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Sexual Impotence After an Affair

QUESTION: After 16 years of marriage, my husband had an affair with a woman he met on the Internet. We have reconciled and are working on rebuilding our marriage. I feel that he is doing everything possible to make amends and reassure me of his commitment. But, since the affair he has become impotent. What can we do?

ANSWER: Suggest to your husband that he get a physical examination from a urologist to rule out any physical causes for his impotence. However, if he is able to bring himself to orgasm alone, it is probable that his lovemaking difficulties are brought on by feelings about his sexual actions and the effects on your marriage. If his bill of health remains clear, it is likely that although you have forgiven him, your husband has not forgiven himself.

It is also possible that his sexual fantasies and/or associations have changed. Perhaps vaginal penetration is where his guilt begins. Talk together about what is going on for him.

Consider talking about any issues that may not have been resolved in your previous discussions about this extra-marital incident. Was protection used? Are either of you concerned about sexually transmitted disease? How would such an action be prevented in the future? Is it possible that his failure to "perform" is a reflection of anger or confusion about the marriage? Does your husband feel equally powerful to you in other areas of your partnership? It is sometimes the case that unacknowledged power struggles are expressed in the marital bed.

Forgiveness is critical to recovering your sexual bond, but it is also important that you both understand what caused the vulnerability for betrayal and why it is you feel that this situation would not happen in the future. Be cautious about mistaking "forgiveness" for "problem-solving" and heightened emotionality for intimacy. True intimacy requires honest communication. Does your husband feel confident that he would come to you with any difficulties regarding dissatisfaction in your marriage instead of acting on his impulses? Do you feel that the two of you have actually improved your ability to communicate your needs to each other, or are you merely riding high on the "closeness" precipitated by the primal feelings evoked in this recent crisis?

If your husband continues to experience difficulty with maintaining an erection or your renewed energy for one another begins to feel stale, consider a consult with a competent marriage counselor to ensure you get to the bottom of any implications the affair has for your marriage. However, your husband may need his own counseling to forgive himself. Perhaps his actions have caused him to doubt himself in many areas, and his inability to achieve an erection is his body's way of asking him to take a deeper look at himself.

Your husband's betrayal is a deep wound for you because he broke the trust on which your marriage is founded. But his perpetration of disloyalty may have far deeper ramifications for his own character. His infidelity was not only a breach of his marital vows, but perhaps an assault on his faith in himself. His body may be expressing the pain of the self-betrayal he has not yet released in words. Keep talking, exploring and remain open to the possibility that healing requires time.


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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