Sex is not the same thing as intimacy. Michael J. Russer explores the ignored connection between true intimacy and self-overcoming
Erectile Dysfunction (ED) is the best thing to happen to me and my intimacy. There, I said it. Actually, I say it a lot. On radio, TV, print, online and occasionally gatherings (it’s a great way to quiet a room down if things get rowdy). If some guy had made the same claim to me just two years ago, I would have thought he was either insane or just messing with me. Being fully impotent (i.e. can’t get it up to save my life, even with the pills) is not something most men would be willing to discuss. Or for that matter, even comfortable listening to men talk about. The way some men react, you would think that my “condition” is contagious.
However, my impotence is just a context, a gateway if you will, to discoveries about extraordinary intimacy that I would have never experienced on my own otherwise. It served as the most unlikely of shepherds guiding my female partner and me to levels of emotional and physical intimacy most normally functioning couples can barely imagine. In order to fully appreciate how we arrived at such a blissful place, it helps to see the state I was in prior to this unlikely transformation.
In September of 2011, I ended a 26 year marriage where the last eleven years were essentially celibate. It was your typical baby-boomer “let’s stay together for the kids’ sake” relationship. Two months after the separation I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Given that five out of five other members of my immediate family with cancer died from it, I wasn’t about to take any chances. My prostate was surgically removed that December. Despite the successful surgery, my PSA continued to climb (not a good sign). So, just to make sure, I went through seven weeks of daily intensive follow up radiation treatments. My impotence was the result of one of these treatment modalities and is not an uncommon side effect for prostate cancer treatment. Sadly, many men die each year from prostate cancer because they avoided getting checked, mostly out of fear of losing their “manhood.” Let me make something very clear right now. I may not be able to get it up but I am fully alive and have absolutely no problem getting it on.
The irony of being fully impotent immediately after legally and morally clearing the way for new sexual experiences was not lost on me. In addition to going through the four stages of loss related to being diagnosed with prostate cancer, I had to go through the same four stages all over again with respect to my flaccidity. The first stage is disbelief. I distinctly remember looking up at the heavens and shouting “You have GOT to be fucking kidding me!!” The next stage is anger, and I had plenty of that (mostly aimed at myself for being so shut down all those years). Then came a bit of depression and finally, acceptance (the most important stage). I no longer fought reality, which opened me up to unimaginable possibilities of intimacy.
About nine months following my surgery, I met the wonderful woman who is now my life mate. Given that I hadn’t been with another woman for nearly thirty years (and of course, with my “condition”) I wanted to start out slow, first as friends and hiking buddies and see what might arise (metaphorically speaking). However, it soon became clear that we were both open to the next step.
With my acceptance, I was determined to be completely open, transparent and vulnerable about my inability to get hard. So sitting on the couch one fall afternoon, looking intently into her gorgeous eyes, I explained my condition and asked: “Are you willing to explore other ways of being intimate with me?” At that point, some women would have looked at their left wrist (whether sporting a watch or not) and said, “Oh my! Look at the time!” Not this incredibly conscious, beautiful woman. Her response was “Yes, of course.”
Now I could write a book (and in fact I am) about what we subsequently discovered and how we discovered it. Perhaps my biggest revelation however is that my ED ended up being the biggest gift to my intimate life I could possibly imagine. I have to say that even today it is sometimes still difficult for me to believe this could actually be possible.
It turns out my ED gave me the opportunity to slow down as a lover and really focus on my partner instead of taking care of my hard-on. Making love has become an exquisite process, not a goal. And it has allowed me to match my partner’s sexual response profile so closely that we each have mind-blowing intimate experiences every time. 2-4 hour love-making sessions with my partner climaxing a minimum of five times and occasionally more each session are, believe it or not, the norm. And no, she is not some sort of Sex Goddess. In fact, she is fully postmenopausal and has never experienced anything remotely like this prior. Nor have I. And keep in mind, all this happens with me being completely flaccid.
Research has shown that most women are not satisfied with their intimate encounters, despite what our male egos tell us. Just about the time most of us issue our last grunt and roll over to go to sleep, women are just getting warmed up. In fact, one university study has shown that 87% of women reported using vocalizations (i.e. moaning) to boost their man’s self-esteem and speed things up. I am not making this up nor trying to make guys feel bad. It’s just that men and women are wired very differently with respect to sexual response.
As a result of all this, I have made the choice to define my manhood not by the size or stiffness of my penis, but instead on how well I can deeply connect with and please my partner in a context of true emotional, physical and spiritual intimacy. And from that perspective, it really doesn’t matter to me or my partner if I ever get hard again. Never in my life have I felt more as a man with respect to my relationship with women than I do now.
Because I am unable to get hard, no matter how turned on I become, I no longer have that overwhelming urge to “use it” as typically happened prior to ED. Essentially, it short-circuited my usual male wiring. The biological imperative that arises with an erection is an incredibly powerful thing. When we’re hard, we’re ready, willing and able—right now. That’s great for making babies and propagation of the species, not necessarily for fostering deep intimacy with our partners.
This is how it happened for me and it may or may not resonate with you. Either way, I totally respect and honor that. My deepest belief and mission is that exquisite emotional, physical and spiritual intimacy is available to every man and woman who is open to receiving it. And my sincerest hope for the men reading this is that you don’t have to lose your manhood to discover it like I did.
image credit: Flickr/Mr Jaded