Things have been heating up with The Consultant. Ever since deciding to give him a real chance I have pleasantly discovered that we have a lot in common. I look forward to our next dates more and more, and I find myself counting the days until I get to see him again.
He recently texted me an invitation for dinner at his house. I knew what that meant. Dinner. Alone at his place. Wine. No kids. Things were clearly about to get more physical. We have been dating for almost 3 months at this point and have only had a few passionate kisses. I have wanted things to get more physical for a while, but my avoidant tendencies and fear about getting too close too quickly have been keeping me distant. After some self-reflection and consultation with a trusted friend, I accepted his invitation.
Dinner was good, if not downright impressive for a recent bachelor. But I felt a little anxious. I hadn’t been intimate with a man for quite some time. To explain this drought, I decided to talk to him about some of my past relationships. My two most recent exes have been Crazy. Literally (hence the capital C). So I decided it was time to tell him all of the gory details. After my monologue, I took a huge gulp of wine. There. Ready to run? Nope. In fact, he didn’t flinch. Wouldn’t you know it, we had that in common too and started laughing about the similarities we had in crazy former spouses. Damn. So much for my attempt to scare him away.
After finishing off the bottle of wine he asked whether I wanted to watch a movie. Sure. Then the kissing started. Amazing is all I can say—new and romantic; I savored every second. Despite all the various reasons for my resistance, I finally thought, “What the hell? Why not?” Clothes started coming off. We kissed all the way upstairs to his bedroom.
As soon as we started to get going, though, he lost his ability to perform. Excuse me!? Did he just not find me attractive? Nope, that wasn’t it, he found me extremely attractive. The passion between us was very high. I asked whether he thought he had too much wine. Maybe. Alcohol has long been associated with men’s inability to perform in bed.1 But he was clearly able to get started…just not able to keep it going. What gives?
If our Cabernet Sauvignon was not the culprit, what could be the problem here? Was he nervous? Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the most common sexual dysfunction in men2 and can be caused by a whole host of physiological and psychological factors (there’s a reason the whole world knows what ‘the little blue pill’ refers to). ED has been associated with stress and also with negative feelings and anxiety that derive from a man’s most recent sexual encounter.3 Hmm…what if the most recent encounter wasn’t terribly recent? The Consultant hadn’t had sex in almost 9 months, and that encounter had been with his ex-wife of nearly 20 years. Their relationship had ended very badly after a long and painfully dramatic decline over many years. Could memories of his past relationship interfere with his ability to perform with me this night? There is some evidence to suggest that traumatic experiences (in his case, being in a toxic marriage for almost 2 decades) can lead to the same types of ED experiences for men as if they suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD, which is something many war veterans suffer from after experiencing combat action). PTSD has long been associated with a high incidence of sexual dysfunction.4 Both of our recent marriages were quite traumatic, so this might be an explanation as well.
This was our first time together, so I was expecting some level of awkwardness. But this was a bit unexpected. Might this experience have a long-term impact on our newly unfolding relationship? In a series of interviews with wives who had husbands experiencing ED, some women described ED as frustrating and inducing feelings of hopelessness. However, other women reported that ED motivated them to find other ways of being intimate and increased their sexual communication.5 The Consultant and I already communicated well, and this recent event sure opened up a new topic of communication. I was definitely motivated to give it another shot when we were both better prepared and considerably more sober. I decided to suspend judgment and try again some other night when we could eliminate the red wine effect. Science is fun.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
1Malatesta, V. J., Pollack, R. H., Wilbanks, W. A., & Adams, H. E. (1979). Alcohol effects on the orgasmic-ejaculatory response in human males. Journal of Sex Research, 15, 101–107.
2Kubin, M., Wagner, G., & Fugl-Meyer, A. R. (2003). Epidemiology of erectile dysfunction. International Journal of Impotence Research, 15(1), 63–71.
3Latini, D. M., Penson, D. F., Wallace, K. L., Lubeck, D. P., & Lue, T. F. (2006). Clinical and psychosocial characteristics of men with erectile dysfunctions: Baseline data from ExCEEDTM. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 3(6), 1059–1067.
4Arbanas, G. (2010). Does post-traumatic stress disorder carry a higher risk for sexual dysfunctions? Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7, 1816-1821.
5O’Connor, E. J., McCabe, M. P., Conaglen, H. M. & Conaglen, J. P. (2011). Attitudes and experiences: Qualitative perspectives on erectile dysfunction from the female partner. Journal of Health Psychology, 17, 3-13.
Dr. Jennifer Harman – Adventures in Dating… | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Harman’s research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.