Between the Sheets

Erectile Dysfunction

Okay, so, I have been listening to Esther Perel’s podcast Where Should We Begin because after we posted my Musings on Monogamy piece, Laura Gonzalez recommended it. (Thank you!) It is such an interesting, informative, and engaging podcast, I would absolutely recommend it to podcast listeners (or anyone, but podcasts aren’t for everyone, fine fine).

I could probably talk about each of these podcasts with another human for hours, but I bring it up today because I was reading Aftermath by L.A. Witt (part of the Vino & Veritas series), which features a hero who discovers that, in addition to other trauma he experienced from a near-fatal car crash, he has erectile dysfunction, and that brought to mind an episode of the podcast from season 1: “Impotent Is No Way To Define A Man,” in which the couple in the session has been struggling because erectile dysfunction is impacting their sex life. What struck me as I listened, and what struck me again as I read yet another book featuring a protagonist with ED, was how romance allows for protagonists to find the matches that really see them. Patient, kind, and affirming partners who don’t see the protagonist’s struggles as a problem, even as the protagonist struggles emotionally and/or physically with their abilities.

In the podcast, the M/F couple has been unsuccessfully coping with the man’s ED for a really long time. Like more than a decade. And I can understand that sometimes people want what they want and even if everything else is great, bedroom mismatches can be a dealbreaker…

…but I was completely floored when the woman said that they would play, and he would give her an orgasm, but the fact that he couldn’t do penetrative sex (or if he could, not long enough for them to orgasm) made the whole experience a failure. And I think my shock was in part because I personally wouldn’t define a successful sexual encounter by P-in-V sex, but also…romance novels. 

I think I’ve read three? romance novels that feature a protagonist with some variation of ED (I’ve also read a few others that involve bedroom challenges that are similar but aren’t specifically ED-related), and they’re all M/M. (I would really like to see some other couplings that allow for men not to have a giant boner that’s constantly hard enough to cut glass, but that’s a tangent I won’t go down today.) (Feel free to read Holly’s Hot Take about penis size.) In each of these books, part of the draw is the gentleness and sense of safety we get as the protagonist who is living with this condition shares their vulnerability with a partner who says, “That matters only insofar as it hurts you. We can find ways to be together that satisfy us both, and I don’t need anything but that.”

This type of gentle romance dynamic is not specific to these four books. In fact, I think that dynamic is exactly what led me to binge most of Annabeth Albert’s backlist last year. Earlier this year, for example, I noted that one of my favorite aspects of Sink or Swim was that Calder struggles to orgasm, and the stress over being the “problematic” sexual partner made that even worse; but Felix’s calm, consistent reassurance and lack of pressure allowed them to come together in a really lovely way. Albert also wrote one of the books I’ve read featuring a protagonist with ED (plus others involving those non-ED bedroom concerns I mentioned earlier). 


The first book I read featuring a protagonist who struggled to have or maintain an erection was Strong Enough by Cardeno C., and my first thought was “YES! I’m so glad that here’s a man who seems normal and, more than that, that he’s found a partner who is 100% supporting him!” Since then, I’ve read even more widely, so I’ve seen more variety, but the norm is still huge penises that never flag once during marathon sexytimes. (Again, see Holly’s post.) 

I think the reason that reading Aftermath was finally the impetus for me sitting down and punching this out is that 1) I’ve read, like, 700 books since reading Strong Enough and I’ve only read three featuring a character with ED, but it’s widely agreed that approximately 10% of men are affected by it, with some studies indicating at least ¼ to ⅓ of the population, and a 1994 aging study indicating a whopping 52% (the variability is in part because there’s not a consensus on how much difficulty having/maintaining an erection actually constitutes ED, plus age is a factor). In case math is not your strength, 3/700 is nowhere close to 10%. Also 2) part of the protagonists’ struggles in Aftermath are that the man who discovers he has ED, Brent, isn’t even 30, and he’s convinced that his silver fox partner who’s 40 doesn’t want to sign up for the medical mess that is the rest of Brent’s life, especially when they’ll never be able to have a “normal” sex life. 

