Never Have I Ever: Experienced Erectile Difficulties (and Dealt With Them)
Never Have I Ever: Experienced Erectile Difficulties (and Dealt With Them)
Have you ever played “Never Have I Ever” before? Here are the rules: Everyone puts up ten fingers, and you go around in a circle and one by one share something sexy or scandalous that you’ve never done before. When someone else shares something you have done, you have to put one finger down — and of course, drink. The first person to put all 10 fingers down loses (or wins, depending on how you look at it).
Well, AskMen is still playing Never Have I Ever, and the rules are simple: In each edition of this column, we speak to someone about doing something new in bed, whether it’s a long-time fantasy, something that just happened, or even something they regret. They tell us everything so you get an inside look at what some sexual experiences are actually like.
Usually, Never Have I Ever columns are anonymized to protect the privacy of the people being interviewed. After all, talking frankly about your sex life, especially when it’s about unusual or taboo sex acts, can be a bit much for people if they’re also going to have their names attached to the piece.
But that’s not the case here. Paul Marlow — or, as his friends call him, Tall Paul — is a 6’7″ ex-athlete and personal trainer-turned-mental health speaker and tall men’s fashion specialist. About five years ago, he had his first experience with erectile dysfunction, also known as ED.
For Paul, the ED was triggered by mental health conditions, in his case, c-PTSD, anxiety, stress, and depression. Healthline reports that the Massachusetts Male Aging Study found that around 52 percent of men experience some form of erectile dysfunction, and that total ED increases from about five to 15 percent between ages 40 and 70.
While the likelihood of ED can increase with age, it’s still possible for young men, such as Marlow, who went through it in his 30s, to experience ED. Another study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that ED affected about 26 percent of men under 40 — that’s about one in four.
Regardless of whether it’s due to physical, mental, or emotional reasons, taking those numbers into account, it’s far from abnormal. And that makes sense: When a woman can’t have an orgasm or doesn’t feel turned on, it’s considered normal, and society deems her partner a dick for making her feel otherwise.
Why do we put so much pressure on men in the first place? Cis men may be privileged in many ways, but societal acceptance of ED isn’t one of them. It’s normal, human, for anyone’s sex drive to be affected by the brutalities of life, regardless of your gender or genitals.
Perhaps that’s why, rather than try to hide his experience with ED; Paul launched the mental health platform Never Alone, seeking to not only normalize struggling with mental health, but the ED that comes with it.
As a woman whose sex drive has been affected by depression in the past, it’s high time that we remove the stigma men face when dealing with the same thing. Paul spoke with AskMen about his first time experiencing ED, what helped, and advice for others going through it.
AskMen: When was the first time you experienced ED? Can you tell me about it?
My first time experiencing ED was not the common situation you would see in a commercial for ED pills. The first realization that my libido was not working like it had my whole life was after waking up one morning in 2018. I was alone and had woken from an unusually deep sleep for that period of my life, and it dawned on me that I was not hard.
This was unusual because, for as long as I could remember, restful sleep always meant I would always wake up with morning wood.
As I lay there, I started thinking about the last time I had woken up with an erection. I realized that not only had this not happened in the previous three to four weeks, but I also couldn’t remember being sexually aroused at all.
Can you tell me about what you believe caused it?
At that time, I had no idea why I was having trouble with my sexual drive. I was pretty embarrassed by it, so I pushed the issue to the back of my head so I didn’t have to admit to myself fully that a core piece of me was missing. But as the months passed by with the same lack of erections and no desire to have sex, I started to open up to my therapist about what was happening.
After some time, it became clear that my ED was brought on by the mental health struggles (c-PTSD, anxiety, stress, depression) that had become part of my daily life.
How did it lead to you getting involved in working to destigmatize mental health?
ED was one of many new struggles in my life in 2018.
In 2018 I went through a tough breakup that led to c-PTSD, and at the same time, my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. For the next three years, my life went down a spiral I had never imagined possible.
