Alex and Lisa have been dating for six months and neither are very happy with their sex life – even though there’s tons of passion in their relationship. Premature ejaculation has been an issue for Alex. They don’t talk about the problem and intercourse often ends after a few minutes with both of them left feeling disappointed.
The emotional side of things is an important factor in a healthy sex life. And when it comes to recognising his emotions, let’s face it, Alex is kind of clueless. That’s because he has alexithymia – a medical condition that means not being able to feel, recognise, or describe emotions with words.
Alexithymia can be to blame for erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation, Italian researcher Stefano Eleuteri told Love Matters at the World Congress for Sexual Health. The more out of touch a man is with his emotional side, the worse these sexual problems tend to be and the longer he’s likely to suffer from them.
The result can be a cycle of sexual dysfunction that’s hard to break. “When people are alexithymic, they have sexual problems, and when they have sexual problems they become more alexithymic because they can’t talk to their partner,” says Eleuteri, who has years of experience treating couples with alexithymia and sexual dysfunction.
Eleuteri and his team of researchers studied the link between the two problems in 274 Italian men. To test the men’s ability to tune in to their emotions, the researchers asked them to fill in a questionnaire saying how much they agreed with statements like, “I am often confused about what emotion I am feeling,” and “It is difficult for me to reveal my innermost feelings, even to close friends.”
Being in touch with your emotions doesn’t just affect male sexual health. Alexithymia is less common in women, but it turns out that it is also linked to some female problems. It may be connected to pain during intercourse, and vaginismus, where spasms of the vaginal muscles make intercourse impossible, according to Eleuteri’s research.
So what can Alex and Lisa do to improve their sex life? It’s important to see alexithymia as a relationship issue, not just something the man or woman has to deal with on their own. In fact, for some men, connecting with their emotions can be a major problem with one partner, but not a big deal with another, which might just be the case with Alex.
Treatment that focuses on both behavioural techniques and being able to tune in to emotions is key, says Stefano Eleuteri. And it’s really important to do this together with a partner.