Ask Ada: How Can I Help My Husband With Erectile Dysfunction?

This week, Ada helps a couple address a sensitive marital issue with patience and understanding. Plus: are peanut allergies really worth taking seriously? (Yes.)

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

How Can I Help My Husband With Erectile Dysfunction?

Dear Ada,

My husband and I are having problems with intimacy. He used to be the person to initiate sex, but now I find that I’m the one encouraging it–and he rarely wants to participate. When we do have sex, he seems to have trouble getting or keeping an erection. At first I started to worry that he just wasn’t interested in me anymore, but lately I’ve noticed that whenever this happens, he seems more and more frustrated. Now I’m wondering if this could actually be a medical issue, like erectile dysfunction. I want him to talk to his doctor about it, but I can tell he’s embarrassed to even talk about it with me. I’m not sure how to give him the confidence and support he needs to set up an appointment. What should I do?

Sincerely, Ellen R.

Hi Ellen,

While it’s understandable to worry that you may be the cause of his condition, know that you aren’t to blame. There’s more to arousal than simple attraction — hormones, emotions, blood vessels, and the brain all play a factor. When something is off with one or more of those areas, the potential for erectile dysfunction is high.

It’s also something that’s extremely common. Various research studies report about 50% of men over the age of 40 have some issues with erectile dysfunctions. Though as prevalent as it may be, it frequently goes untreated, as some individuals feel uncomfortable discussing sexual health issues with their doctors–just like you’re concerned about.

Because you’re still interested in being intimate, it’s important for you to broach the conversation with him when he’s available to talk and not likely to be distracted. Before doing so, do some research into the condition that you can share with him. Let him know that you’d love to nurture the sexual part of your relationship, and you hope he’ll talk with his physician. Then, let him sit with the information, and make the decision on his own, making sure he knows you’ll be there with him every step of the way.

It’s like anything else about being in a partnership: sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes you have to work on it.

If the anxiety is holding him back, know that there are lifestyle changes that may help. Exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and quitting smoking have shown to greatly improve ED problems. In addition, dealing with any psychological issues, like stress, anxiety, or depression may help with both interest in sex and the ability to perform.

There’s another factor here to consider too. Performance anxiety can be self-perpetuating. Every man will fail to achieve an erection when he wants to once in his life, but depending on how much it bothers him, it might kick off a cycle of erectile dysfunction, even when there’s nothing otherwise wrong.

All of which is to say that what your husband needs is your love, compassion, good humor, and support, and encourage him to see a doctor if the problem persists. Learning to deal with sexual dysfunction as a couple is, to a greater or lesser extent, part of every successful relationship. It’s like anything else about being in a partnership: sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes you have to work on it.

Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst

My Kid’s Classmates Are Driving Me Nuts

Dear Ada,

My son is in kindergarten. At the beginning of the year, he got sent home with a letter letting us know the class was a peanut-free zone, so I made sure not to make any PB&Js and check labels. However, after a couple months, my son told me that some of the other students were bringing in peanut butter crackers and other snacks that I probably wouldn’t have sent him with. What gives? I’ll admit to not knowing much about allergies. Is it okay to send my son to school with nut snacks so long as he doesn’t sit near the allergic child?

– Worried Mom in MA

Hi Worried Mom,

Trust your gut. Don’t send your kid to school with food that contains peanuts.

Please trust your gut, and don’t send any food to school that contains peanuts.

If your son’s school deemed his class a peanut-free zone, then there is a child with access to that classroom who is allergic to peanuts, and exposure to it could cause a severe—potentially fatal—reaction.

Let’s put it this way. If a kid in that class goes into anaphylactic shock, and you’ve been sending your kids in with peanuts, is the fact that everyone was ignoring that child’s needs really going to soothe your conscience?

While it’s difficult to estimate how many children suffer with food allergies, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that four to six percent of U.S. children are affected, and that number is growing.

Unless you have a child with a food allergy, it’s difficult to understand the severity of a reaction.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases reports that “allergic reactions to foods can range from mild gastrointestinal symptoms or skin rashes to severe reactions that can be fatal.” In fact, according to the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, “Allergy to peanuts and tree nuts is the leading cause of fatal allergic reactions in the United States.”

There’s no snack special enough to risk making another child suffer with painful rashes, anaphylaxis, or any other reaction.

There’s no snack special enough to risk making another child suffer with painful rashes, anaphylaxis, or any other reaction.

If students are bringing peanut butter snacks to school, my best guess is the teacher isn’t aware that it’s happening. Take a moment today and send her an email or call her at school to let her know what your son told you.

This is also an excellent opportunity to teach your child to be an advocate for others. Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) reports that “about one-third of kids with food allergies report that they have been bullied because of their allergies.” Encourage him to support his classmate, and speak up if he notices anyone not taking the allergy seriously.

School should be a safe environment for children to learn and grow. To make that happen, we all need to do our part to keep the children safe, and ensuring no peanut products enter the classroom is one way you can help.

Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email and tell us your problem.