Erectile dysfunction: making a hard conversation easy

For many men, erectile dysfunction (ED) is something they would rather not think about – and even fewer want to talk about it. That’s understandable. This condition can cause embarrassment and cause shame for some men who experience it.

ED is often thought of as an older man’s problem. Most men have erection problems every now and then. This is normal. While it is most common in older men, it is experienced by men of all ages.

Many men convince themselves their condition will improve on its own and don’t want to “bother” a doctor in the meantime. While ED has many possible causes it’s important to remember the one thing that is not a cause – ED does not happen because you’re less of a man. One thing is certain: ED can have many causes and it can typically be treated, and, better still, overcome. If you had the flu or a painful joint, there would be no reason why you wouldn’t discuss this with your doctor or your partner. Why should ED be different? Men have often tended to ignore their own health issues, but this attitude is changing.

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Armed with this knowledge, if you suffer from ED, it’s obvious you’re not alone. And when you reach out to your health care professional remember you’re not the only person this has happened to.

How to have a conversation about erectile dysfunction with your doctor

The first step is to prepare for your discussion with your doctor by making a list of your symptoms, and also your lifestyle habits, medical history and any other issues you might be facing. It might not seem relevant, but ED can be caused by a number of different factors. For instance, as many as 20 % of ED cases can be related to stress or anxiety. Also, some lifestyle habits like smoking and alcohol consumption are known to have an effect on a man’s ability to gain an erection. And medical conditions are also a possible factor, like high blood pressure or diabetes. So it’s important not to leave anything off your list of symptoms or your background information.

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Secondly, it’s important to make a list of questions for your doctor. During your appointment, you may forget a question you meant to ask – it’s better to have them written down ready to ask rather than leave your doctor’s office without asking.


Having the conversation

Talking about ED may be even harder than experiencing it! Here are a few tips to help you prepare for that conversation and find the words that are right for you.

Begin by trying out a few questions by repeating them to yourself, such as “Doctor, I think I may be having a problem with erections”, or “Doctor, I’d like to ask you about a men’s health issue”, or perhaps “I’m having some problems in the bedroom.” This will prepare you for when you have a live conversation with your doctor and make it easier for you to begin. Don’t worry if you feel embarrassed, your doctor has had this conversation with many other men. Once you have had the conversation with your doctor they will ask you questions about your health and perform a physical. The conversation, exam, lab tests, and sometimes mental health tests can help find out the cause of the problem.

Having uncovered the cause of your ED, your doctor or urologist, will take it from there. Doctors usually start with lifestyle changes and medications, but treatment can include counselling and therapy, limiting alcohol consumption, or treatment of an underlying condition such as high blood pressure, or prescription medications. Remember, everyone’s health benefits by doing at least 30 minutes of vigorous physical activity five times a week, but please consult with your doctor before starting any type of new exercise program to see if it is safe for you to get started.

You may need to have two conversations, not one. (Sorry.)

There is another person besides your doctor who may need to be a part of this conversation –the person closest to you. While this may seem like an even harder conversation to have, it shouldn’t be. This person is your ally, and are as concerned about your health as you are. You can use your experience from talking to your doctor to have this conversation. If it helps, try to imagine how you would feel if the person closest to you held back from discussing an intimate health issue with you.

If you can prepare yourself and have the necessary conversations with your doctor and the people close to you, this is the first – and necessary – step on your road to recovery.