Erectile Dysfunction: A Personal Journey
Over the next few days, I’d like to spend some time talking about an issue that affects a great many men. For some, it’s an occasional problem caused my fatigue or too many drinks, for others it’s a chronic condition that affects their lives and relationships on a regular basis. In either case it can be a significant emotional event that severely impacts men’s’ self-esteem and the quality of their relationships. I’m talking about erectile dysfunction or ED.
There are a wide variety of conditions that can cause ED, but the good news is there are also a wide and growing variety of treatments for the condition. Over the weekend I gave a great deal of thought as to how to address these issues and decided to spend one day looking at the causes of ED and another day examining treatment options. First however, I decided that I would share my own story in the hopes that it would help shed some perspective on the problem, its causes and treatments.
I will caution you in advance that this is going to be an adult discussion and will be treated in a professional and adult manner, but there is going to be some material that may not be for the squeamish. I hope you will stay with me for the whole discussion, but be forewarned that there is probably going to be some material that is going to make some people uncomfortable.
In a normal, healthy man, a lot goes into achieving an erection. When you’re turned on, nerves fire in your brain and travel down your spinal cord to your penis. There, muscles relax and blood flows into the blood vessels. The result, if all goes well, is a rigid penis, ready for sex. Unfortunately, all does not always go well. Many diseases -and, in some cases, their treatment – can lead to erectile dysfunction (ED). So can injuries, lifestyle choices, and other physical factors.
In my case, I started to experience periodic bouts with ED in my late 30 and early 40s. I had high blood pressure and was on treatment medications since my late 20s. Shortly after I retired from the Air Force I was diagnosed with depression and was put on another medication to treat that disorder. Unfortunately, side effects of both conditions and their treatments can often lead to ED, which they did in my case. For the first few years ED manifested itself as an occasional dysfunction; either I failed to get hard enough for penetration or I would lose my erection before I reached climax. While it was frustrating for both me and my wife, it was also occasional, so we chalked it up to “one of those things men go through as they start to get older” and took other steps to satisfy each other.
It also didn’t help that during this time I became morbidly obese; well over 100 pounds overweight with a BMI in the mid-40s. As you can probably imagine, not only did this exacerbate my ED, but led to a whole host of other health problems. After a while, the ED went from an occasional inconvenience to a chronic problem.
That’s when I decided to seek medical help. Let me tell you that I have been though nearly the whole spectrum of ED treatments. At first it was the “little blue pill” and its cousins. These worked quite well for a number of years, but as I got heavier, their effectiveness started to wane. The next step was a manually operated vacuum pump.
All Austin Powers jokes aside, this is a prescription medical device that can prove to be highly effective. This gizmo works by the man inserting his penis into the device and activating a pump that crates a vacuum in the tube, drawing blood into the penis. When an adequate erection is achieved, one slides a constriction band off the machine onto the penis to help contain the blood and voila, one is ready for sexual congress. While effective at helping achieve an erection, I will also say that I found the band had the side effect of making my penis much less sensitive, requiring longer and more concentrated effort to reach climax. A situation that my wife didn’t always find problematic, but it did have an impact on my performance and pleasure.
Shortly after moving to the pump, I had gastric bypass surgery and in less than a year had lost over 135 pounds. While the loss of weight did wonders for my health and self-esteem, unfortunately the damage to my body’s hydraulic system had already been done and the ED problems, while slightly improved, still remained, which required a new round of ED treatments. Once again, we started with the pills and soon went to the pump, but my complaints about the constriction bands hampering my performance led the urologist to prescribe penile injections.
I can feel you all wince and grimace at the mention of sticking needles into the penis, but let me assure you that it isn’t all that bad and after the first couple of times, I hardly felt the injections. I was prescribed a mix of three medications contained in one vial (called Tri-mix for obvious reasons) and was instructed on how to inject myself. This stuff worked wonders! (Although, it did lead to one unfortunate instance of priapism, which actually led to one of my funniest personal stories from the past few years, but that will have to wait for another blog.) It did take a little of the spontaneity out of the equation, but the results more than made up for the inconvenience. Now step in prostate cancer.
Just over a year ago I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent surgery to remove the traitorous organ before it could kill me. While the actual cancer part of the surgery went well, the complications from the surgery led to massive internal bleeding which required four additional emergency surgeries in five days (during which I ‘died’ three times on the table), and a lengthy healing and recovery time. An unfortunate side effect of the surgeries is that they left me totally impotent. The urologist had me try the pills and the pump again, but to absolutely no avail; so back to the needles. Once again the penile injections are highly effective and after a brief period of experimentation, we arrived at the optimum dose. So all is well in marital relations land once again.
I tell you this story for several reasons. First, ED happens for a very wide variety of reasons, and while lifestyle choices can contribute to the problem, ED does not speak to your masculinity or personal character; it’s a medical condition that can be very effectively treated. Second, I hope that by sharing my story, I took some of the mystery and fear out of ED treatments. While some of them sound more unpleasant than others, they are all fairly benign and you get used to them in very short (no pun intended) order.
My point is this, if you have ED there is no reason for you and your partner to continue to suffer. Go see a urologist and get treated. You and your partner will happy you did. Please come back tomorrow when we take a more comprehensive look at the causes of ED to be followed by a more in-depth discussion of the available treatments.
In the meantime, I hope you have an intentionally great and stimulating day.