Affairs and Erectile Dysfunction

Woman suspicious of partner's affair

Affairs affect over 40% of all couples at some point in their marriage. But not all couples want to end their relationship because of it. For affair recovery to be effective, however, couples have to find a new way to connect sexually and negotiate some type of successful erotic recovery. But what happens when there’s sexual dysfunction, either as a result of the affair or as the cause?

Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects over 40% of all men at some point in their adulthood. ED can create anxiety and low self-esteem, and some men may seek outside partners in the attempt to decrease performance pressure and anxiety about their erections. Sex workers and sexual massages can sometimes work. The decrease in performance pressure may temporarily help men with ED, depending on the cause. Men who have anxiety-related ED may find they it happens less often with someone they have no need to impress than with a committed partner. This may lead to a pattern of seeking outside sexual stimulation and continued infidelity.

Symptom of Cheating

When a partner is having an affair, ED can be a symptom. The guilt and anxiety of being caught can create avoidance and insecurity at home with a spouse. The fear of being inadequate sexually with a primary partner can make a man doubt their marriage or committed partnership. But it may, in fact, be the pressure of having to face the sexual dysfunction that is creating the underlying insecurity. Anxiety can create a cycle, which is the actual cause of erectile dysfunction. Once you become anxious that you won’t get an erection, or have an orgasm, it is more likely that the stress of worrying about the possibility will then make it more difficult to become aroused, and can interfere with orgasm. This anxiety cycle can eventually lead to avoidance of sex and low desire.

Get checked

Before you jump to conclusions about the meaning of your ED, make sure you see a specialist. ED can be caused by many factors. Medications, prescriptions, stress, exhaustion, illness, relationship problems, and alcohol can all lead to ED. More serious issues like diabetes, heart problems, or prostate cancer should also be ruled out by a professional.

It’s normal to have ED occasionally. Not every erection will be perfect, nor will every sexual encounter be stress-free. Men naturally have fewer and less firm erections as they age. Men also tend to worry more about their erections as they get older, and their testosterone levels drop. One way to know if your ED is related to testosterone levels is to ask yourself if you get an erection naturally throughout the night or in the morning when your T levels are naturally at their highest. If not, you can ask your urologist or regular general practitioner for a testosterone level test. Some doctors will prescribe testosterone if your levels are below therapeutic.

Discovery of an affair

If your partner discloses or you discover their affair, this can also create a block in your desire levels. Work through your emotional issues in your relationship before worrying about your erections. Sometimes your body knows it needs a break before your head understands what’s happening in your relationship. Intimacy has many meanings and its okay to take some space while the two of you figure things out.  Therapy can help. 

It’s also okay to use medication to help with erections if you need it. Erections are caused by blood flow to the extremities. Medicines like Viagra, Levitra and Cialis are all PdF5 phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors, they boost a chemical called nitric oxide. Nitric oxide lets the muscles in your penis relax so your blood can flow to the area in order to let the penis engorge. Using a Pdf5 can help break an anxiety spiral. It will not create desire, particularly if you are in a difficult time in your relationship. But it may help with arousal.

Remember, anxiety constricts blood flow. The more anxious you are about getting an erection, the less likely you will be to achieve one. If you don’t get one this time, you may be even more anxious about getting one next time. Try letting go of the goal of getting an erection and let yourself experience the pleasure of touch, enjoy just being with your partner, and let go of feelings of guilt or responsibility.

 Many times anxiety will pass. If it doesn’t, this may be a sign guiding you toward the need for more healing in your relationship. It may be time to work on erotic recovery –  together. Healing from an affair can be tough, whether you are the one who cheated or you’ve been cheated on. But it doesn’t mean it’s not possible.

Find a therapist who is experienced in sex and couples therapy, and find a way to reconnect with your partner. Create a new monogamy agreement, one where your sex can start again, in a new and passionate way that works for both of you.

About Dr. Tammy Nelson

Tammy Nelson PhD

Tammy Nelson PhD is a sex and relationship therapist and the author of Open Monogamy and When You’re the One Who Cheats. She is a TEDx speaker and the host of the podcast The Trouble with Sex.