Most people expect and depend on their intimate partner and relationship to make them feel safe, secure, wanted, and valued. In other words, to make them feel good about themselves. That’s why couples with ongoing relationship and sexual problems often feel defeated, despondent and insecure.
Given how most of us also demand and expect immediate results without effort, it’s not hard to see why sexual solutions (such as pills, creams, vacuum pumps and surgery) which promise instant restoration of one’s sex life (not to mention marriage and self-esteem), hold such massive appeal.
In search of the magic cure
Throughout history, people have sought potions and devices to obtain relief from sexual problems and to enhance sexual performance. More than any other generation, couples today have available to them, safer and more effective options for improving their sexual functioning and their relationship.
The unprecedented success of Viagra and other PDE-5 inhibitors such as Cialis and Levitra are testament to the benefits they have provided to couples where the male has medically related erection problems due to conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
But medical solutions are also particularly attractive to those who hope drugs and devices might allow them to avoid intimacy. These individuals are hoping that they won’t have to confront their relationship or themselves to improve their sexual function.
Can medical options improve your relationship?
It would be inaccurate and untrue to say that medical options have no benefit for those who don’t have a medical problem. For those couples who have non-medical problems, medical solutions have helped reduce fears of sexual response and allowed people to simply relax and be with their partner.
But even sexual pharmacology such as Viagra has its limitations. It does not deliver guaranteed results. Many users have found that stress and anxiety which increase the release of adrenaline actually reduce Viagra’s effectiveness. Furthermore, it can reinforce unhelpful beliefs such as: “Erections are the measure of a man’s self-worth” or “Sex equals intercourse.” If you hold these beliefs, Viagra certainly won’t enable you to sidestep your anxieties about having sex.
Viagra is not a cure-all. Rather it is a tool and as such, its success depends largely on how it’s used and the user’s motivation. Viagra may take some of the worry out of getting a firm erection but it does not remove feelings of inadequacy or a fear of being intimate or known. It will not help a couple who is unwilling to confront the truth about their relationship.
Are you addressing or avoiding the problem?
Medical options are appealing to those who hope to circumvent their emotional life and avoid themselves. They want a quick fix and an impersonal one too - a solution without involving or even alerting their partner.
This is understandable given that many couples do not have the kind of relationship that facilitates honesty and disclosure from the outset. These people maintain a façade during sex (as well as in other parts of their lives) without ever making real contact with themselves or each other. They try to gain validation through their attractiveness to others and pursue impressive (albeit robotic) sexual performance in the hope of being accepted and loved.
Such emotionally alienated partners often have anxieties about their relationship. They tend to relate and have sex in ways that feel comfortable for them by sticking to familiar sexual routines because it feels safe (although not particularly satisfying).
This in itself creates a situation in which sexual problems can be hard to resolve. Departures from status quo which inevitably drive an increase in anxiety take people so much out of their comfort zone that they are often convinced that they cannot cope with the emotional discomfort inherent in change. At this stage, many opt out, believing that the situation is irretrievable rather than a necessary part of the growth process.
In reality, being willing to confront yourself to resolve sexual problems (as with other problems) creates a lot of anxiety for individuals and stress for relationships. Because most of us have a tendency to want to remain comfortable, there is little recognition that emotionally difficult times can be purposeful and productive too. Effective solutions to many things in life necessitate the need to tolerate more anxiety, at least in the initial stages of change.
In short, medical solutions can enhance your genital response but does not enable a person or couple to bypass the necessary struggles of self-acceptance, intimacy and love. To do that, it is necessary for you and your partner to undergo the natural (and often painful but ultimately rewarding) growth process of intimate human relationships.
Concepts and material for this post were drawn from Resurrecting Sex by David Schnarch, author of Passionate Marriage.