Erectile dysfunction & breakups

Written with
Amanda Barge

Most of us experience a breakup at some point in our life. They’re hard on the heart, and they can hang heavy on your penis too. You’re probably reading this article if you're struggling to get erect after a breakup, or if you’re worried about erection problems causing a breakup. 

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is when you have trouble getting or keeping an erection. Before we start, we want you to know that ED is treatable, and doesn’t have to get in the way of current or future relationships.

In this article, we’re going to look at:

Part 1: Erection problems after a breakup

Why you can experience erectile dysfunction after a breakup 

Usually when erectile dysfunction happens after a life event such as a breakup, it’s caused by psychological reasons tied to the event. Your brain can start meddling with your boners, leading to erection issues. 

Stress & breakups

Splitting from your partner can be incredibly stressful, and stress can lead to ED. To achieve and sustain a boner, blood has to flow to your penis. Stress hormones activate the body’s ‘fight or flight’ system, which diverts blood away from your penis, resulting in erectile dysfunction. Some common causes of stress after a breakup are:

Emotional stress

We’re naturally wired to love love. When we’re in love, our brains produce happy hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin which keep us bonded with our partners. If you’re no longer with your partner, these can temporarily dip and your brain starts releasing stress hormones such as cortisol. 

Emotional stress can send out a rush of stress hormones. With so much cortisol floating around, your body won’t allow you to get or stay erect. 

Emotional stress can be caused by:

  • Cancelling future plans you had with your partner
  • Grieving your former life and routine with your partner
  • No longer enjoying shared activities and chores, and getting used to doing these things alone

Logistical stresses

Splitting from your partner might cause logistical problems. You might have:

  • Been living together
  • Split groceries and bills
  • Shared housework and chores
  • Shared finances
  • Been raising children together

A breakup might mean:

  • Having to plan new living arrangements
  • Figuring out an entirely new routine
  • Revisiting your budgeting and finances
  • Readjusting your social life 
  • Changing your social media
  • Raising children as a single parent or with shared custody

Long-term feelings of stress and grief without any support can sometimes result in depression, which is also linked to ED. 

Anxiety & breakups

Having anxiety can lead to erectile dysfunction. After a breakup, you might be anxious about:

  • Being single and on your own
  • Meeting someone new
  • Looking after family
  • Running into your ex, their friends, or their family

Sexual performance anxiety & breakups

After a breakup, it's common for people to experience sexual performance anxiety (SPA). SPA is when you’re overcome with a sense of fear that you won’t ‘perform’ well during sex. This performance anxiety makes it hard to stay present in the bedroom, and therefore it's tricky to get or maintain an erection. 

Having sex with someone new after a breakup

SPA is often caused by pressure around having sex with new people. We’ve all heard the rumors that ‘the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else.’ Well, this isn’t strictly true. Rebound sex might result in doubts and distractions creeping in during sex, which can cause erectile dysfunction.

“Rebound sex can lead to ED. Men don’t realize that when getting into bed with a new man or woman, their penis may have other ideas. It can be quite overwhelming and distracting having sex with a new partner, your brain has to tackle a new body and new sensations.” 

Amanda Barge, Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist
“I had just broken up with my girlfriend and was in bed with a different girl a couple of weeks after and I couldn’t get it up. I think it was because it was just too soon after the breakup or I just wasn’t attracted to her but it was traumatizing because I was so embarrassed. Ever since then I’ve been able to get hard but when I take my pants off it goes away because I think about that one time I couldn’t get it up and it takes my mind to an anxious place.”

Anonymous Mojo user

Dating again after a breakup

Just like how sleeping with someone new can be stressful, getting back into the dating game can be stressful too. This can lead to SPA occuring before sex is even on the cards, or stop men from wanting to put themselves out there at all.

A breakup due to infidelity 

Your breakup may have been a result of cheating. Being cheated on can put your body into shock, and you may experience PTSD-like symptoms. If you’ve cheated on your partner, you may experience feelings of guilt and shame.

All these emotions surrounding infidelity can cause ED after a breakup. Read more about infidelity and ED here. 

How to cope with erectile dysfunction after a breakup

Dealing with psychological ED after a breakup requires taking care of your headspace. Here's some advice from our experts:

Stress release after a breakup

If you’ve been experiencing stress related to the breakup, you can take steps to lower your cortisol production, resulting in better erections.

