The Psychological Impact and Trauma Caused by Impotence

Every illness or condition carries a psychological consequence but arguably none more so than those of a particularly personal nature.

Impotency strikes at the very core of manhood and has the ability to wreck relationships and damage all confidence if not tackled properly.

Although impotence  can be caused by non-physical factors, it can also result in significant psychological trauma too. We take a closer look at how impotence can affect both men and their partners on a psychological level.

Don’t be fooled

When faced with impotence, a man can act in one of many ways but no matter what is said and done, in the vast majority of cases the underlying feelings are the same, to a greater or lesser degree.

Very few men are able to shrug off impotence without any concerns, and some feel that their essence of manhood is threatened by their inability to perform.

Shame, guilt, wounded pride and loss of confidence are some of the most commonly felt feelings after an episode of impotence, particularly if it wasn’t expected. But these feelings can manifest in a wide variety of ways, sometimes appearing as aggression towards the partner or trying to pin blame on them.

Shame and feeling laughed at are common emotions associated with impotence

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This doesn’t mean the man doesn’t feel all the same emotions but instead of expressing himself freely he uses defence mechanisms as a means of hiding how he truly feels.

For this reason it’s important for his partner to look behind the initial reaction and try to reach out to have a more honest and helpful conversation, in order to move forward and tackle the problem together.

There are a whole range of complex and intense emotions which may be experienced as a result of impotency; listed below are just some of those along with the reactions you may see:

feeling like less of a man





fear of attempting future intimacy in case there’s a recurrence

avoiding touch and contact of any kind

steering clear of any situation which could have a sexual outcome, such as going to bed at the same time

fear of trying to find a new sexual partner (if unattached)

concern about what the cause might be

fear they will never be able to maintain an erection again

the belief they will never be able to satisfy their partner sexually

fear that their partner will no longer want them

grief for a normal sex life




Impotency can lead to emotions like anger and aggression

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Of course every man is different and there may be different emotions which are experienced not described here. The point is that suffering from impotence is a bewildering and confusing time, and without any reassurance that it can be treated, the effects can be devastating.

The partner

Of course, with impotence  it’s not just the individual who is affected; it’s also the partner too. In many cases, the partner can be almost as traumatised as the individual, depending on the things which are said and the way in which it is handled.

It’s not uncommon for a man who is struggling to come to terms with impotency to try to blame his partner, perhaps blaming weight gain or suggesting he no longer finds them attractive. This is nothing more than a smokescreen and a common way of deflecting some of the negative emotions they can’t process.

Although that may be the case, the effect on the partner can be severe, particularly as it can be difficult to logically deal with what can be perceived to be a rejection. As a general rule, the better the self-esteem of the partner, the easier the erectile dysfunction will be to deal with for them. However, it’s important to point out that it’s never easy, and striking the right balance between encouraging a discussion and placing too much importance on the matter can be very delicate.

Just like with the impotence sufferer themselves, the partner will inevitably experience a range of emotions which can also be difficult to deal with. These include:



unsure how or where to seek help

feelings of being unattractive

feeling unloved


fears over whether their partner secretly wants to end the relationship

sexual frustration

fears that their partner may be having an affair

fears over their partner’s health

fear that their sex life will never return

relief that they no longer have to deal with sexual demands, particularly in older couples

The range of emotions experienced by the partner are very similar in their origin to what the impotence sufferer will be feeling too, and both can bring comfort to each other by talking things through. Unfortunately, when emotions are running high it can be very difficult to discuss such a highly sensitive subject.

Myths about sex

In addition to the emotional strain which is felt by both parties when erectile dysfunction is experienced, there are many incorrect assumptions about sex that many people hold.

These can really pile on the pressure to perform, and increase the level of psychological distress felt.

Here are some of the most commonly held beliefs:

sex shouldn’t require any effort to work automatically

sexual contact always requires an erect penis

men should be able to develop and maintain an erection upon demand

the man should be the instigator for sex

arousing thoughts should be sufficient to create an erection without any physical stimulation

it’s necessary for both partners to have an orgasm every time in order for sex to count

All of the above statements are patently false, but many people hold them as true, at least on a subconscious level.

There are lots of myths associated with sex

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This can create more pressure for the man, adding even more stress to perform and be always ready to have an erection whenever required.

Sex and the ego

In many ways society wraps up the sense of manliness together with the ability to have sex, so being stripped of the ability to naturally maintain an erection can be a huge loss to the individual.

It’s important to say that impotence is a common problem that occurs to over half of all men at some time in their life, and while distressing at the time, many regain full sexual function and go on to enjoy rewarding sex lives.

