What is the meaning of impotence ?

A phrase many people may be familiar with, impotence is a word which has extremely negative associations.

Used to describe a very specific set of symptoms, impotence is also known clinically as erectile dysfunction.

Impotence can be caused by a vast range of factors and the meaning of it and how it manifests can be very different from person to person.

What is impotence?

The word impotence is used to describe a condition where a man is unable to either develop or maintain an erection sufficiently long enough in order to achieve penetrative sex.

In some cases there may be an underlying medical condition which means that it’s impossible to physically achieve an erection. If this is the case, the man will not have erections either during the night or in the morning and will not be able to achieve an erection to masturbate.

Good blow flow is essential to establishing and maintaining an erection

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In some cases the difficulties with achieving and maintaining an erection occur primarily during sex, with normal erections at other times. If this is the case, there is no physical cause which is resulting in impotence, the underlying reason is psychological.

However, even if you are able to masturbate and achieve erections at other times, if you are unable to have sexual intercourse, you are still classed as being impotent.

The psychological effect

When something is described as being due to a psychological cause it’s easy to assume that the person simply needs to ‘pull themselves together’ and that they are deliberately causing the problem.

Unfortunately psychological problems can be extremely powerful, and it can be even more difficult to treat these than where there’s a physical cause.

For some people with impotence, the condition means that they develop depression or anxiety or start to become phobic about intimacy and contact. These are extremely bad habits to get into and can exacerbate the situation.

Of course, it can be depression, stress-related disorders or anxiety which triggers the impotence in the first place. Sometimes untangling which came first can be an impossible task, trapped in a vicious cycle with each making the other worse.

Stress can be a major cause of impotence

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Men in particular struggle to manage psychological problems, as many feel less able than their female counterparts to express their feelings and talk openly about their emotions. There’s lots of reasons for this, and in no small part is due to the pressure society can place on ‘being a man’.

Recent campaigns have been released aimed at educating parents of the importance in helping their sons become eloquent in talking about how they feel, and allowing them to cry if they need to. Hopefully these public education initiatives will make it easier for the men of the future to be able to deal with not just impotence, but any mental health issues.

Sadly for many men, impotence means withdrawing from relationships and trying to manage how they feel by themselves. But internalising problems can often make the issue seem far more insurmountable than it is.

The effect that this has on those around them shouldn’t be under-estimated. Some of the classic signs of depression include having a short temper, being uninterested in anything, lack of concentration and being suspicious, controlling and guarded.

This can make it particularly difficult to be around someone who is suffering from impotence, doubly so if you don’t recognise that their behaviour is a direct result of depression.

Affecting relationships

Whether or not the impotence has either been caused by or has resulted in depression, there is usually a profound effect on sexual relationships as a result.

Intimacy and sex extends beyond a hard penis, but for many men it’s difficult to believe this when they are frustrated at not being able to maintain an erection for sex.

Couples who talk about the matter in a non-judgmental way, and plan together how they will tackle the issue have a far better chance of remaining together and ultimately resolving the problem.

This can be difficult to achieve because both the man and his partner are often dealing with a whole range of complex emotions about the impotence and what it might mean.

Fears that their partner might no longer love them, or want to be with them are common on both sides, and if not discussed and vocalised can be extremely destructive in a relationship.

The individual who is suffering from impotence needs to receive support, patience and understanding but he also needs to give his partner reassurance too. Fears about whether the impotence has been caused because the man no longer finds his partner attractive are commonplace, and in some cases this accusation can be thrown around by the man who is struggling to deal with the guilt and shame that impotency can bring.

Impotency may not be the thing that ruins a relationship; it may be a sign that there are major problems within a relationship already which need to be addressed.

If your relationship is not going well and you haven’t discussed the problem, impotency can be a way of releasing some of the psychological pressure. Talking to your partner and working through any problems might be all that’s need to resolve the impotency.

In some cases this may mean breaking up with the individual, and starting anew, or it may be possible to retrieve a damaged relationship by talking about the problems and agreeing how to work through them together.

Fears for the future

Impotence doesn’t have to be a permanent problem and in many cases it is just a transient issue which arises either due to temporary health issues, or in response to stress, tiredness or depression.

More than half of all men suffer from depression at some point during their lifetime and the majority go on to enjoy full and satisfying sex lives.

However, when you are experiencing impotence, it can mean that you feel unable to initiate sexual contact and even fear any form of physical intimacy, in case it leads to expectations of sex. It can be frustrating and isolating, particularly if you don’t have any idea how long the situation is going to last.

One of the biggest fears that many men have is that their impotence will last forever, and that they will never be able to have sex again.