De-stressing in general

  • Produce dopamine and oxytocin naturally by petting a dog, following breathing exercises, hugging someone, exercising, getting enough sleep, and listening to music. These activities will flood your body with happy hormones, reducing stress levels.
  • Sharing your feelings and experiences can help reduce stress. Finding a community of men who are going through the exact same thing can help with this, and our Mojo forum allows users to talk to each other anonymously about their erection problems and treatment. We also offer live video calls if that’s more up your street (these can be anonymous too).  

De-stressing before or during sex

  • Meditate before sex and masturbation, and take some time before sex to get yourself into a relaxed mental space.
  • Focus on things within your control and ground yourself. Instead of thinking about whether you’ll get erect and for how long, focus instead on ways you can make your partner feel good. 
  • Practice your breathing. You can bring your body out of ‘fight or flight’ mode by practicing certain breathing exercises. Doing these before sex can help you maintain better erections.

Sign up to Mojo to find meditations, breathing and grounding exercises, and to join the Mojo community.

Overcoming SPA after a breakup

SPA can be overcome by training your body to stay in the present moment during sex and masturbation. When your mind starts to wander, focus on your breathing or any strong sensations that are present in your body. By doing this regularly, you’ll learn to get out of your head and become more present during sex. This will help your erections. 

Sign up to Mojo to find dedicated content for practicing mindfulness and overcoming sexual performance anxiety.

Monitoring your masturbation and porn habits after a breakup

After a breakup, keep an eye on how you’re masturbating, and take a look at your porn usage. Now is a great time to start practicing mindful masturbation, which can help you achieve better orgasms both by yourself and in partnered sex.

“If you're single, it’s important to examine whether you’re in the habit of watching a lot of porn, are happy with the amount of porn you’re watching, and if you’re able to get an erection or masturbate without porn.

I encourage men to try that regularly, to make sure that they can get into their body and feel confident that they can get aroused without porn or visual stimulation.” 

Amanda Barge, Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist

If you’re unhappy with your porn or masturbation habits, Mojo can help. We have a series dedicated to rebalancing your porn usage, and plenty of mindful masturbation exercises.

FYI: These are all specific solutions related to breakups, but there are lots of other treatment options for psychological ED you can explore.

Part 2: Breakups over erectile dysfunction 

Why do people break up over erectile dysfunction? 

Erectile dysfunction doesn’t have to cause a breakup. However, couples can break up if partners become emotionally and physically distant as a result of ED.

Emotional distance

If somebody with ED is experiencing feelings of shame and guilt, they may detach as a coping mechanism. This can create emotional distance in the relationship and can result in feelings of frustration and rejection for a partner, and may end up leading to a breakup. 

Physical distance

A person with ED may be nervous about having sex ‒ worried that their erection problems might occur and spoil the mood. This can result in men avoiding physical intimacy with their partners to avoid disappointment and embarrassment. Their partner can then feel rejected and that their physical needs aren’t being met, which can also lead to a breakup. 

“When it comes to breakups, there may be feelings of rejection. Partners can often no longer feel attractive, and it can just eat away at things unless they begin to communicate in healthy ways.

If one partner shuts down emotionally or physically, the couple could be heading towards serious relationship problems.”

Amanda Barge, Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist

Preventing a breakup because of ED

A breakup (and future breakups) can be avoided by taking the following preventative steps: 

Talk to your partner

Communication is going to be key. Share how you’re feeling with your partner and reassure them that you still want to be in the relationship and you still fancy them. 

“If you have a hard time opening up to your partner, you can begin by sharing what you’ve learned about ED with them. This acknowledges the issue, demonstrates that you’re on a path to working on your erection problems, and leaves the door open for your partner to ask you questions.”

Amanda Barge, Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist

Some of the tension in your relationship will be cleared by opening up to your partner, and your partner will feel relieved to know what's going on.

Get creative in the bedroom

You don’t have to give up on your sex life because of unreliable erections. You and your partner can still have non-penetrative sex, focus on foreplay, and be intimate in other ways. This could include things like putting all the attention on your partner’s pleasure, giving each other massages, or just cuddling naked.

In fact, by creating a situation where the pressure is off your erection, you’re creating the perfect, relaxed environment for a potential erection ‒ without you even trying.

Fix the root cause of your ED

It’s important to get to the root cause of your erectile dysfunction and treat that cause. You can learn more about all the ED treatments here.

Post-breakup glow 

It’s never too late to work on your erections or your headspace. By starting today, you can get stronger erections and gain new sex skills that will wow your next partner. 

Our expert-designed techniques are a great place to start, sign up for a trial here.

Mojo aims to provide useful wellbeing resources to its users; however, you should not solely rely on opinions or advice available on the Website or given by the Community. Always seek advice from a qualified medical doctor or other healthcare professional before acting.

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