Updated: May 31
“My doctor told me that my erectile dysfunction (ED) was all in my head”. But is it really all in your head?
Picture this. Let’s say you’ve been experiencing a decline in your erections and overall performance for a while now. Maybe it's time to go to the doctor to get things checked out. But, after days or maybe weeks of waiting for an appointment to get a diagnosis, your doctor seems dismissive, does not examine you, and suggests that it could be “all in your head”.
Does this sound familiar to you?
How about after waiting days or weeks for an appointment, you tell your doctor your symptoms and concerns and all your doctor does is just hands you a script for erectile dysfunction medication like Viagra or Cialis and then dismisses you. If so, then chances are you may have experienced medical gaslighting.
Gaslighting is very common nowadays, but this phenomena has expanded beyond your normal relationships and can even happen in “doctor to patient” relationships, too. And this doesn’t just apply to ED. This happens to many of us with other medical concerns as well.
Let me be clear though, I’m not saying that it’s all doctors, but a good majority continue to mislead men into thinking it could be all in their heads without ordering the right tests or getting down to the root cause.
They are quick to throw you a pill and send you on your way, rather than provide education that will help address the real issue. This causes medical mistrust and a delay in getting an accurate diagnosis to treating your specific cause of ED.
And trust me, you’re not crazy and it’s not crazy to think this, but getting a script for Cialis or Viagra or being told that it’s all in your head without tests or a thorough examination screams “medical gaslighting”.
Today, we’re going to explore this phenomenon so that we can become better at recognizing the signs of gaslighting, how to push back, and lastly, how to get to the bottom of what’s causing your erectile dysfunction. (stay tuned for a short survey!)
What is Medical Gaslighting And Can It Happen To Men?
If you ever had a doctor dismiss your symptoms or try to place blame on mental illness, and you are neither given a mental health referral nor screened for such illness, then chances are you might have been gaslighted.
Data trends show that, women, especially of color are more likely to be medically gaslighted while having their mental health be used against them. But what about men? Are they immune to medical gaslighting?
Maybe they feel something is wrong during their doctor's visit, but can’t put a label or a name to it. Or perhaps, they have been medically gaslighted and are ashamed because the reason for their doctor's visit is related to men's health related issues, which are often viewed as “private” or an embarrassing matter.
For instance, erectile dysfunction and low testosterone are common issues men face with age. 39% of men ages 45 years and older have low testosterone (and those are just the ones reporting it). At the same time, men dread going to the doctor because of a fear of diagnosis or admitting to these conditions.
Since there is a lack of information on medical gaslighting in men, I want to know if it is common with men looking for answers about their health. Specifically, when it comes to sexual health, which is still considered taboo or an embarrassing topic for most men.
Are these doctors taking advantage of men and making them think sexual health related issues like erectile dysfunction is all in their heads or is it really all in their head?
When is Erectile Dysfunction Not “All In Your Head”?
As some of you might think, “how can you be gaslighted when ED is an actual diagnosis?” it’s not that quite simple. For those struggling to achieve or maintain an erection that is rigid enough for penetration, it might sound like a simple diagnosis, but I’m talking about exploring the causes and types of ED, getting the right tests, and being properly educated about erections.
Erectile dysfunction is very complex and has multiple causes that can be physical, mental or a combination of both. It can be very confusing as to which type(s) you may have.
Let’s break down each type because it’s not always “all in your head”:
Vasculogenic ED: Examples include arterial insufficiency, weakened blood vessels and nerves from age related conditions, etc.
Neurological ED: Examples include spinal cord injuries, pelvic injuries, etc.
Hormonal ED: Examples include issues with your Thyroid and other hormonal imbalances
Pharmacological ED: Examples include certain medications like beta blockers, SSRIs, antidepressants or even misusing and abusing health supplements
Psychogenic ED: Examples include stress, low self-esteem, poor relationships, anxiety, negative upbringings, etc.
Other Causes: Poor lifestyle choices such as, smoking, vaping, drinking too much, drugs, pelvic floor issues (weak or tight pelvic floor), etc.