Brent was really struggling with the ways his life had changed, and then when he finally decided to put himself out there again, he discovered that he couldn’t even have the sex he used to have. He felt terrible about it, and the only reason he opened up to Jon about it was because he also felt terrible about leaving Jon high and dry after realizing how his night was turning out (or not) and running away in a panic. And what is the likelihood that Jon wouldn’t react like something was wrong with Brent, like the wife in the Esther Perel podcast did? But of all the people in all the world, Brent found Jon, and he found support and love and someone he felt safe experimenting with and who didn’t ask for anything that he was unwilling or unable to give. Now, in all fairness, these two didn’t really discuss self-pleasure, but because of Jon’s custody schedule and also because of some of Brent’s medical recommendations, they do engage in self-pleasure. Being on the same page here is important and can prevent miscommunication or bad feelings about what’s happening in the bedroom, but in the context of the novel it wasn’t an issue. (And if you’re wondering about whether I’m thinking of that Reddit relationship advice wife whose husband with low sex drive kept interrupting her, er, “me” time, I am.) (Thanks, Ingrid.)

The notion that one can be not only accepted but loved exactly as one is, that one can find a partner who’ll protect all those vulnerable spots, that the pleasure of finding pleasure together is the sweet spot, that mutual simultaneous orgasms isn’t the ideal (or the lack thereof isn’t a threat), it’s heady stuff. Everybody (who wants one) deserves a partner who is this kind of romance novel loving and supportive. And I love that romance novels are out there that show such relationships, all the way down to the non-erect, dry orgasm.

Between the Sheets

Is variety the spice of life?

I set one of my TSR goals for this year to be following through on at least one of the two series I’ve nebulously started, but I haven’t quite pinned down what I wanted to write. Until today. I’ve revisited a series that I’ve had on my TBR for a while, and now I’ve got a little bit of inspiration. Because, you know, isn’t it kind of weird that in a lot of series featuring siblings, they all have sex that’s pretty much…the same?

I mentioned this to Holly and Ingrid a long time ago, thinking about the Bridgerton books. Or the Cynster books (in which case it’s not all siblings, but the whole extended family of cousins). Some of Eloisa James’s series. (I used to read mostly a very specific kind of historical romance – can you tell?) Or name-a-series. I remember being delightedly surprised when it looked like Lisa Kleypas was going to finally have a little deviation in the Ravenels series when Gabriel was all up in his feelings about how kinky he was…only for the moment to arrive and he simply held Pandora’s hands behind her back. Was it your relatively standard histrom heat? Perhaps not. Was it depraved, like Gabriel intimated? Uh, no. 

To a certain extent, this is understandable. On the one hand, lower-heat, vanilla, P-in-V sex is perhaps more common in the general public than name-another-sexytimes. Or at least more common for a first interlude, which is typically what we’re getting in these series. People might not be so inclined to get wild with a bunch of kink and dirty talk before they get more comfortable together. On the other hand, there is something to be said for an author’s brand, and it’s easy to consider that an author would stick to a) what they’re comfortable writing and b) what is selling for them. And there is the writing advice to treat sex like a sub-plot, in which case it’ll be at least three scenes escalating that “sub-plot”, which often ends up being something like: missed the kiss, finally kiss, genital stimulation, penetrative sex. So there’s a bit of a formula there. 

I’m very focused on the vanilla sex here, but I would probably have a similar reaction to a long sibling series in which they all have the exact same super kinky sex. I think it’s just that personally I haven’t read a lot of sibling series by an author who writes kinkier sex, and also in my experience authors who write kink seem to like to explore different kinds of kink. Although, I will say that I noticed during my Kristen Ashley binge that, like, all of the Rock Chick guys have pretty much the same kind of sex, so it’s not a strictly sibling series thing, but in my head I can make allowances for a friend group having more similarities/similar mindsets than a family where the relationship isn’t chosen. If that makes sense.

Anyway, it’s just struck me as weird that every single family member in a huge series ends up having the same sex. Same emotional beats. Same verbal rhythm. It seems to me like a place where an author’s heat-level brand and real life might not jive. 

So back to the series that I’ve been reading and the reason that I thought of this for my first post about sex writing: I’ve been continuing the Bergman Brothers series by Chloe Liese, and the siblings don’t all have the same kind of sex. (Full disclosure: I skipped the marriage in trouble book 3 because Holly read it, and I’m so hot/cold about marriages in trouble that it was the best choice for me right now.) The series is pretty great, and it’s all down to the fact that Liese really ties the characters’ feelings about their sexual interactions to their personal journeys and to the way they emotionally engage with each other. So the communication is different. The concerns and comfort levels are different. Some of the kinks are different. They’re not significantly different. But enough to make me really feel like each sibling’s relationship is a unique emotional and physical bond. So that’s pretty cool.

Have you noticed any trends like this in your own reading? I’d love to hear your thoughts!