Erectile dysfunction (the inability to achieve and maintain an erection) is more common than many people realise. In the 40-50 age group it affects around 11% of men. In the over-60s it affects 40%, and more than half of men over 70. However, it doesn't have to mean the end of your sex life.
See also: Foods to help fight erectile dysfunction
See also: Ten best sex toys - rated by you!
"Too many couples think that if a gent loses his erection while they're getting intimate, that means it's instantly 'game over' for that sex session," says Alix Fox, sex and relationships expert for Durex and resident erotic agony aunt on hit podcast The Modern Mann.
"As soon as his hard on goes, everything goes out the window; they call an immediate halt to proceedings, and that's that. But allowing everything to (ahem) ride on whether he's erect or not places immense pressure on a guy to perform, and the stress can ironically make it even more difficult for him to stay stiff. It's heart-breaking."
If his erection goes away, Alix's advice is to keep on kissing and touching. "Try giving each other a sensual massage, or experiment with using a vibrator – as well as holding it against her clitoris, see how it feels to run it over both of your nipples and inner thighs.
"You may find that after a while of continuing to stimulate each other and maintain a connected, sexy mood, his erection makes a reappearance. But if not, you're still enjoying plenty of pleasurable sensations, and that precious, important feeling of bonding between you both hasn't been broken by a lack of an erection."
Talk it over
Couples frequently try to ignore erectile dysfunction and pretend it's not happening but it's essential to sensitively discuss the issue together if you're going to improve the situation.
"Erections can go AWOL for all sorts of reasons, both physical and psychological, from anxiety to depression to exhaustion to hormone changes, or narrowing of the blood vessels within the penis caused by hypertension, high cholesterol or diabetes," Alix explains. "Having an honest conversation with your partner – and potentially your GP – to get to the cause of the problem is vital."
As well as discussing possible causes, it's worthwhile chatting about how what's happening makes you both feel. Alix explains: "Female partners may need reassurance that it's not something about their looks or sexual technique that's turning their lover off; men may need to hear that they're not being judged as failures for becoming flaccid."
Do the ring thing
There are things you can try - other than Viagra - to maintain your erection. "Cock rings can offer a fantastic chemical-free way to sustain a stiffer erection for longer," says Alix.
"They work by preventing blood from flowing out of the penis too swiftly, so once you're erect, you stay that way," she explains. "As an added bonus, they can also increase sensation: many gents say that they experience more intense orgasms while they're sporting a ring, or if they remove it just before the moment of climax."
The new Durex Pleasure Ring is a brilliant option for beginners. It's soft, squidgy, stretchy, and transparent in order to make it easy to put on, comfy to wear and subtle and unintimidating to look at. Just stretch it out and pull it down over your stiff penis until it sits around the base. Slicking your skin with a squirt of water-based lubricant like Play Feel first can help the ring slide on friction-free and avoid any pulling during intercourse.
The Pleasure Ring can be worn for up to 30 minutes, and each ring can be used several times if you clean them carefully. They're sold singly and in packs of two – normalising the idea that needing some assistance to stay erect is common.
Softly does it
"A man can still derive great pleasure from having his penis touched, stroked, licked and sucked while it's soft, and this can be fun for women as well," says Alix. "So don't let a lack of erection stop you from giving that penis some affection!
"Because of the shame and embarrassment that can be associated with erectile dysfunction, some couples tend to act like his penis suddenly becomes invisible when it's limp, but giving it attention even while it's soft can help boost his body confidence and reassure him that he's still sexually attractive when he's flaccid."
Alix adds: "Performing fellatio is another option. Going down on a soft, malleable penis can be pleasant for a woman because there's not the challenge of fitting a large mass in her mouth or the risk of gagging or choking. All the nerve endings are still present in his head and shaft, so it feels great for him too."