Speaking Up About Erectile Dysfunction

by Erica Heilman

Approximately 30 million men in the United States have trouble achieving or maintaining an erection, and though there are effective treatments for erectile dysfunction, most of these men do not seek treatment...for as expert as we have become at watching sex in the movies and on television, we have much to learn about having open and candid conversations about sexuality.

Dr. Francois Eid has no problem talking about sex. As the Director of Advanced Urological Care, and Clinical Associate Professor of Urology at Weill/Cornell Medical College in New York City, Dr. Eid must speak openly with patients on the subject, and he enjoys it. "It's an interesting part of being a doctor. You get to be intimate with people right away."

For Dr. Eid, treating sexual dysfunction is not synonymous with giving men the golden key to a fabulous new sex life. Instead, it is about helping men to feel normal. Below, Dr. Eid dispels some common misconceptions about the treatment of sexual dysfunction, and talks about how he approaches the sensitive topic of sexuality with his patients.

How did you become an expert in the area of sexual dysfunction?

In my early days practicing urology, I noticed that a lot of doctors were not comfortable talking about sex, and a lot of patients were not comfortable talking about it either. So doctors started to refer patients to me when they had sexual concerns. "Go see Eid." And that's how I became an expert in sexual dysfunction.

But it wasn't until I'd seen five or six thousand patients that I began to understand the real problem that most men have with losing their ability to have an erection. A lot of people assume that it's all about sex and manhood. But the primary difficulty felt by most men in this condition is that they do not feel normal anymore. And my job, as a doctor, is to help men feel like themselves again. Feel normal.

Are there a lot of misconceptions about why men seek treatment for erectile dysfunction?

People see it as a social phenomenon. What they overlook is that losing use of your penis is like losing your eyesight. When Viagra received FDA approval, people started writing all sorts of articles about how sex is no longer romantic, and all men have to do is take a pill and they get an erection -- they don't need foreplay, and so on. They portrayed treatment for sexual dysfunction as something dirty, for lecherous old men. It really annoyed me, because there seemed to be a very superficial knowledge of what erectile dysfunction represents to an individual.

A man who cannot have an erection is not thinking, "I need to be able to make love Saturday night." He is thinking, "I can't do it anymore. Monday, Tuesday, never again." He has lost a normal part of his functioning.

What is that experience like? Talking with couples about erectile dysfunction?

There's a lovely thing that happens. At first, the conversation is often heavy and filled with resignation and sadness. But often, after two or three minutes, we're laughing about the erectile dysfunction. And when you start laughing, it's almost like the job is finished. It has put things into perspective. There are treatment options. He is now in control. He is not a victim of the situation anymore.

Can you give an example?

Sure. I had a patient who had had radiation therapy for prostate cancer. He was in his seventies, and he developed erectile dysfunction, and for two years after that, he was really miserable. And apparently his erectile dysfunction was a big complaint. So when he came in with his wife, her primary goal was to get him to stop complaining.

We started to talk about the mechanics of the sex they were having. And you have to admit it, it's funny. I mean, here you are all together in this consultation, and you're all picturing the couple in the bedroom, and it's romantic, and they start foreplay, and he goes to insert his penis, and it's limp. But instead of skipping over the story because it's uncomfortable, I ask for more detail. We really get into the nitty gritty. And then it gets to the point where it's not uncomfortable anymore.


As erectile dysfunction is serious issue for men. Sometimes people hesitate to talk about it.