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ED Is Not a Punchline, and Should Never Have Been

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It is depicted every day as a punchline. Little jabs, jokes, underhanded comments, and looks that simply say – “You are not really a man.” Whether it is a flagpole standing tall waving its flag, a little soldier at attention, or a “hold-up” or a “stick-up,” euphemisms are used to express a man’s manliness based on his performance in this area.

Commercials advertising help, solutions, and medication are joked about over meals and in the break room at work, and the man struggling with this simply smiles and laughs along with a nervous, quiet laugh, hoping his secret will never be known. In his mind, he struggles to see the humor in his shame, and believes in his heart that he is alone in this battle. In reality, this issue is very common – much more common than most people think or realize. Estimates put it at over 3,000,000 cases per year. Let that number sink in – 3,000,000 cases/men per year.

Yet, in spite of its prevalence, aside from crude jokes, this is not something men speak of. It is not something that is made known. If anyone is ever told of this struggle, it is only after years of conversation and trust have been built, and even then, it is often spoken of in half-truths and still with some guardedness to the subject. Rarely is anyone ever given the full picture and shown the extent of the hurt and pain a man is going through.

Sometimes, it is a singular issue for the man, other times, it is a byproduct or symptom of another chronic health issue or medication side effect. The cause, though, really does not matter, because regardless, the end result and feelings are the same. We have this harmful idea that to be a “man,” you must have a certain level of virility and your body must look a certain way and your skill in this area must be unparalleled, and that if you can’t “perform” you are less of a man, and just a joke or punchline. In reality, though, this could not be further from the truth.

But, instead of talking about it, instead of finding community and support, men sweep this under the rug, bury their hurt and feelings, and suffer in silence, as each day, with each rejection, with each unsatisfactory encounter, they die a little more inside. Feelings and thoughts of:

Self-Doubt – Can I even be in a relationship? Who will love me?

Weakness and Inadequacy – What’s wrong with me? Am I enough for someone else?

Depression and Discouragement – What’s the point? Is there any hope for this to get better?

Isolation and Loneliness – No one wants this. No one wants me.

Rejection and Fear – What if this keeps happening? Will I be rejected, mocked, belittled, or pushed away?

Anger and Frustration – I’m so sick of this. This is just not fair.

Grief – Why can’t I have what everyone else seems to have?

Shame and Embarrassment – What will others think of me? I hope no one finds out.

All of these feelings, questions, and statements mix together to add new levels of discouragement and remind this man, that in his mind at least, he is not enough; that he is not really a man; that he is unlovable.

As this cycle replays over and over again, men become more isolated, lonelier, and more discouraged as they try to walk a very difficult and challenging path alone, unwilling to let others into this struggle, for fear of being pitied, mocked, or looked down upon. This should not be the case. This should be viewed with the same compassion and understanding as any other chronic health issue.

The stigma that is often attached to this is huge. Would we consider it OK to shame and embarrass people with other chronic health issues like this? Most likely, the answer would be a resounding “NO” – so why is this any different? Why does society allow this condition to be mocked and ridiculed with almost no one speaking out about it?

It is time for ED to be brought out of the shadows, and for men to be able to share their struggle and find strength and encouragement for the path they are walking, without others looking down on them as less of a man, without embarrassment and shame, or without someone mocking them for their struggle. While it may never be something that is easy to talk about, or something that is easy to share, it definitely needs to be an issue that others do not make more difficult to be honest about. It definitely needs to stop being the punchline it has become to so many.

Getty image by Nes.

Originally published: November 28, 2021
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