When a man experiences erectile dysfunction (ED), it can have a strong negative impact on his sense of self-esteem. For some men, sexual ability equates with masculinity. When ED affects them, they feel as if their whole identity is suddenly at risk.
If you are experiencing erectile dysfunction, an essential first step is to consult your GP so that physical causes can be ruled out.
ED can be a symptom of severe health issues, including:
Also, the GP will check whether any medication you are taking might be causing the problem.
Many men find approaching their GP to discuss erection issues embarrassing. However, GPs regularly review these matters and will not be surprised – for your doctor, ED is just a routine medical problem.
With physical illness and medication ruled out, psychological and lifestyle causes can be addressed. It is here that hypnotherapy can help you overcome erectile dysfunction.
Our bodies release cortisol and other stress hormones when we are under pressure. Financial, work or relationship problems can cause this response. So too will trauma, a lack of confidence and low self-esteem. Cortisol has been described as the body's anti-Viagra. Increased stress reduces libido and can shut off a man's sexual response.
My previous article, Three Wise Monkeys? discusses the evolutionary background to stress: how the stress responses of anger, anxiety and depression served to keep our ancestors alive. Consider the sexual response from an evolutionary point of view. If our primitive ancestors stopped to make love when a predator was nearby, they would not survive very long! Similarly, during times of deprivation – when food was scarce – bearing children would be undesirable. Food stocks would be further depleted, and the child would be unlikely to live. Thus, the body's ability to shut down sexual responses during high-stress periods helped our ancestors to survive.
In today's high-pressure world, when the threats are more subtle and elusive, we live with a constant drip of stress in our lives. In Solution Focused Hypnotherapy, we often discuss the concept of a "stress bucket" - every anxious thought or experience is stored in our internal stress bucket. Inevitably, if we don't change our thinking and lifestyle to address the constant accumulation of stress, the bucket will overflow and, for men, one symptom of this can be ED.
The initial onset of erectile dysfunction might have been related to a stressful life event, negative thinking, relationship problems or a physical health challenge. However, further episodes of ED are often caused by the anxiety that the initial incident itself provoked.
In other words, having once experienced an episode of ED, a man begins to fear that it might reoccur. Rather than looking forward to periods of intimacy with his partner, he thinks: ‘What if it happens again?’
And with this question comes an increase in stress and a significant increase in the stress hormones that contribute to the shutting down of sexual response.
Our minds are wonderfully powerful. We can picture a future scenario so vividly that our brains will not differentiate between reality and this imagined future. A man who has experienced ED might ruminate on the unhappy event, turning over possible consequences of its re-occurrence. When an opportunity to be intimate with his partner presents itself, he has built up such a dread and expectation of failure that this is the only thing he can think of. Rather than being in the moment enjoying the physical proximity, he is in a state of agitation and anxiety - fearful - and, in this state of mind, sexual response is utterly inhibited.
So how can hypnotherapy help a man to set this performance anxiety aside and begin to enjoy healthy erections and a happy sex life?
Firstly, over eight to twelve therapy sessions, the 'stress bucket' can be emptied. Hypnotherapy helps to process our negative thoughts and experiences naturally. Changing them from short-term, emotional memories into narrative memories that no longer provoke a stress response. The solution-focused aspect of the therapy helps the client to imagine what a less stressful life might look like. It reveals the steps they can take to reach that wonderful goal of living a more carefree existence.
Also, many stress-related issues like obesity, alcohol misuse, substance abuse and fatigue have an impact on a man's erections. The therapy will help a man build a healthier and happier lifestyle that can eliminate these impediments.
Most importantly, hypnotherapy can help a man change his negative future forecast into a positive future outlook. Rather than imagining the embarrassment and frustration of ED disrupting his sex life, the client has a mental picture of the future in which intimacy is easy and enjoyable once more.
With the stress of the past, present and future under better control, with a lifestyle that promotes good health and tranquillity, and with positive expectations in place, you can put ED in the past.
Jon Creffield (HPD, DSFH, DHP, MNCH (Reg.) AfSFH) is a member of the National Council for Hypnotherapy, the Association For Solution Focused Hypnotherapy and the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council. He is also an Anxiety UK Approved Therapist. Jon provides sessions of solution-focused hypnotherapy by telephone, video-link or at therapy centres in Bristol.