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Erectile Dysfunction Radio Podcast
Today our guest is award-winning motivational speaker Ven Virah. Ven’s 2019 TED Talk, “The Rise and Fall of Erectile Dysfunction” included a powerful message about his personal story of overcoming erectile dysfunction (ED) and the stigma our global society still faces when it comes to talking openly about ED.
Ven’s story that has helped men and their partners all over the world overcome their challenges with ED and the shame that often comes with it.
The Erectile Dysfunction Radio Podcast is dedicated to educating and empowering men to address erectile dysfunction, improve confidence, and enhance the satisfaction in their relationships. This podcast is hosted by certified sex therapist, Mark Goldberg, LCMFT, CST.
Transcript of Episode 17 – Ending the Stigma of Erectile Dysfunction
Mark: Today, I’m really excited that we are joined by Ven Virah. Ven is an award-winning motivational speaker based in Toronto, Canada. Ven is also a man of tremendous courage who shared his personal story of overcoming erectile dysfunction in a public forum. To say I was impressed when I heard his TED Talk would be an understatement.
I found it inspiring and it strengthened my resolve as a clinician to continually work to help more and more men resolve their erectile dysfunction. Ven, thank you so much for joining us today.
Ven: Thank you so much, Mark. The first thing I’ll say is, I recently relocated to Vancouver, so it’s a beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. But I’m happy to be here, Mark, always a pleasure to share my story and to really help men out there that are dealing with their shame, their erectile dysfunction, and even women that are with those men, and to be able to help and help them in that situation.
Ever since I did that TED Talk, I’ve had many people approach me. I’d say everyday, I get requests from all around the world, from men, telling me how my story touched and inspired them and that they are going through what they’re going through, and they want their own happy ending, so I’m very happy to be here, Mark, whatever I can do to help spread the message, I will do.
Mark: Well, thank you very much, and many of our listeners likely are going to find themselves in situations or experiences similar to what you’ve been through, so I want to ask you Ven if you can just please share your story.
Ven: Sure, absolutely. So I was based in Montreal, Canada back then, I was a university student, was very popular, student council president in college, university. I was an athlete and I used to play soccer, and as a result of playing soccer and being a great goalie and being a fearless goalie, I got hit many times in between in between my legs by the soccer ball.
I didn’t have a jock strap, obviously, I think my erectile dysfunction had multiple reasons of why it occurred, but I never got treated because I was so ashamed of what I was dealing with, and from a spiritual perspective, I said, God’s going to take care of, God’s going to take care of it.
And I never really addressed it because I was too ashamed to share my story. To make a long story short, I went to university, I realized I had an issue. Every time I would meet a different woman and things would get more intimate, I would break up the relationship right away because I didn’t want her to find out, and it really broke my heart.
I was in this place where I loved the woman I was with, but I just couldn’t bare them finding out about my erectile dysfunction, so it was very much a difficult position to be in, and that went on for several years.
Nobody knew about my situation. It’s scary because at one point, I thought a viable solution would be to leave my family, my friends, everybody I love, and travel halfway around the world and just start my life by myself with my own shame and just lead my life like that, and I’m so glad I didn’t do that.
Essentially what it led to is I went on this personal development program, I wanted to go from good to great. I realized there’s actually something that is subconsciously dug under the carpet that I’m not addressing, which is my erectile dysfunction, and I need to do something about it.
I went to see a doctor and the doctor referred me to a specialist. That specialist referred me to a urologist who, if I’m not mistaken, was perhaps one of the best urologists in the country, and he was so interested in my condition and my situation at my age, that he wanted to bring me under his wing as part of his own research, so that’s where my journey began, my journey to healing began, I actually had the courage for the first time to share my condition with a doctor.
I’m so glad I did, it really changed everything. It took me from 10 years of living in darkness and not telling my story or my condition to anyone to actually revealing that I had a problem and I wanted to address it to have a better life. So the doctor really helped me in over a case of one year, we went through multiple treatments, now you have to imagine it was also part of his research at some point, I had other students that look like my age looking at my penis and taking notes and things of that nature.
So it took a lot of courage to be able to say, “You know what? This is bigger than me. This is something that I have to overcome.”
And by all means necessary, I’m going to get to that point. Eventually, the doctor came back to me and said, the worst case scenario, Ven, we need to do a surgery, and he came up to me one day and he said that we’re going to have to do that surgery, and at that point, I was concerned because as part of the surgery, it would mean that I would have to be induced to be asleep so that they can perform the surgery.
And my cousin had passed away a few years earlier than that, because she had to be put to sleep, and I don’t know the whole reason behind it, I think it may have been an overdose or something of that nature, but she passed away and all you need is one person to pass away from that and you’re like, “Oh my God, what a trauma… could this be the end for you too?”
And nobody knows I’m going through this. Here we are in the morning, I’m heading to my operation, I got a call from the doctor’s office telling me that they have to cancel the operation because the doctor had an emergency procedure which happened over night, so they had to re-book me for another surgery in two months time.
