Infidelity is undoubtedly one of the more distressing experiences that a person or couple can have. Unfortunately, it seems that cheating is more common than many would think. A 2021 survey, for example, found that just under half of people in monogamous relationships have had affairs!
In this article, we’ll be discussing the link between cheating and erectile dysfunction before thinking about how to get help if you’ve been affected.
What is cheating, anyway?
So, how do we define cheating? Does kissing count as cheating, or does cheating only relate to sex? What about emotional cheating? A lingering hug or a subtly sensual touch? Does watching porn count as cheating? Seeing a sex worker during a solo business trip?
Different people have various answers to these questions. There is no definition of cheating that is universally agreed upon. You have to make up your own mind on this as an individual and a couple. It’s always a good idea to discuss openly with your partner what is acceptable and what is not within the context of your relationship.
Can the guilt of cheating cause ED?
The answer is yes – the guilt of cheating can cause ED. How does this happen? Well, for starters, it’s important to keep in mind that there is a whole range of psychological experiences that can come up in relation to guilt and cheating. Often, a person will feel stress, anxiety, and a fear of being found out.
Cheating can happen for many different reasons. For some, this happens because they are no longer attracted to their partner. For others, it happens as a result of being in a sexless or emotionally empty marriage. In these cases, the guilt which carries over can cause the person to experience erectile issues with the new partner.
All of these emotional factors have the potential to cause ED due to the way that the brain-body neurological signals get interrupted. If you’re lost in your head during sex and you get preoccupied with feelings of guilt or anxiety about being caught, this, of course, will stop you from being fully present.
This, in turn, can stop arousal in its tracks, making it harder to get or maintain an erection. Uncomfortable thoughts and emotions, therefore, can trigger ED.
For men who do end up experiencing this, they may get set up to fall into a vicious cycle in which the single event causes performance anxiety, which then causes subsequent events of anxiety-induced erectile dysfunction.
Some men develop guilt about things that others wouldn’t give a second thought about. For example: watching porn, flirting, or thinking about someone else while masturbating can lead to strong feelings of guilt in some men, which can, in turn, lead to erectile dysfunction.
How can you overcome ED caused by the guilt of cheating?
Guilt is a powerful and destructive emotion. Strong feelings of guilt are linked to clinical depression, which is also associated with a range of sexual and general health problems.
What should you do? There is no straightforward answer to this question: but guilt is a strong signal from your psyche that the behavior at hand needs to be looked at.
Speaking to a therapist might be a good place to start. Talk therapy approaches such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) are great tools for treating inappropriate or excessive guilt.
Psychodynamic therapy, however, is arguably always indicated in this situation: this approach can help you to understand the unconscious forces which may have led you to cheat, allowing you to move through guilt by taking ownership and responsibility for this part of yourself.
Should you come clean? This depends entirely on your specific situation and your personal values. While coming clean is not necessarily the right answer for everyone, I always strongly encourage my clients to be guided by virtue of honesty, as this tends to have the best results for mental well-being and healthy relationships.
Erectile dysfunction after being cheated on
So: you weren’t the one who cheated. Are you still at risk of ED? Yes: being cheated on can cause erectile dysfunction.
How? Infidelity is a painful experience that can lead to huge amounts of stress, low self-esteem, poor body image, anxiety, trust issues, and even clinical depression.
These are all psychological factors that can cause erectile dysfunction, as well as performance anxiety and low sexual desire.
Once you fall into the vicious cycle of sexual performance anxiety, it can be hard to get out of. It’s not easy to build back the sexual confidence that can be strongly damaged by being cheated on.
Even if you’ve decided to end the relationship, this lack of confidence, and loss of trust can bleed into future relationships, making ED seem like a permanent issue.
How to overcome ED that is caused by being cheated on?
Because of the rupture of trust that has occurred, there is definitely an onus on your partner to make amends. You also have a responsibility, however, to understand how you may have contributed to this event. It takes two to tango, as they say!
The best way to move forward from infidelity, though, is through a series of open and honest conversations with your partner. You may find it useful to be guided by a couples therapist here.
What else can you do? Once you have addressed the cheating with your partner, there are also things that you can do to move forward from the excessive negative feelings that arise.
Talk therapy can help you develop tools to regulate your hurt and start rebuilding your self-confidence.
Approaches such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) provide great skills for reducing anxiety and improving erectile function.
Not the first time this has happened? If you have been cheated on multiple times and feel that a pattern is developing, psychodynamic or interpersonal therapy can help you understand this pattern and find ways to break it. Also, keep in mind that many couples will need to rekindle trust and actively work on their sex life post-cheating. To this extent, working with a couple or sex therapist can give you some good strategies to reignite that spark.
There’s no doubt about it: cheating is an incredibly difficult experience to cope with as an individual or couple. Infidelity and erectile dysfunction often go hand-in-hand. For many, the stress associated with affairs or being cheated on can cause or worsen existing sexual issues.
Fortunately, erectile dysfunction can be treated, especially if the cause is psychological. Reach out to a sex therapist or mental health professional near you in order to get the support that you need to move forward.