But no matter how many times these facts are repeated, the personal sense of failure can be overwhelming.

One factor which doesn’t help is that a much larger proportion of men compared to women have been conditioned, or are more naturally inclined, to keep their feelings to themselves. Discussing openly how they feel can be anathema to them, and while this may not be a problem in some scenarios, when faced with a big issue such as impotence, keeping it bottled up isn’t helpful.

By not discussing it, the problem can loom far larger than it should, and the man can dwell and brood on the issue, creating more anxiety about whether it will happen again in the future. Of course this may well become a self-fulfilling prophecy because the more anxious the man becomes about impotence occurring again, the more likely it will be to do so.

As well as becoming emotionally withdrawn, the man will often withdraw physically too.

Being impotent doesn’t need to mean the end of an enjoyable sex life; there’s lots of ways partners can make each other feel fulfilled, even without an erect penis.

Unfortunately in many cases, the man will simply withdraw completely, fearing the possibility of sex arising, and by avoiding any physical connection, they are able to escape any expectations.

Many men who don’t suffer from impotence suggest that sex occupies a large part of their conscience thoughts, so having the ability to act on these, or even fully engage with them is a major blow.

For many younger men, their ego and sense of self is significantly wrapped up in their ability to develop an erection and have sex. Therefore the loss, albeit only temporary in many cases, can be enough to cause a big drop in their self-confidence as well as their self-esteem.

Depression and other mental health disorders

The scale of the impact of erectile dysfunction can be so significant that it can cause depression and anxiety or other related mental health conditions.

Studies have shown a documented correlation between impotence and depression, with their mental health symptoms improving after their erectile dysfunction was successfully treated with medication.

Sexual frustration through impotence can lead to depression

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Other research has shown that impotence and the resulting effect on mood and behaviour is so marked that it either causes or contributes to a fifth of all marriages which break down. This is due to not only the impact of impotence on the man himself, but also the psychological distress caused to his partner as well.

Psychological issues caused in a relationship

Although both individuals are affected personally by the problem of impotence, it is the relationship  dynamic which can really be the most significantly altered.

In order to overcome the difficulties associated with erectile dysfunction, it’s essential for both parties to communicate in a non-judgmental way and to plan together how they will tackle the issue.

But because this is such a difficult thing to face, in many cases the couple are unable to overcome the psychological problems they are working through on their own to discuss it together.

This chain of events has the potential to be devastating for the relationship. Even if the impotence resolves, there can be vulnerability and a lack of trust in each other, caused by the inability to discuss the issue. The fear that it may recur can lurk, casting a shadow over any bedroom activities.

Whilst the issue of impotence is ongoing, both partners may feel worry that the other may want to leave them. This can exacerbate any reluctance to discuss the matter honestly, again creating a destructive spiral of events.

Partners in particular can feel abandoned and rejected and may fear that the man might want to go to someone else to see if they are still impotent. The fear that they have somehow caused the impotence is particularly difficult to overcome.

In some cases the impotence is actually a symbol of what’s ongoing in a relationship. Although it can be triggered in relationships which are entirely healthy, if there are significant and unresolved issues which haven’t been addressed, they may manifest as impotence in the man.

If this is the case, psychosexual counselling could prove to be a particularly effective treatment. The therapist will allow both parties to discuss and explore any issues which are troubling them, creating a safe space to be honest.

By tackling the root cause, the impotence can be effectively treated, and the relationship will be stronger as a result.

This type of therapy will only work if both parties are committed to being open and truly resolving their past issues, rather than hanging on to grudges for the future.

Sex and impotency

Although it’s undoubtedly different, there’s no reason why a couple should not have a loving and sexual relationship even if the man cannot sustain an erection.

Sex does not have to revolve entirely around a hard penis, and there’s many ways a couple can enjoy intimacy. Mutual masturbation can sometimes be particularly effective in providing sexual relief to both parties.

Massage, the use of sex toys, non-penetrative sex and foreplay are all ways for a couple to remain close physically. This intimacy will help them feel able to tackle impotency together.

Unfortunately, many couples lose all desire for physical closeness after experiencing impotency; the man fears being asked to perform again and his partner feels rejected and unwanted.

Viagra is added to ice cream in some countries

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t’s always a good idea to get checked out by a doctor if you experience repeatedly impotency, as it can be a warning sign that there’s an underlying condition which needs treatment. In some cases NHS prescriptions may be made available for Viagra and other treatments which could just provide a couple with the help they need to regain their physical intimacy and start to repair the psychological distress.

Image Credits: Joelstuff V4, CJS*64, PinkMoose, Kevin Dooley and Hanan Cohen