Viagra may be an option to cure many men’s impotence issues

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For older men in particular, it may be that Viagra or other medication is required on a long term basis to help their body respond as it should. However, in other cases, treatment may be prescribed as a short term measure to break bad habits and regain intimacy, trust and confidence.

Breaking the cycle is an important step because of the potential psychological impact of impotence. For young men in particular, their sense of self can be very closely aligned to their ability to have sex, so being stripped of a functioning penis can be a particularly difficult fact to deal with.

Having sex

In real terms, impotence means that your sexual experiences will be different at least in the short term, possibly longer.

Many people have the expectation that a man should be able to develop an erection on demand, regardless of how he is feeling and that sex should always work automatically. But people aren’t robots and sex isn’t simply a production line, there are lots of things that can go wrong, and one bad experience doesn’t mean you have a problem.

However, if you are repeatedly unable to have sex due to impotence, it’s time to seek help. And there are lots of different treatments on the market which can help you.

But the reality is that although you can receive treatment, being impotent means you need to approach sex in a different way.

Viagra and other PDE-5 inhibitor medications are some of the most effective and popular ways to deal with impotence. But although they can be remarkably powerful in a large percentage of men who try them, it means you need to plan sex in advance; spontaneity is out of the question.

With PDE-5 inhibitor drugs, you need to take them 30-60 minutes before you have sex. Once in the system, the effects will work for up to 8-10 hours roughly but you can only take one pill in any given 24 hour period.

This means that you not only need to take the pill in advance of when you think you might be having sex, you also need to ensure that you don’t take it too far ahead. There is a longer lasting PDE-5 inhibitor drug available which lasts for 36 hours which may be more suitable for some men. There are pros and cons of each drug which a good doctor will explain to you.

As well as planning when you want to have sex, you also need to factor in food. Some drugs only work on an empty stomach and you shouldn’t eat for at least an hour after taking them. Once again, this requires careful planning to make sure you get the dynamics of the evening just right.

Other types of medication can be either injected into the penis or a pellet slotted into the tip of the urethra (the tube which carries urine). If you are using the latter and your partner is pregnant, you will need to use a condom.

There are treatment alternatives which don’t involve using drugs or medication.

A vacuum pump is a very effective treatment for impotency and works for all but a tiny minority of men. The penis is placed in the plastic tube and the net pump is used to create a vacuum. This pressure draws blood into the penis, creating an erection. A band is then placed around the base of the penis; this prevents the blood from draining away. Overall, a vacuum pump typically provides an erection which lasts for about half an hour.

Whilst both medication and vacuum pumps can offer solutions which enable men to overcome the effects of impotency, their experience of sex changes completely. For them, impotence means no longer being able to have sex spontaneously without preparation and some effort. If not handled sensitively within a relationship, this can lead to sex starting to seem more like a chore than a pleasure.

Talking therapies are sometimes used as a means of addressing underlying issues, and psychosexual counselling focusses specifically on the relationship and problems which may be causing a barrier. These types of treatments can take a while to be effective but can be a useful way of strengthening the relationship in the longer term.

One particular type of sex therapy, sensate focus, is aimed at taking away the emphasis on the penis in sex, and refocussing the couple on intimacy and physical closeness.

Don’t forget sensual touching

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Sensate focus works by the couple agreeing to a ban on sex and all sexual touching for a period of time, which may be weeks or months. During this time, physical contact is encouraged but in a non-sexual way, such as massage. Gradually sexual contact is re-introduced, but without penetrative sex. The idea is to allow the couple to enjoy each other’s bodies and the intimacy the experience creates without having the pressure of needing to ‘perform’.

If stress or anxiety are significant contributing factors to the erectile problems, this type of therapy can be very effective in gently removing expectations and making sex a way of expressing affection in a variety of ways.

But again, although sensate focus and other psychosexual techniques can be incredibly rewarding and helpful, it once again means that the individual who has impotence still can’t enjoy a ‘normal’ sexual experience. The need to constantly have to think about how to have sex, working on techniques to reduce anxiety and the removal of spontaneity can be a major turn-off. However, for men who suffer from impotence, and their partners, this is the reality of what the conditions means.

Not something easily ignored

The good news is that if you suffer from impotency, you aren’t alone; more than 140 million men worldwide have the same condition. And there’s a very good chance you will be able to recover completely, either with or without the help of medication.

Sex can be a real turn-off where impotence is an issue

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But the real meaning of impotency is that you need to work far harder at sex, not just to please your partner in the bedroom, but in the planning, organisation and commitment required in order to be able to have penetrative sex.

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