Now, in that two months, I knew deep in my heart that I had to do something about it. And the reason why I knew is because I remember going on Facebook and I wrote, “If this is my last post, let it be this: ‘My life is my message.”
I just wrote that and I’m like, this could be the end of me. Than I got a reply from my mom on my posting, “No, your life is my message.”
Wow, and it really struck me. Coming back, I have two months and I’m like, I have to do something about this. So I dialed my younger sister, told my dad separately, went for a walk, told my mom, they all were so loving, so understanding, so caring, even wondering why I took so long to even tell them that I went through this and eventually I told a few friends and they’re like, “Oh yeah, it totally makes sense You’re the guy, that would meet girls, but never closed with girls.” Or whatever, that meant…
Mark: Essentially, you went through this process of disclosing this to friends and family?
Ven: Yes, which was huge. But I did it one-on-one. It was always one-on-one because I wanted to gauge their reaction, and I have to say the first time I said it was to my older sister, she was the one…I was not getting along with her. And I felt that let me go straight to the person I least get along with and just reveal it to her… I didn’t know why, I just felt I had to do it.
Then the flood gates open, I was crying. I remember I was at a coffee place and she was so loving and understanding, and that completely shifted my relationship with her and that gave me courage to speak to other people, and the more I shared, the more I cried, but eventually that stopped and I was more direct and able to share my story.
I remember when I shared it with my dad, he tried to put a bit of humor there because he didn’t want me to feel bad about my condition, he just wanted me to know it’s part of life, it’s okay.
I just have to deal with it, I did reveal it, then I went to the operation room two months later, with a few people in my closest circle knowing about my situation. I was ready for the surgery, and I told the doctor there, okay, I’m ready. And they’re like, we’re actually done, because they had induced me to fall asleep, I didn’t know that… I guess I didn’t know and I was just like, “Okay, I’m ready.”
Then they told me it was done. A few weeks later, I went back, saw the doctor, he was very impressed with my recovery, in fact, if I’m not mistaken, he said either it was the best recovery he’s seen someone go through or one of the best. He told me, “You’re ready, go out there. Enjoy your life, you have a second chance to enjoy the life.”
Mark: The urologist told you that physically you are able to gain or maintain an erection….and enjoy your life?
Ven: Yeah, exactly, exactly. So by then I was a speaker, I spoke on stage and this girl, I caught her attention, I guess, and she was so beautiful, and I remember we tried three times and all three times it didn’t work, and the shame grew bigger and bigger and bigger, and at that point, I went back to see the doctor to see what was going on.
I really thought I had a second chance to live. And he said, Well, physically, you’re healed, but I still have 10 years of trauma I haven’t addressed.
At that point, he referred me to a therapist, and that began my nine-month journey with my therapist. In those therapy sessions, from what I recall, I talked about myself, I talked about life, I talked about my erectile dysfunction.
We looked at what I thought it meant and what it actually meant from a factual perspective, and we try to bridge a gap between what was in my head and what is actually happening.
I realized that my erectile dysfunction wasn’t just about the erectile dysfunction, it was about my entire life, my family, my friends, my relationship, what it meant to me as a man, what it meant to me as somebody in the workplace, it was just like everything, everything at the source had something to do with how I felt about the erectile dysfunction that I had, whether it was conscious or subconscious, but over nine months of therapy of meeting with that person every week, and I’m sharing my feelings the more I shared the more I healed, the more I cried, the more I took it from within me to being able to then be healed from that erectile dysfunction.
Then that led me to the therapist telling me, “Ven, I’m pretty sure you’re ready now to proceed forward and you’ve done a lot of great work over the last few months and now it’s time for you to meet someone intimately and eventually engage in sexual intercourse.”
I was a bit concerned because I did have that failure a few months back, and I’m like, I didn’t want to repeat that, and I was a well-known guy in Montreal, and she’s like, “Well, why don’t you try online dating.”
Back then there was no Bumble, no Tinder, none of those dating apps that are so prevalent in our society today. Back then, it was an online dating, I think the two big ones were Match.com and E-Harmony, and we decided to go with E-Harmony because it wasn’t a search engine back then, and you would just get matches every morning, and if I see somebody that I know at 6 a.m., I could just block them if I don’t want them to know about me going back and online dating, because for me, that was a stigma back then, it’s not something I wanted people to know that I was doing.
On January 3rd, I signed up to E-harmony. January 4th, I get my first matches. By January 11th I’m going on my first date.
Sometime in March, I have my first sexual interaction… intercourse, and it worked, it worked, and I’m like, Is that it? Is that it? Because I think… I think that was it. I wasn’t sure right? It worked, it was just great. This was a huge accomplishment and a lot released from me, so long story short, that was my first time at a later age, like 28… I believe it was 28.
And then, yeah, eventually that was a girl that I got engaged, I got married to, and then there’s a whole story about this year of us not being together anymore, not related to erectile dysfunction. But that’s just part of life and the journey we went through, but in the time that we had together, this was a huge victory for me, a second chance to life, it took a lot of courage to be able to address this, to speak about it.