For instance, there are endocrine causes as well as neurological causes of ED that need to be explored (testing needs to be done) versus just prescribing a pill. Even pelvic floor dysfunction should be explored and tested as some men might confuse a weak or tight pelvic floor with symptoms of erectile dysfunction. Don’t settle for a doctor who won’t even look at you and is only looking at their computer and not listening to you.
As It appears that I’m the first to write about this specific issue (based on searching the web), I hope that in the future, more men can come forward about these experiences and more psychologists/researchers can write about them.
Currently, statistics still lean towards women being gaslighted more than men. So, if you’re a guy, or individual with a penis, and you’ve been gaslighted by your doctor, you’re not alone. I have been gaslighted before in different relationships and I’ve been gaslighted by urologists when trying to get an accurate diagnosis for my specific ED.
The point is, if we can shed light on this issue and become more informed about how to get an accurate diagnosis when it comes to ED, then we can point men in the right direction when it comes to a proper treatment plan.
Whether it’s a combination of treatments or getting a referral to the right specialist, therapist, etc., it can help men have a fighting chance to get back on track to having a quality sex life.
Unconscious Bias And Medical Gaslighting
A little while ago I talked about why guys under the age of 40 should take care of their erections. As men age, they become susceptible to health problems that cause poor blood flow or erection issues like diabetes, heart disease, low testosterone, and other conditions (vasculogenic ED) that happen with age.
Younger guys have the ability to take control of their sexual health and manage these causes of ED before health issues actually become problematic in the bedroom.
However, I can only speculate (there hasn’t been a study on this yet from what I know) that this age group is more likely to be medically gaslighted the most when it comes to accurately defining what type of ED they have.
Objectively speaking, data tends to point out that for men over the age of 40 or 50 is when ED can become problematic in the bedroom. This may or may not create some bias when trying to diagnose men in younger age groups. Some doctors might not take a 30 year old man seriously when coming into a clinic complaining about symptoms of erectile dysfunction.
But, younger men can experience ED, too. Numbers for younger men experiencing ED have increased in the recent years. Are doctors gaslighting younger men because of unconscious bias or are they only relying on past data of men with erectile dysfunction that mainly highlights men above the age of 40?
I’ve talked to a lot of men on online forums and what stood out to me was that it didn’t matter if a guy was under the age of 40 or over the age of 40. It appears that some doctors seem to avoid ordering tests and would rather prescribe pills and trimix than actually solve the root problem. Not ordering tests is a warning sign of medical gaslighting.
But, is it an age thing?
Is it intentional?
Is there some type of bias to this?
Maybe it's unintentional because some doctors are not properly educated?
Does this mean that men are doomed when trying to find a good doctor or have a good experience during their doctor visit?
I really hope researchers can pick up this topic and explore further into it. But until then, here is how to spot medical gaslighting.
How Can You Tell If Your Doctor is Gaslighting you? Or how can you spot it?
Sometimes, it’s not always easy to spot medical gaslighting because you may lack experience with going to the doctor or you lack knowledge about your overall health and erections (you’d be surprised on how many men still think the penis is "just" muscle). And for those of you who are going to the doctor for the first time because you’re noticing changes in erection quality, you may or may not get the response or solution you’re looking for.
The truth of the matter is that men can easily become victims of medical gaslighting when it comes to erectile dysfunction.
Because ED is a very complex and sensitive issue that has multiple physical causes as well as psychological ones, doctors tend to push PED5i’s (Viagra, Cialis, etc.) because that’s their go to move when they hear certain phrases like “trouble getting hard”, “trouble maintaining an erection”, Or “I’m scared my partner will leave me”, etc.
Depending on the doctor, they might not explore other options, or offer tests, or services needed to combat ED from all areas. That’s when it becomes problematic for a man looking for an accurate diagnosis. And over time, this will cause further distress where a man will also develop severe psychogenic ED as well.
