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Patient Education Center

Erectile Dysfunction: Coping Before and During Treatment

Erectile dysfunction (ED) — difficulty with erections — is quite common. In fact, an estimated 30 million men in the United States have ED to some extent. Some men are unable to get an erection at all. Others may get an erection, but it’s not firm enough for sex.

No matter what causes it or how it develops, ED can affect a man’s well-being and his ability to enjoy sex. Men may question their masculinity and their ability to satisfy a sexual partner. They may become anxious about sex and worry about their performance. And they may feel sad about changes to a once-active sex life.

Shift key on keyboard restyled as "Erectile dysfunction" key

There is good news, however. Over the years, scientists have developed several effective treatment approaches, including lifestyle changes, pills, injections, vacuum devices, suppositories, and penile implant procedures.

Still, it can take a little time to find the right treatment. And with lifestyle changes and surgery, it takes time for the situation to improve. What can men do in the meantime? How can they cope with ED in the here and now?

Read on to find out.

Learn about ED

Over the years, scientists have developed several effective treatment approaches

Learning as much as possible about ED is a useful starting point. A man’s doctor can recommend reliable websites, brochures, podcasts, videos, books, and magazines for learning more. Asking questions while seeing the doctor is another opportunity. Some men write out their questions before their appointment so they don’t forget them.

For example, men might ask:

  • What’s causing my ED? What can I do about it?
  • What treatment options are available to me?
  • Are treatments covered by insurance?
  • Do you think sex therapy would help me?

Once men have some background knowledge, they can come up with a treatment plan with their doctor.

Communicate with partners

Some people shy away from talking about sex. But being open and honest about ED is an important part of coping — for both partners.

Such discussions allow couples to better understand each other’s point of view. One partner may not be aware of how the other is feeling.

For example, if the man with ED starts avoiding sex, his partner might worry that they are not attractive or fulfilling his needs. And that might not be the case at all.

Having these conversations allow partners to comfort, reassure, and encourage each other. Couples who need help with their communication skills might consider counseling.

A woman leans over, nose-to-nose and smiling at a man who is seated at a desk. Her arm is resting on his shoulder.

Redefine intimacy

There is more to intimacy than penetrative intercourse, and couples can maintain their intimate bond in other ways. Doing so can be as simple as holding hands at the mall, cuddling on the couch during a movie, or giving each other a massage at the end of a long day. In the bedroom, it can be having oral sex or role playing a favorite fantasy.

This is a time to experiment, relax, and have fun. Couples may discover new activities they enjoy — activities that they continue after erections improve. Some see a sex therapist for new ideas, perspectives, and communication tips.

Stay healthy

Eat nutritious foods. Exercise regularly. Quit smoking. Get enough sleep. Practice self-care. These suggestions often top lists of recommended healthy habits. They help with erections, too.

For example, healthy habits lower the risk of health conditions like diabetes and heart disease, which can lead to ED. Research suggests that following a Mediterranean diet could be good for erections, too.

Staying fit and maintaining a healthy weight boosts confidence and body image. It may also improve depression or anxiety that often accompany ED.
Read more about lifestyle changes and ED here.

Celebrate successes

Even if ED is frustrating, treatment offers many reasons to celebrate:

  • Making a first appointment with a urologist
  • Talking about sex with a partner
  • Trying a new way of intimacy
  • Trying a new treatment
  • Seeing a counselor or sex therapist
  • Eating healthier meals for a week
  • Sticking to a workout routine
  • Making a plan to quit smoking.
  • Getting a firmer erection than last time

No matter how small an achievement may seem, celebrating progress can boost motivation, confidence, and hope for the future. How men celebrate is up to them. Having date night with their partner, playing a round of golf, or seeing a favorite band can all work.

Stay in touch with a doctor

As noted above, ED treatment can take time. What works well for one man might not be so effective for another. That’s why it’s important for men to stay in touch with their doctor throughout the process. If one approach doesn’t seem to work, there are others to try. Keeping the doctor informed can help them tailor treatment.


Harvard Business Review

Johnson, Whitney
“Celebrate to Win”
(January 26, 2022)

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

“Erectile Dysfunction (ED)”
(Last reviewed: July 2017)

Rowe, Steven
“What Research Says About Erectile Dysfunction in a Marriage”
(March 24, 2022)

Cheyette, Benjamin MD and Sarah Cheyette MD
“Why It's Important to Celebrate Small Successes”
(November 22, 2021)

Cooper, Sari, CST, LCSW
“The Masculinity Myths Surrounding Erectile Dysfunction”
(December 2, 2022)

Urology Care Foundation

“Erectile Dysfunction”
(Updated: June 2018)

Boskey, Elizabeth, PhD
“Coping With Erectile Dysfunction”
(Updated: November 15, 2022)

This patient education article is reposted with permission from and adapted for our use.

All information is reviewed by a board-certified physician.

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