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Wheelchair Blues

“I’m not used to such a frank discussion about sex. I’m more comfortable with the locker room bravado that passes as sex talk for us guys. At least in that situation, I don’t have to be honest.”

Image Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Image Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Michael is 52. Four years ago, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In the past two years, his disease process has escalated to the point in which he has become confined to a motorized wheelchair.  Recently, he has had multiple MS-related setbacks that have kept him bedridden for several weeks at a time.

Things have become so difficult that several months ago, Michael was forced to sell his once-thriving law practice. The few hours of work he could manage each week there proved more frustrating than fulfilling.

Mike is often depressed. He continually repeats his self-defeating mantra: “I’m not half the man I used to be.” The superhuman support of his second wife Maryanne, his son Kyle and his beloved Seattle Seahawks are the only things that prevent Michael from killing himself.

The first time I met this couple, an exasperated Maryanne tearfully reported how Mike’s smoldering rage and bouts of sullenness terrorize the family. “I love him, but he’s gotta get off his pity-pot or I’m gonna walk, and take Kyle with me.” Mike sheepishly acknowledged his disruptive behavior. His ruggedly handsome face often distorts with shame. “It’s not me. It’s this damn MS. I just can’t seem to get it together. I feel like such a failure.”

When Mike and I have some time together, I broach the topic of sex. Mike blanches. I start by asking him some very pointed questions about his intimate life with his wife.

Mike responds:

“I’m not used to such a frank discussion about sex. I’m more comfortable with the locker room bravado that passes as sex talk for guys. At least in that situation, I don’t have to be honest. This is very intimidating.

I don’t want to talk about this because I’m afraid you’ll want to know how a gimp like me does ‘it.’ I would have to tell you that a gimp like me no longer does ‘it’ because he can’t get it up anymore.

I would probably then have to tell you how frustrating it is for me not to be able to make love to my wife, and how this is a source of constant friction between Maryanne and me. She accuses me of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. All she wants is for us to be close.

So you see, if I told you all these things I would really be embarrassed. So I’m not going to say anything at all.”

“I see,” I responded. “Do you really see yourself as a gimp?  Or is that just a term of endearment you use for yourself?”

“What do you think? Just look at me. I’m one fine specimen of virile manhood, wouldn’t you say?”

Mike turns bright red. I can’t tell if it’s rage or embarrassment.  Maybe both.

“Ok, Mike, have it your way. Maybe you are a gimp. Although I wouldn’t have guessed by just looking.”

I tell Mike about another client I had years ago. His MS was even more advanced than Mike’s. His wife claimed that despite being a very large man and being bedridden, he was a remarkably good lover.  She said he had a vivid imagination and an exceptionally talented mouth. He was affectionate and gentle, and there was absolutely no hint of a chip on his shoulder. My former client used to say that his pleasure came from giving pleasure to others.

Most men occasionally experience the inability to have an erection, but repeated problems, whether they are organic or situational, constitute what was once referred to as impotence.

Mike apologized. “I’m not myself today. Or maybe this is what I’ve become. I know my wife and son think so.”

“So is all of this rage just about being unable to have an erection?”

I tell Mike that many women don’t care if their partner has an erection or not. While losing the ability to have an erection may be a humbling experience for a guy, his female partner may have an altogether different experience. For her, it may signal the possibility of some really good sex.

I ask, “How do you feel about your oral sex technique, Mike?  If Maryanne wanted you to pleasure her, would you be comfortable doing that?

I also ask if he is able to communicate his need for intimacy to Maryanne, and if there are any specific issues that prove to be barriers in the way of him asking for what he needs.

“We stopped talking about sex about the same time I got sick,” Mike responds. “Actually, we never really discuss it at all. Maryanne brings up the topic, I get angry, and she gets hurt.  That’s how ‘discussions’ about sex go in our house.”

Mike tells me that he wishes he could let his wife know how ashamed he is, not for being such a bully, but for being a coward. How we can’t seem to get past saying “I’m sorry.”

I ask if he’s talking to his doctor about his concerns.

“Nope, I just figured there wasn’t anything to talk about.  Besides, it’s too embarrassing to admit.”

That’s something I tell Mike he should reconsider, and I then give him this advice:

“First, begin a dialogue with Maryanne. Let her know that you are serious about working through your problems.

Second, contact your doctor as soon as possible and initiate a frank discussion. A great deal of progress has been made recently in understanding and treating male erectile dysfunction.

Most men occasionally experience the inability to have an erection, but repeated problems, whether they are organic or situational, constitute what was once referred to as impotence. Men with chronic problems are often too embarrassed to ask for help, and they may not have the impetus to do so. Statistics on how widespread this concern is among guys is hard to come by.

Getting an erection is a process that combines complex emotional and biological functions. So it’s clear that either a physiological or psychological problem can interfere in the arousal stage of the sexual response cycle.

For example, a relationship problem, depression, anxiety, prescription medications, excessive alcohol consumption, a hormone imbalance, cardiovascular disease, a neurological problem, being overweight, some cold and allergy medications or a poor diet can contribute to arousal dysfunction.

Major breakthroughs in treating erection problems were made by a chance discovery in the mid 1990’s. A researcher studying the effects of a new heart medication noticed a remarkable side effect in some of his male subjects…erections. When Viagra hit the market, it revolutionized erectile dysfunction therapy.

It is important to note that this medication, as well as all the other erectile dysfunction medications out there, are ‘erection enhancers’ not ‘erection inducers.’ Without proper stimulation, these medications will not cause an erection on their own.

There are some reported side effects to these medications and one can only get them by prescription, so talk to your doctor as soon as possible.

There are options. Stop thinking about what used to be, and start working at finding out what is currently possible. There is still no need to go without partnered sex and pleasuring. There are erogenous zones all over and in your body.

Your erection-centric sex life maybe over, but there is so much more available to you if only you give yourself and Maryanne a chance to make the discoveries. How much time do you have left? Don’t let this issue continue to contaminate your marriage and short-circuit the intimacy that is still available. Maryanne deserves better, and so do you. I’ll continue to be available to you as a coach and guide, if you wish. Because there’s no need to go through this alone if you don’t want to.

Now get out of here, and make something pleasurable happen.  You won’t regret it.”