Helping a Partner Cope With Erectile Dysfunction and Peyronie’s Disease

Many couples feel isolated when dealing with sexual problems, but those facing challenges are not alone: More than 18 million American men have ED, while between 1 and 23% percent of men between the ages of 40 and 70 have Peyronie’s Disease.

Appropriate medical care helps millions of men deal with their physical symptoms, but many men—and their partners—can benefit from help dealing with the emotional impact of these conditions.

Erectile Dysfunction

The National Institutes of Health defines ED as the inability to achieve or maintain a penile erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual performance. It used to be thought that ED was primarily caused by psychological problems, but we now know that in most cases, it’s caused by poor blood supply to the penis. Smoking, drinking too much alcohol, and certain medications and medical conditions can all increase chances of experiencing ED. Some men experience ED once in a while, but for some, ED is a chronic condition.

Peyronie's Disease

Peyronie’s Disease is a disorder in which scar tissue forms in the penis as a result of injury, inflammation, or swelling, according to the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Disease. As the scar hardens and builds up, the penis curves or bends, which can cause painful erections and make sexual intercourse painful, difficult, or impossible.

Beyond Medical Treatment

While there are plenty of options (such as medications) to successfully treat men dealing with these conditions, their partners and relationship may need support too. "Many couples dealing with ED and Peyronie’s struggle with stress, anxiety, embarrassment and pain, and counseling can be very effective," says Kristie Overstreet, a certified sex therapist in Jacksonville, Florida. "It’s normal for partners to feel confused, angry, sad, disappointed, and disconnected."

This is why therapy can be so helpful for both patients and their partners: "The therapist’s job is to help the partners understand the condition without judgment," Overstreet continues. "The most common reaction I see is when the partner who does not have ED personalizes the issue and makes it about them. They might think they don’t arouse their partner, aren’t attractive enough, or that their partner doesn’t want them sexually. The person struggling with erectile dysfunction probably has no control over what’s happening to them, and this type of reaction adds more pressure and can make the situation worse."

What happens during couples counseling for ED or Peyronie’s? Overstreet says it starts with myth busting: “We spend a lot of time dispelling the myths our culture and society tell us about sex and erections. Then I help couples to lessen negative feelings about themselves and their situation. We work on increasing self-confidence, improving body image and intimate communication, and building trust. When these areas have improved, we move on to discussing actual sexual activity, desires, needs, wants, and techniques that facilitate a better sexual relationship."

Overstreet says the most important things couples can do regain an intimate connection is to "communicate, communicate, communicate in a nonjudgmental, undemanding way that’s focused on understanding one another. Intimacy happens in tandem with trust and the more couples connect with one another the better their trust and intimacy are."

What else can couples do? Overstreet recommends the following:

  • The person with ED learns to communicate with their partner about what type of touch works best with assisting and maintaining erection.
  • Partners avoid putting pressure or expectations on the patient.
  • The couple avoid talking about ED issues during sex and making it a bigger issue than it is.
  • Couples seek the services of a certified sex therapist that can assist with specific sex techniques.
  • Couples try cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of counseling that helps couples restructure their thought processes around sex, erections, and intimacy.
  • Couples try the "bridge maneuver." This involves using the fingers to stimulate the genitals as a bridge to or during penetrative sex once an erection is achieved.

If you or your partner is dealing with ED, Peyronie’s or another condition that impacts your ability to enjoy a healthy sex life, see your physician to rule out any medical conditions. Then, get the professional help you need to reconnect with your partner.

Kristie Overstreet, LMHC, LPC, CST, CAP, reviewed this article.


Overstreet, Kristie, LMHC, LPC, CST, CAP. Email interview February 9 2016.

Selvin, Elizabeth, Arthur L. Burnett, and Elizabeth A. Platz. "Prevalence and Risk Factors for Erectile Dysfunction in the US." The American Journal of Medicine 2007 120,2: 151-57.

"Peyronie's Disease." National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. July 2014.

Fazio, Luke, and Gerald Brock. "Erectile Dysfunction: Management Update." CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal 2004 170(9): 1429–1437.