If you are second-guessing your symptoms and are still struggling to find the root cause of your specific ED, you are not alone.
What Are the Signs of Medical Gaslighting?
Whether you’re going to your doctor for the first time, or are getting a second opinion because you don’t feel right about your first diagnosis, then it’s time to prepare!
Let’s explore the signs of medical gaslighting together so you can spot them:
Having your symptoms or concerns be dismissed or ignored without cause
Feeling as if your healthcare provider is blaming you
Your symptoms are written off as being normal without explanation
Your diagnosis is fully or mostly based on your gender, race, sexuality, or irrelevant medical history without doing further testing
Having to argue just to be listened to and taken seriously
Your doctor continually interrupts you and doesn’t listen to what you have to say
Your doctor won’t order testing or lab work
When Is Erectile Dysfunction Considered “In Your Head”?
When it comes to our erections and ED, you also have to think about your brain and nervous system. Our nervous system plays a role for our erections and our state of mind. Whether you want to believe it or not, men need some type of erection trigger to start the process of an erection. This includes arousal and desire. Some men think erections are a flip of the switch, but it’s not that easy.
We have 3 types of erections:
Throughout the day we have both reflexive and psychogenic erections. But, if you have psychogenic ED, most men are going to constantly be worried about ED recurring again.
Psychogenic ED is often associated with stress or anxiety. Whether it’s stress or anxiety going on at home or in your relationship, it can even be your own mind working against you when it’s time to perform.
Men often undermine the power anxiety and stress can have when it comes to erections. But the truth is, it can easily affect your sexual motivation and can make you avoid sex because of fear of disappointment. Anxiety and stress also come in other shapes and sizes, such as:
A negative experience or bad sexual encounter
A lack of sexual education or knowledge of the process of an erection
Insecurities about your size
Underestimating your sexual ability
Not trusting your body and your own erection process
Unrealistic sexual expectations from your upbringing
Fear of not being able to please your partner
To name a few…
Unfortunately, some of these thoughts or feelings can turn into a vicious cycle and can make ED persist long term. It’s no wonder why men panic and turn to pills, injections, sexual health supplements, or other alternatives because they "think" that it’s going to solve these “thoughts” or poor mindset they have about themselves and their ability to perform.
OR, they "want" the answer to their problem to be something "physical" rather than accept that their could be a possibility that their ED is associated with stress, anxiety, communication issues with their partners.
Concerns I Have About Medical Gaslighting Among Men Looking For Answers On What’s Causing Their ED
If you ask most men how erections work, some will simplify the answer and say it’s by them seeing someone attractive and then they’re hard. But, if you ask them to elaborate, they aren’t able to articulate how their erections work.
I’m also speculating this, but based on conversations I’ve had with men on forums in the past couple of years, it appears as though these men view their erections as a “light switch” that can turn on at any moment. Or at the very least, are supposed to just "turn on" when engaging in any sexual activity.
In my honest opinion, I don’t think men are given the proper information about erections, and the different types and causes of ED from doctors, making it harder for the average guy to get a proper diagnosis for their specific case of ED.
Understanding how your body and erections work is also key to successfully understanding erectile dysfunction and how to treat it
Doctors Are Gaslighting Men And Prescribing Them Erectile Dysfunction Pills When They Don’t Even Need Them!
I find that most people assume that “taking a pill” is a simple fix when that’s not the case at all. Or perhaps, it’s led for men to believe that they need to get on a pill as a last resort or to pop a pill as an erection “fail safe”. This may be true in some cases, as some men who don’t necessarily have ED, but are experimenting with PED5i’s like Viagra or Cialis recreationally find that temporary confidence boost when erectile dysfunction is more “in their head”.
But, it doesn’t mean this is going to solve the root cause of their psychogenic ED as you have to be aroused in order for pills to even work!
If a man has an erection hiccup every once and a while, or it’s “situational” (too much alcohol, a lack of sleep, dehydration, temporary stress, etc.), then it’s not something I think is alarming. This can be fixed with lifestyle changes and having healthy conversations with their sexual partner, addressing expectations, and expressing their feelings about it.
