GOING PUBLIC ABOUT ERECTION PROBLEMS

Auckland’s trendy Ponsonby Road is busy at the best of times but today it’s manic. Rush hour has turned a bustling inner-city street into a seething collection of cars, fashionistas, hipsters and handbag dogs. Given erectile dysfunction affects men from all walks of life, and by default their partners, I figure this is the perfect place to gauge what people understand of erectile dysfunction (ED) and what causes it. But are they willing to chat or is ED a topic still too taboo to talk about?

My first attempts at starting a conversation are less than fruitful. A woman in her early forties didn’t have time to talk (supposedly), a 30 year old stroller-pushing dad probably didn’t need to, and as I found with an older gentleman I jumped in front of, the prospect of discussing erectile issues was a step too far. “I’m a priest so it doesn’t affect me”, he said. By the time I get to an early 20s student, I’m ready for a breakthrough.  

“Erectile dysfunction, eh?”, he says, as if hearing the words for the first time. “I would imagine you can’t get an erection?”. There’s an awkward silence. I look at him. He looks at me. And then he strolls off. It wasn’t the breakthrough I was looking for, but it was a start.

“Are you familiar with erectile dysfunction?”, I ask a husband and wife team.

“Well I’m 64 this year and it’s in the back of my mind”, the husband says, looking out the corner of his eye. “My wife’s thinking ‘don’t lie’ so I need to be careful, but yeah, it’s something I’m thinking about more”.

While he might be right in needing to choose words wisely in front of his wife, his assumption that ED is the reserve of older men is becoming increasingly inaccurate. ED does affect mostly older guys but whether it’s due to lifestyle factors like stress, smoking, alcohol or even watching too much pornography, more younger men are showing up in GP waiting rooms, clinics and pharmacies with ED these days.   

“Between the ages of 40 and 70, how many men do you think have ED in New Zealand?” I ask a young couple.

“Not a clue”, he says, as does his partner. I ask a mid-forties creative-type the same question. Again, the same answer. By the time I’m in front of a working mum on the way home I’m ready to spill the beans.

“It’s estimated 300,000 kiwi blokes have some form of ED1”, I say, half knowing the reaction.

“Wow. That’s a lot” she says, but I get the impression she thinks I’m making it up. I wasn’t, which is a sobering thought given the emotional effect all that ED could be having on so many lives. And my concerns don’t stop there. There’s a far more sinister side to this condition than many people know. ED is often the result of common underlying illnesses, many of which are quite serious. That’s why it’s so important for those who think they have ED to front up to their doctor or pharmacist for a check-up ASAP. 

“Do you think heart disease could cause erectile dysfunction?”, I ask two tourists from the Netherlands.

“Yes”, they both respond correctly, as do most people I ask the same question of.

“And what about diabetes?” Again, a flurry of correct answers. It’s pleasantly surprising to hear given that not long ago I doubt I would have received such informed responses. Perhaps it’s testament to how far we’ve come in understanding this condition and being OK talking about it.

“If you’ve had a prostate removal, which is what I had, that can also cause it”, says one half of an elderly couple. His wife chimes in with a cheeky look in her eye. “He takes medication that eventually will heal the nerve damage they did and hopefully we’ll get back to swinging from the chandeliers again.” Good to hear, NZ. Good to hear.  

To learn more about erection difficulties and how Viagra® can help, click here

 

Quilter M. et al. J Sex Med 2017;7:928 - 936

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