The stigma can prevent men seeking help – and diagnosis of any underlying health conditions
MEN living with erectile dysfunction, also commonly known as ED, see the malfunction as a sign of weakness and shame.
While men are often discouraged by their families from seeking medical and psychological help for the condition, the stigma can make living with ED even more challenging.
It is one of the most stigmatised health conditions despite the increasing knowledge and information for its prevention made freely available to the public.
Jonathan,* 56, who was diagnosed with ED 10 years ago says knowing he had the condition made him realise that is was a normal illness instead of it being a taboo topic.
He was in his mid forties when he noticed he had problems with his manhood’s functionality and decided to consult a general practitioner (GP) who later diagnosed him with ED.
“It came as no shock to me because I had noticed over the years that my sex drive was not the same, my erections were getting weaker and they did not last long,” said Jonathan.
To discover the reason behind it, the GP had to run tests which included an overnight device that he had to put around his penis to see if he had erections in his sleep – which he didn’t.
In Jonathan’s case it was ED that revealed other underlying health conditions.
“The GP told me that the cause of ED was linked to my family’s medical history which included heart and blood pressure problems.” He said ED symptoms saved his life because if it was not for its symptoms, “I wouldn’t have known that my blood circulation was a problem and I was at high risk of having a stroke.
“I knew that my dad had the same heart condition. As embarrassing as it was, I went to ask him if he had ED before, and he said yes, but he did not treat it because of the stigma.”
After his father confessed to him, he understood why he had never disclosed or sought help for his ED.
ED ruined his confidence as a man.
“When your penis is not functioning, you feel like your life is not functioning. Somehow the performance of my penis affected my manhood… it made me feel less of a man.”
Losing interest in sex also threatened his marriage of 33 years, “my wife thought she was not attractive enough for me to get an erection. It made her feel insecure and often thought it was due to her body changing because of age.
“That just proves that if ED is not handled well, it can break any good, healthy marriage.”
His doctor prescribed Viagra as treatment – which he has to take 20 minutes before having sex, and that gave him enough drive to last for two hours.
“The 20 minutes give me enough time to have the best foreplay and fun with my wife before we have sex. So even that’s not a problem for us.”
Even though medication has irritating side effects, such as blurry vision, reddish cheeks and snotty nose, Jonathan admits that getting treatment was the best decision for him and his wife.
However, Jonathan is among the few man who can talk about ED, as many men are are too ashamed.
ED is receiving attention this month as June is Men’s Health Month.
Some of the common and main symptoms of ED are reduced interest in sexual intercourse and difficulty in getting and maintaining an erection.
Dr Wisani Craig Mamitele at the Urology Hospital Pretoria, says some men are too embarrassed to confront the problem – an attitude which he says is counter-productive to their recovery.
According to him, ED is not uncommon and there are solutions. Men simply need to accept it as they would any other health issue.
Mamitele points out that the process of dealing with it after acceptance may include educating a man’s partner about the causes and solution.
“This will help avoid pressure from a sexual partner, reduce stress and give an opportunity for support.
“There is no need to be embarrassed or ashamed of ED, men should understand that it is not an unusual condition. Seeking medical help is crucial in dealing with the problem.”
Psychological effects of ED may include anxiety, depression and relationship problems. Underlying health conditions such as clogged blood vessels, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity, body fat around waist and high cholesterol or Parkinson’s disease may result in ED.
Although it may be prevalent in older men, Mamitele says there is no set age for men to experience ED. As men get older there is a natural decrease in testosterone which may lower sex drive and increase ED.
In some patients ED is a warning sign for other major vascular conditions like heart attacks and strokes and early investigations and treatment may prevent these conditions.
Lifestyle changes can help reduce ED effects. Eating healthy food, regular exercise, quitting smoking and lowering stress may all contribute positively to one’s health and reduce the severity of ED.
MISUNDERSTOOD: Erectile dysfunction remains stigmatised despite information about it in the public domain.
Viagra can help treat the conditio n.