But, the problem is, not every guy takes the time to reflect on their situational or anxiety related ED and would rather panic, self-diagnose and go to the doctor for a pill. What’s even worse is these online pill companies that offer PED5i treatment without a consultation or information about the “patient” such as health status, blood work and examinations.
My concerns with this are that doctors or businesses are potentially taking advantage of these male patients who don’t necessarily need ED pills yet but are prescribed them so that they can get a little “confidence”. Again, that’s a bandaid fix and will not help their situational ED or anxiety related ED.
Pills like PED5i’s are only meant to help with vasodilation, not treat the mind. If the body is in "fight or flight" mode or there is no “erection trigger”, a man won’t get hard even on these ED pills. Even with pills, I often find that men assume or expect an automatic erection. Sadly, that’s not how these pills work.
Recognize When Erectile Dysfunction Is In Your Head Versus When It Is Not
This is why we need to be smarter as consumers and be more aware of our bodies. It’s no wonder why men like me, who advocate for their sexual health have to “doctor shop” and constantly research to become more aware of what’s going on with their own body.
And It doesn’t mean you have to stop and constantly worry about things you just started noticing that you haven’t noticed before (psychological ED creeping up on you).
Fluctuations in erections are normal depending on the situation.
But if you become better at recognizing how your mind works and how to be more "body aware" of when you have a good erection day versus when you don't, it'll make things easier for you to recognize when ED is in your head and when it is not
I always encourage you guys to keep learning, so that you can have better conversations with these doctors as well as your sexual partners. This way, you can avoid medical gaslighting and conflicts with your partner.
Let’s See How Common Medical Gaslighting is Among Men Seeking A Proper Diagnosis for Erectile Dysfunction (Survey)
Medical gaslighting is often described as when a medical provider dismisses a patient's symptoms or complaints and then places blame on stress or other psychological factors that can lead to misdiagnosis or delayed care.
I want to know from you guys! Since studies point out that medical gaslighting affects women more than men, let’s see how common it really is among men looking for an answer to their erection problems.
Answer this suvey, please!
Why answer my survey? Because I really want to see if we can start with some data and hopefully, some researchers out there will consider exploring this topic more with quantitative and qualitative research. Or maybe I’ll do it in the future (who knows)
Questions I Have About Medical Gaslighting Among Men With Erectile Dysfunction
Since there is a lack of information on the topic, I can only speculate and assume that this phenomenon is underreported among men.
For this reason, I created some preliminary questions around medical gaslighting when it comes to men seeking information, diagnosis, and treatment for ED. Hopefully, a researcher or psychoanalyst can pick up on this, look at my survey above and explore this even further:
Are men too embarrassed about their erection problems to come forward about these experiences?
Could it be that men fear a diagnosis of “ED”? (could men fear a diagnosis of a specific kind of ED that is not reversible?)
Have we all been medically gaslighted on what PED5is really do? (Just speculating, but pharmaceutical companies are quick to offer these pills to temporarily give you increased vasodilation that men think taking these drugs will give them an automatic erection)
Do the signs of medical gaslighting present differently among men versus women? (women who claim they have pains or aches are often gaslighted into believing it's a mental illness or based on their emotions…are the signs similar in men? etc.)
Is medical gaslighting intentional or unintentional because of a lack of knowledge Urologists have on erectile dysfunction? (Could education for Urologists improve?
There are so many factors that go into the process of an erection. Most doctors tend to only look at the vascular causes of ED (leading cause of ED) versus everything else (hence prescribing Viagra or Cialis).
Plus, research still suggests that men don’t go to the doctor as often as women do, making it appear that health is not of importance to men and that PED5 inhibitors like Viagra or Cialis are viewed as “enough” to treat it.
Hopefully, one day, we’ll have an appropriate/helpful answer to some of these questions.
