been two years since your last checkup. You need to get your blood pressure checked and your medications adjusted, so I made an appointment for you with Dr. Martin for next Wednesday, and I will take you." It's also possible you could have the doctor call your father and say that her charts indicate he needs to get some basic tests and he would listen to a direct "order." I'd love to hear from readers who have successfully managed to convince a recalcitrant loved one get a checkup.

Q. Re: Anonymous Please: Prudie, I think you misread the timeline here ... I don't think he's even had the appointment yet (it says "a few days from NOW"). Your suggestions are good but for now this woman needs to cool it and get some perspective. A few weeks without intercourse isn’t going to kill anyone.

A: Thanks for the clarification that his last regular checkup was fine, but he's now going to a doc for a dick check. Assuming everything also checks out, then he should get the pills and have some fun. I'm sure the wife's desperate lament that it's been three whole weeks and she can't live like this! got a lot of chuckles from harried, exhausted middle-aged people.

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