Dad died 12 months after being diagnosed, with cancer appearing out of nowhere and being the leading cause of his passing.
I took his passing really hard. That, coupled with my breakup’s c-PTSD symptoms, made my life a mess. I slept less than five hours a night, waking up five to ten times. I cried in the shower most mornings and couldn’t look people in the eyes due to the constant high anxiety I felt. These are just three of the hundreds of ways my life changed.
So far, these have been the most challenging times of my life. However, there was a silver lining; my fear of being ashamed of my weaknesses changed.
Instead of hiding my mental health struggles, I started sharing them online through social media and being open to my friends in person. I started posting my lows, where most people at the time were only showing their #bestlife.
The groundswell of meaningful interactions in person and in my DMs from others who were struggling led to me starting Never Alone.
Before it happened to you, what did you think of ED?
I want to be clear, as I write this, it’s December 2022. As stated above, I first noticed my ED in 2018. I am still dealing with ED. It’s not as drastic as these last few years, but I am not back to my old self.
From 2017 to 2020 I can confidently say that I woke up with morning wood less than ten times. So that is 10 out of 1,095 days.
Before this time, I would wake up to a morning erection multiple times a week and have daily hard-ons. I was in my early 30s and was genuinely curious how my libido would be like this? I felt like a teenager in high school getting random hard-ons.
Because of this, I thought ED was for the weak (just like I thought therapy was.) I correlated ED with physically unhealthy males that drank a lot, slept little, and cared even less about what they put in their bodies.
I quickly realized I was wrong about ED and discovered how valuable therapy is.
How did it affect your dating life as a single man in your 30s?
Due to my ED, depression, stress, and anxiety from it all combined, my dating life was non-existent.
If I got the courage to go on a date, I was pretty sure I would not be sexually aroused, no matter how attracted I was to the girl. So to not make things awkward and have to make up excuses to not have sex, I would just not go on any dates.
Were most dates/potential partners supportive, or were there assholes? How did you deal with the stigma?
Over the last few years, I came up with many excuses for why I wasn’t feeling like having sex or why I got soft during the middle of it. I didn’t start telling my dates about my mental health struggles leading to ED until this last year.
In these last 12 months, I have been 100% open with my dates, telling the entire story of all that has happened, always including how my libido and sexual drive loss.
And two positive things have come from this: One being the women have been supportive and never judgmental. The second has been in those moments I feel a release of stress that leads to a spark of sexual energy in my body. There have been times when I even got fully hard during these conversations.
Did you try medication?
I never tried ED meds or even thought about it. Right from the initial realization that I had ED issues, I knew it was a mental blockage and that If I worked on being healthier physically and mentally, I could overcome it.
I also never took any mental health medications. I had the same mindset towards my mental health as my sexual health by working daily on ‘me’ to find my way back to a healthy body and mind.
In working on ‘me,’ I did do an MDMA Therapy experience, and I wrote about my experience.
And just this year, I did an LSD Journey…taking 600 micrograms of LSD and went into myself to face what was going on.
The MDMA and LSD experiences were done with my therapist, who also works with MAPS. Both of these experiences did a ton of help for my ED and overall mental health. Without them, I would not be where I am today with the mental health speaking and confidence to talk with you.
What would you say to a guy who experienced ED for the first time and panicked over it?
The first thing I want to say to that guy is that he should not feel ashamed about what just happened because he is not alone. I genuinely think that most men have this happen in their lives; however, we are too strong-headed and afraid of being seen as weak to admit it to anyone. Hence, making us feel all alone in struggling with ED.
Stress from daily life plays a significant factor in our bodies. Lack of sleep, anxiety from work, poor eating habits, and drinking often are just a few things that society normalizes but will affect your libido.
To any guys dealing with ED at this time or having it come into their lives in the future, I want to let them know that these four staples have helped me find my sexual drive again.
Talking weekly with my therapist
Changing my daily habits to be able to sleep eight hours a night
Working out five to six days a week
Eating healthier food
Invest in yourself and your health, and you can make a positive change in time.
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