Are You Experiencing Symptoms Of Erectile Dysfunction And Are Worried About Your Doctor Gaslighting You? Here’s What To Do…
Picture this conversation:
Concerned man/individual with a penis: “Lately, I’m having trouble getting and maintaining an erection and it’s affecting my sex life. My partner is frustrated and I’m worried that I might have ED. Are there any tests to determine if I have ED?”
Doctor: “Have you been stressed out lately? When we worry about these things, it can make things worse. How about I write up a script for Cialis and Viagra to help you with your confidence.”
Of course, this is not always the exact conversation you might have with a doctor. Sometimes they might not even look at you and are too focused on their computers that they come off as dismissive and rude.
And I’m sure some, if not most of you can RELATE to this.
On a side note: Oftentimes, I see YouTube doctors or experts get upset when men ask “dumb” questions to them and that they should just see their “doctor”. I was literally watching a YouTuber the other day who claims to help men with self improvement advice show frustration while cursing on live video about a “dumb” question they received from a guy who was concerned about poor erections.
I’m sorry, but if you’re going to be a "YouTube doctor" or have a platform that aims to help men with health research, then you gotta keep it professional. Not every guy out there has access to “good” doctors. That’s why they are asking YOU for help because you’re only a small handful of people.
So, for those reading this, know that you have to advocate for yourself to get that “good” doctor visit. And if at first, you don’t succeed, get another opinion. That’s okay.
You SHOULD FEEL COMFORTABLE AND SAFE WITH YOUR DOCTOR. Not confused, upset, or feeling neglected by them!
Here are some other things you can do to help with your next doctor visit:
Research erectile dysfunction beforehand. Try to be a little more educated so you can have a better conversation with your doctor. This doesn’t mean to self-diagnose and claim you have every disease or case of ED out there.
But be smart about it so you can make "distinctions", versus poorly made conclusions. Remember you’re not a doctor. You’re just trying to get more education, testing done and for someone to listen to you and point you in the right direction!
Research your doctor beforehand: If they have Google reviews, a website, etc. look it up and see if they provide education on ED. Also, check to see what tests and treatments they offer. If they only offer PED5i’s and trimix as treatments, my guess is their education on ED is limited to the 1990s and they most likely don’t have information on potential regenerative treatment options such as shockwave therapy, or PRP shots. My theory is to lean towards doctors who offer multiple treatment options because that tells me that they’re open to new research and other ways to treat ED instead of just prescribing a pill.
Keep a symptom journal. Writing down symptom information, like when symptoms start and stop and what makes them better or worse, helps create a detailed record that you can bring to your appointment--and of course for your own record.
Prepare a list of questions. Make a list of questions you want answered, and use them to set the agenda for your visit. Your healthcare provider is trained in this and will recognize the phrase, “shared agenda setting.”.
Take a relative or friend with you. In this case, maybe bring your spouse or partner as they are technically, experiencing this with you, too. If someone you trust is available, bring them along to your appointment. They can act as your advocate and witness. They can also help you remember the information and advice your provider gives.
Final Thoughts On Medical Gaslighting And ED
Erectile dysfunction is a real medical condition that shouldn’t be taken lightly, so take it seriously. Get informed about ED, know your symptoms, and don’t let your doctor gaslight you if they are trying to brush it off. Make sure you get the tests and answers you need for peace of mind.
And if your doctor was rude, dismissive, or didn’t care about your symptoms and complaints, then it’s okay to get a 2nd or even 3rd opinion. Again, you should find a doctor that you feel comfortable and safe with. You don’t want to walk out feeling neglected, or even more confused than when you walked in.
Stay strong, have confidence in yourself, and make sure you find out what is going on with your body! You deserve to have the best healthcare possible. With the right treatment, diagnosis, and support, you can overcome ED and live a full, happy life.
Thanks for always listening!
Much love <3
DISCLAIMER: This content is not associated with or endorsed by any medical professional. If you have questions about your health, please contact your healthcare provider. You should never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read here or anywhere else online. This article is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Consult a licensed healthcare professional before making any decisions related to your healthcare.