For those of you who think impotence is a man’s problem, consider the woman’s perspective. She starts off feeling unattractive because she can’t do something as simple as turning her man on. The fragile male ego does not help as her partner tries to emotionally blackmail her into staying in the relationship. It takes years before she gradually realises that she was never the problem. By then, the damage (to her psyche and emotional health) has already been wrought.
I know this because I experienced this
… for seven-odd years that I was in a relationship with a guy who had erectile dysfunction. We never had sex in the conventional sense of the word. There was not much foreplay either because even getting to first base made him realise that he “wasn’t a real man”. You see, he saw lovemaking in terms of performance, while I viewed it in terms of our relationship. He would try to make love and fail, and then get so discouraged and anxious that he couldn’t bear to be cuddly or even kiss for fear it will lead to sex and another “failure”.
Why didn’t I break up much earlier?
Any self-respecting, hot blooded woman would, you’d say. It’s complicated to explain so I will just tell you what it was like and leave you to decide. We met at a house party when I was in my early twenties and he was nearing 30. He was smoking a joint with a twinkle in his eye. He was soft spoken and a good listener, a refreshing change from the jerks who had asked me out before him. So, when he asked me out, I said: Why not? Although we never argued about anything, there wasn’t much excitement when we went out either. He told me once while driving back from a movie date: “Relationships are meant to be boring” and in my naïveté, I believed him!
Love and lust aren’t the same thing
You can truly love someone without making out with them every chance you get. I learnt this crucial difference in this situation. Because my ex couldn’t get it up, even the thought of getting naked was embarrassing for him. “Let’s talk instead, it’s so much better” was his plea when I tried to initiate anything. So, the passion went out the window faster than you can say hello. Our relationship became a version of platonic love without the romance or the lust.
I cherished the companionship
That was one reason I stayed. There were no flowers, no proclamations of love, no surprise gifts or a single Valentine’s Day celebration in all those years of being a couple. I valued the companionship and comfortable silence we shared. I craved the intense passion, the butterflies in the stomach, the heady feeling of being in love. In their absence, I learned to appreciate joint cookouts and combined love for cinema.
Meanwhile, I was fully committed and kept up appearances of being in a delightful bond for the sake of our friends. Not a soul knew about this. The secret was safe with me. Our married friends would ask why we hadn’t tied the knot yet. One muggy Sunday afternoon at one of our cookouts, his friend’s nosey wife had had enough of being diplomatic. She hoisted up her Bengali saree and cornered me with: “If you don’t get married to him, are you just going to keep having sex with him?” How I wanted to scream the truth out that day.
I never knew impotence could affect young men
… until I met my ex-boyfriend. He seemingly had been in two serious relationships before me and “things were fine”. That knowledge put me in a spot from Day One. Maybe I wasn’t sexy enough to turn him on? Maybe it was my fault. I lived with that belief for all the years we were together. Women have so many body image issues to begin with; it doesn’t take much for them to start believing that they look good enough. It has taken me years since that relationship to build a positive body image; a ballpark estimate is 10 years.
It was as confusing for him as it was harmful to our relationship and I know that deep down, it destroyed him. I tried to comfort him, I could tell he felt incomplete. There is so much weight placed on machismo in society and in popular culture that a man equates his masculinity with his performance in bed.
His ego wouldn’t let him seek help
My ex did not want to discuss it with his family or friends, although he was blessed with a wide circle of male buddies. In hindsight, my heart tells me, they would have supported rather than derided him as I feared they would. Erectile dysfunction and impotence happen to most men at least once in their lifetime as I learnt later.
He did not want to consult a specialist either since he was in the pink of health otherwise. It reached a point where we pretended that the problem didn’t exist because he didn’t want to talk about it. I learned to stop asking about it. There was only so much I could do; it was up to him to resolve it and I couldn’t force him. Eventually, he visited a sexual health expert and was told his problem was neurological.
The silver lining in this story is that some time after our break-up, my ex was cured of the condition by a specialist. He fell in love, got married and has two kids now. The seven-year itch ended. All’s well that ends well, isn’t it?