How to Deal with Short-Term Impotence
7 of 14 in Series: The Essentials of Men’s Sexual Health
Impotence — meaning, the inability to have an erection when desired — frightens men, even though many have suffered from impotence at some point. Men may confuse short-term impotence with erectile dysfunction. The good news is that a couple of failures to have an erection doesn't mean there's something wrong with your penis. In fact, it's almost always psychological in nature. That means most men can learn how to solve short-term impotence.
Anticipatory anxiety has caused many men to experience impotence. Anticipatory anxiety means the fear or expectation of a possible failure causes an actual failure. If a man starts worrying about his erection, usually doing so is enough to prevent him from having one. And the more he worries, the more likely that he will fail the next time he tries. Many men, because of one failed erection, have suffered through years of misery.
Treating short-term impotence involves several steps:
The first step is to visit a urologist. Even though younger men usually suffer impotence as a result of psychological factors, a urological exam rules out any physical factors. Also, a clean bill of health may reassure a man about his well-being — enough to clear the problem up completely.
The second step is building confidence. This can be done via masturbation or confidence-building exercises with a partner. Sex therapists usually recommend against intercourse during this time because it removes the pressure of requiring an erection for penetration. After the man regains confidence in his ability to have erections, it is usually easy to transfer that confidence to intercourse.
The third step, if the man is physically sound but doesn’t respond to treatment, is to find out whether he has erections while he’s asleep. Because a man usually doesn’t have performance anxiety while he’s asleep, a man who suffers from impotence while he’s awake but doesn’t have a physical problem usually has erections while he sleeps.
During the course of the night, a healthy man gets several erections during REM or dream sleep. He’s not necessarily having an erotic dream or any dream at all, but having erections is definitely part of the male sleep pattern. This phenomenon even has its own name, nocturnal penile tumescence.
The simple, at-home test to find out whether you’re having erections during your sleep is to wrap a coil of stamps around the base of your flaccid penis. (A few turns around the penis should be enough to keep it in place.) If you find the circle of stamps broken when you wake up, you probably had an erection.
If the coil of stamps doesn’t work, book an appointment at a sleep lab. At a sleep lab, physicians substitute the stamps with plastic strips and Velcro connectors, which are more reliable indicators than postage stamps. And doctors have even more precise devices, if needed.
If all this testing doesn’t turn up any sign of erections, then return to your doctor. But for many men, these tests do uncover some erectile functioning, which probably indicates that the problem is psychological in nature. This is not true 100 percent of the time, but it certainly deserves following up. The basic aim is to build back the man’s confidence to the point where he can have erections while he is awake — and even with a woman around.