Blessings of Erectile Dysfunction (ED)
in the Second Half of Life
we were young men, getting a hard penis seemed like
important part of what
defined us as a man. Or at least it was central to the definition of
masculine eroticism. We understood successful sex as foreplay leading
up to some form of penetration and ending in ejaculation—all involving
hard penis. That was the view of sex that was most familiar to us and
what we pursued.
Such beliefs cause big problems for us in the sex
ultimately cause problems in our romantic relationships.
the real world of living organisms, nothing stays the same. We can
learn to live in the present and adjust our understanding to the
changing realities, or suffer the consequences of clinging to the past.
Mid-life brings many changes to our bodies and to
our experiences of
sex. As we age, many men experience lower levels of sexual desire and
difficulty in getting an erection and staying hard. Some medical
illnesses and medications can make these problems worse. Men who have
had prostate surgery or other prostate treatments may experience loss
of feeling and/or pleasure as well as impotence (erectile dysfunction
or ED, which is the loss of the ability to get and sustain a hard
However, the context of these problems is that we live in a consumer
culture where businesses profit from myths and misinformation about
sex. Sexually unhappy American men are excellent customers—spending
billions of dollars annually on pills, herbs, and implants to improve
their erections, as well as billions more on porn and prostitution in
efforts to find some pleasure. Some of these treatments and
alternatives may be helpful and bring relief, but even if
they do, they
to address the deeper issues of human sexuality and healthy intimate
The label or diagnosis of erectile dysfunction comes with a whole set
of myths and misinformation. Many men (gay and straight) and women have
believed some or all of these myths about a flaccid (soft) penis during
- A soft penis means low desire or no interest in
- A soft penis means you are not aroused or not
- A soft penis means you feel little or no erotic
- A soft penis means your partner has failed to
you on (or you are not attracted)
- A soft penis means you cannot please a sexual
- A soft penis is something to be ashamed of
- A soft penis may mean no orgasm
- Real men get hard—if your penis
stays soft you are a failure as a man
- Ultimately, a soft penis means the end of sex
I believed many of these myths. In my late fifties
my marriage was
failing and I felt like a failure in sex. My penis did not cooperate
with my desires. And I was ashamed—too ashamed to talk to anyone about
this, even with my wife and my physician.
During one of my physical exams, my
doctor asked me directly about my sexual functioning. She offered
treatment with medications for low testosterone and erectile
dysfunction, which I
tried. Over months of treatment with the testosterone
supplement, I became convinced that it was causing shrinkage of my
testicles, and it was not
improving my desire, pleasure, or performance. I read that testosterone
supplements increase the risk of cancer and other serious problems, so
I decided it was not worth the risks for me.
I also tried a sample of
medication to treat erectile dysfunction. The medication did produce
long-lasting erections for me, but my erect penis seemed to have less
My sexual performance "looked" great, but I felt less connected to my
and experienced less actual pleasure. And the medication did not
improve my emotional/spiritual connection with my partner.
I was disappointed and frustrated for years. I looked for alternative
for erectile dysfunction (ED). I got curious and started exploring male
Some of the alternative views I read on male sexuality challenged my
- What if a soft penis is not abnormal or a
- What if a soft penis is not a failure of desire?
- What if a soft penis is a symptom of entering
stage of life where the primary tasks are spiritual—connection to heart
- What if my soft penis is calling me to find
new ways to connect to myself, to my heart, to my lover?
- What if my soft penis is not what limits my
- What if some or all of the dysfunction is in my
behavior, and not in my penis?
To be able to ask myself these questions, I had to
suspend my beliefs
in the medical and cultural definitions of sexual limitations and
brokenness. And I had to consider that the tasks in the second half of
life are distinctly different from those in the first half.
Maybe my uncooperative, uninspired soft penis was not just an
effect of aging. Maybe it was not dysfunctional at all. Maybe it was
trying to tell me something I desperately needed to know!
I started listening to my body, including my penis. Maybe it was
that I was doing sex wrong. That I had been a bully trying to push it
perform according to the expectations of my ego. Maybe my penis was
unresponsive because I was so out of touch with my own body. And my
soul. I had lost
the necessary connections.
Of course women have been trying to tell men forever that sex is more
than an erection and ejaculation. Women want passionate sex, too, but
want the sweet
intimacy that grows out of heart-to-heart connection. Whether we are
gay, straight, or bisexual men, we make the same basic mistake—we keep
worrying about how big and hard our dick is so we can perform and
partner. But our obsession with genitals and lack of attention to heart
connection fail to please long-term. Without heart connection, sex
quickly becomes empty and lifeless. Our partners feel objectified by us
and distanced from us. Eventually they give up. You could say that our
dicks give up, too. It’s all too sad.
When I turned sixty, I started seeking out people
who would talk openly
about their sexual experiences. And people who had experienced sexual
ecstasy. I found teachers of Tantra and sacred sexuality who believed
that sexual pleasure and spirituality were part of the same whole. They
taught me that desire and sex are divine, life-affirming gifts
deserving of deep respect.
They taught me alternatives to uninspired, unfulfilling sex—different
ways of thinking and behaving. I took classes with them
where I learned how to reconnect with my body and respect its raw,
organic wisdom. In the classes I learned to breathe and relax and feel.
I surrendered to my body and to its hidden pleasures. I forgot about
trying to get hard and was often surprised to get long-lasting
So I started experimenting with myself and with my partners. I
practiced letting go of shame and judgments and agendas. I
practiced being mindful and present. I
discovered that genitals are highly over-rated. Sexual satisfaction and
erotic bliss have less to do with genitals—or with a hard-on—and more
do with connecting with heart and soul and moving the
excitement/energy throughout the whole body. I discovered that sex is
performance. The best sex grows out of intimacy, out of heart-to-heart
connection. Sex is not a toy. Sex is being. Sex is Life.
I am learning to connect with my own body and soul and with my
partner. I am learning to be vulnerable and open-hearted and to
surrender to spirit. I
started having beautiful and healing experiences. I have experienced
erotic ecstasy generated by an electrifying kiss with my lover, lips
barely touching, fully clothed, with no genitals involved. After I
learned to open myself to exquisite waves of pleasure through simple
breathing techniques, I often had body orgasms without erection and
without ejaculation, some lasting ten minutes or more. It was ecstatic
pleasure with no let-down afterward, just a deeply warm, satisfying
peace and wholeness that lasted for days.
Of course there is nothing at all wrong with having and enjoying
erections. Or wanting them. Erections are wonderful—I love my
The funny thing is
that the more I surrender into intimacy and open up to the pleasure of
my whole body, the more often I am surprised with a perfectly fine
erection, at the right time. The main point here is that now I am
enjoying sex fully—it just doesn’t matter whether I get hard or not. I
let my breathing and my heart lead the way to rich erotic, pleasure.
I am confident that my lover and I will enjoy each other no matter
where we end up with our lovemaking. Hard or soft—either way,
I hope you will consider that erectile dysfunction (ED) can be a
blessing instead of a curse. It calls us to re-examine our sexuality
gives us an opportunity to grow into a mature sexuality that does not
objectify sex, or bodies, or persons.
Call me—I can help you expand your ability to enjoy erotic
It’s all good.