I’m a 32-year-old straight cis man and I was recently involved in a nasty bike accident resulting in injury and permanent erectile dysfunction. I can no longer get or maintain an erection even with the aid of injections, Viagra, pumps, etc. I enjoy giving oral and manual stimulation and I know there’s a world more to sex than just penetration, however I can’t help but feel a certain inadequacy now in my role as a cis male sexual partner.
Previous to this I had a very active and satisfying sex life, but the fear and disappointment of not being able to perform as I used to has kept me painfully single. This has been especially difficult since I am still (fairly) young. I don’t even know how to approach the subject with a new partner or if it’s as much of a deal breaker as I fear it is. Any advice would be much appreciated.
Dear Mr. Good
(took it upon myself to shorten your pseudonym for you — see what I did there?),
Well, wow. I’m so sorry to hear about your accident and I can only imagine the major perspective shift this has required of you as you adjust to the new abilities of your body alongside the other mental and emotional grieving processes involved in an event like this. I hope that you have supportive listeners around you whether friends, family, or professionals like a therapist to help guide you through this intense adjustment.
First, I wonder how recent this recent injury is. If it’s been less than a year, I actually recommend you maybe bookmark the advice I give you here to read a little later on down the road (you can read it now, too, of course!) because when we are in the throes of transitions such as these, what lands as helpful or applicable advice can change as we get more distance from the event itself.
Now, let’s talk about boners. I talk to people about boners a lot. Like, a lot. Their boners, other people’s boners, theoretical boners. I talk to all kinds of people with all kinds of boners both satisfying and unsatisfying, “functional” and “dysfunctional,” wanted and unwanted. And here is what I’ve learned from all of this about boners: though most popular depictions of sex (movies, porn, lyrics, gossip, sex ed) will have you believe that everybody, everywhere wants to and/or does focus their entire sex life around the ever-holy, always-erect, perfectly-performing phallus — they, truthfully, do not.
If/when you’re ready to resume your sex life (take your time), communicate openly and confidently (when possible) about what having sex with you might entail and not entail (a boundaries conversation that we’d all be better for having, bike accident or not).
Do not, dear Mr. Good, have sex with people who prioritize, above all else, boners. Especially people who prioritize boners over you, the person. People who do not prioritze boners in their sex lives absolutely exist — more than the aforementioned depictions of sex would have us believe. I can easily think of a handful of people off the top of my head who would be downright relieved that boners were off the sexual menu, honestly.
But here’s the catch: you do have to talk about it in order to find these folks. Put it in your dating profile, talk about it over text, talk about it on your first or your fifth or your tenth date, just make sure you talk about it. With people. And, especially, with people you want to sleep with.
Quarantining yourself into unwanted singledom is not going to do much to disprove to yourself that you are, in fact, “damaged goods,” unworthy of a sex life because of the absence of a boner. While I don’t think “getting back out there” is THE solution, I do think, when you feel emotionally prepared, it will be PART of the solution.
Practically speaking, becoming comfortable with a strap-on harness and dildo can provide you and your partners with the hands-free, hip-thrusting penetrative experience you might be missing post-bike accident. Harness-maker SpareParts makes a harness called The Deuce “Male Harness” which, is designed specifically for just this.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.