Hippocrates, the father of medicine, said: "There are in fact two things, science and opinion; the former begets knowledge, the latter ignorance". Those words still ring true today.
Many of the myths and legends about impotence, borne out of ignorance thousands of years ago, still influence our sexual culture. Primitive cultures believed that male virility was intricately interwoven with power, wealth and domination.
So it's not surprising that beliefs still persist in a number of cultures that to lack virility, or worse still, to be impotent, is to lack the very essence of life. Manhood and the "ability to perform" are inextricably linked, so impotence is viewed as a "lack of manhood".
Despite the fact that the twentieth century brought about radical changes in gender roles, on ethnic, economic, social and cultural levels, sexuality and impotence are still shrouded in mystery, secrecy and a good deal of confusion.
Myth 1 - "Real men" don't experience impotence
ALL men over the age of 30 experience impotence as least once in their lifetime. It's estimated that over 150 million men worldwide have impotence; in fact, reports suggest this figure could be as high as 300 million or more. Estimating the numbers is difficult because less than 2 men in 10 seek treatment for impotence problems.
Impotence (or erectile dysfunction) is defined as the inability to produce and maintain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse. Impotence is not considered to include lack of libido, inability to ejaculate or achieve orgasm, a lack of strength or the loss of "manhood".
Myth 2 - Impotence is "all in the mind"
Less than 20 of impotence cases have a primary psychological cause. The majority of men with impotence have an underlying physical condition such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure or prostate cancer. Stress, anxiety and loss of self-esteem are often secondary psychological factors that occur if the impotence remains undiagnosed and untreated.
Myth 3 - Impotence is a natural part of growing old
Although it's evident that the chances of experiencing impotence increase with age, this is largely due to the increased risk of having an underlying physical condition such as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease. To compound this factor, a number of medications prescribed for these conditions can cause impotence.
Myth 4 - There is no "cure" for impotence
Although medical science hasn't come up with a permanent "cure" for impotence, a number of very effective therapies are available. Oral medications such as Viagra have revolutionized the treatment of impotence, however impotence pills don't work for everyone. Other safe and effective treatments include vacuum pumps, injections and penile implants.
Once the impotence is effectively treated, most men go on to lead active, satisfying sex lives.
Myth 5 - Impotence is a man's problem
Both partners in a relationship can experience problems when impotence goes untreated. Often failure to communicate and denial of the problem lead to depression, anxiety, and lack of self-esteem for both partners. A tendency to avoid sexual contact can often leave the partner feeling unloved, unattractive and unwanted.
Myth 6 - Impotence is too embarrassing to discuss with anyone
A number of men find it very difficult to discuss any problems they may be experiencing, particularly impotence. Impotence can often be the symptom of an underlying medical condition and won't simply "go away" if it remains untreated.
Once the condition is diagnosed, suitable treatment can begin immediately and the problem can usually be alleviated.
Myth 7 - Men should know all about sex
The general consensus of opinion is that men instinctively know how to have sex. But clinical studies confirm that impotence can result from lack of knowledge and ignorance about the "mechanics" of sex.
A common misconception is that sex is a simple and straightforward process for men. Not true. Many men find it difficult to discuss the subject, and asking questions would reveal their ignorance and lack of knowledge and possibly threaten their masculinity. Media images of the virile male in action only serve to further alienate those men who don't understand "the basics".
Talking to a specialist counselor or therapist will quickly clear up any misconceptions and help overcome problems due to lack of knowledge.
Myth 8 - Men always want sex
The myth that men are always "ready, willing and able" is simply not true. The commonly held misconception of the "dominant male" has been proven to damage the sexual, physical and psychological wellbeing of a number of men.
A recent Swedish study on sexuality and marriage carried out on 286 couples of varying ages found that men who perceived themselves to be the "dominant male" were more likely to experience temporary impotence if sex was requested by their partner, when they weren't in the mood.
Healthy relationships should be about equal partnerships, good communication and respect for the feelings of both individuals. It's not uncommon for one partner to want more frequent sexual activity, and sexual desires can fluctuate between partners and at various times. Discussing these issues reasonably and rationally so that each partner understands the needs of the other helps maintain a happy and healthy sexual relationship.
Short note about the author
Chris Morrow is a human behavioral consultant who works in the area of human sexuality and sexual health. Chris is co-author of www.impotence-guide.com, a comprehensive and educational website about all facets of male impotence and sexuality.