I went through all these steps to get there, but looking back, I’m so happy I did this, and the reason why I shared my TED Talk was because I didn’t want people to go through 10 years again of dealing with their shame alone, and the stats are really revealing like if I’m not mistaking, Yale said 300 million men by 2025, we’ll be dealing with erectile dysfunction.
Harvard said one out of four men under the age of 40 is dealing with erectile dysfunction, I don’t know how they’re getting their stats, I do believe the numbers may be higher, because a lot of men have been approaching me since my TED Talk within my circle, and people from all around the world telling me that they’ve dealt with some form of erectile dysfunction.
I have had women approached me and telling me that they’ve also been in situations with men that have been dealing with this, and how can they approach them or help them. It’s been so liberating for me to share my story, for me to have gone through that journey, I’m so glad I did, and whatever I can do to help men and women overcome their shame is something that I want to be part of, I know in the speaking world I’m known as that funny guy, that vibrant speaker.
I think I once got coined as “Tony Robbins dipped in chocolate,” but I also feel that I want people to know that there’s also a vulnerable side to me, a side to me where I want to have real conversations, I want to talk about things, that I want to be that vehicle, that instrument to be able to bring to the surface conversations that are not talked about.
I know in the South Asian community, for example, talking about sex or erectile dysfunction can be quite taboo, so I want to be able to be that person to be able to say, “Hey, let’s have a conversation because this is happening in our society.”
Mark: I was going to say, this seems like a pretty taboo topic.
Ven: It is anywhere, anywhere… In fact, in the previous discussion I had with someone, it’d be referred to as the last taboo, the last big taboo, because men are not… not all men, I’m generalizing here, but many men that are dealing with that issue are not coming to the forefront, and I want them to know that it’s okay to go through this… It’s okay to talk about it.
The more you talk about it, the more you address it, there are solutions out there, in fact, when I was dealing with in back in 2011, there were less solutions, and now we’re in 2020, and there are so many solutions available, whether it’s physical, psychological, there are solutions. There are people out there waiting to be able to help you, including you, Mark.
Mark: I”m one of the people that’s committed to help try to be a part of expanding the solutions and being able to help men overcome the shame, the embarrassment, and find ways to really just live a much better, quality life.
Can I ask you a few questions about your journey, because I encounter men who are experiencing all different types of manifestations of erectile dysfunction, it certainly is not a singular simple condition, it can manifest itself in all kinds of different ways, so one of the things I’m curious about is when you discovered this… It sounds like you were in your late teens. Is that correct?
About right now, was this only happening when you went to engage with a partner, or were you noticing some manifestations of erectile dysfunction with masturbation or not getting in erection in the morning or something of that nature?
Ven: I would say all of the above, whether it’s masturbation and not getting that full erection or not getting it consistently in the morning, but also in my situation, it was a physical issue, there was actually a vertical curvature and a side curvature as well, so it’s not like I could not not see it, it was very visible to me that that was something that I was dealing with, but of course I tried to hide it, I tried to normalize it like it was just part of me, and thinking it would just take care of its own or re-shape back eventually in it’s own way right. But no, it was very visible to me that that was there.
Mark: What role do you think inaccurate or missing information played in the length of time that you experienced the erectile dysfunction?
Ven: It played a huge part. I think definitely misinformation is a big part of it, not being educated in knowing why this is happening, not being educated to know what are the solutions out there. In my case, it was also… it was just me being so ashamed about what I was going through, and having a story in my head and believing that story and just going with that, or avoiding the issue to such a point that I just didn’t want to address it.
Looking back, I wish I had gotten the help much sooner, that I would actually inform myself much sooner and find the information about why does somebody deal with erectile dysfunction, what are the different potential causes of erectile dysfunction, what are the solutions available to address the erectile dysfunction. So I definitely feel that if I had addressed this earlier on, it would not have taken 10 years to get to a solution.
Mark: And the shame, the shame that you describe I think it’s so common, and probably is the biggest barrier to men being able to find… the solution or a solution that’s going to work for them, it’s just going and talking to somebody about what’s happening and hearing you describe that hope that it’ll just reshape itself and it’ll start working the way it’s supposed to, and really holding on to that hope for a long while as opposed to going to talk to somebody, but I think it’s really, really common that a lot of men do experience.
Ven: It is, and you know what, again, it’s a story in our head, but it’s looking at the story versus the facts, and it’s important not to just stay in the story, but also get the facts, get the medical support, get the professional experts to be able to weigh in on the situation.
So that is also equally important, and I do trust that if men out there seek professional help, that they will be able to have a better overview of what they are dealing with and being able to address them and perhaps even change that story in their head.
Mark: Yeah, so speaking of changing the stories in people’s heads, another area that I was really interested in asking you about is when you’re describing this time period, probably your early 20s in your social circles, guys are going out looking for sexual partners there, I think you used the term ‘closing the deal’. And I’m wondering about your experience of performance anxiety and in particular, maybe you can share some of the things that would go on inside of your head when you went to engage with the potential partner, but felt like you would not be able to close the deal.
What were some of the things that might be going through your head at that time?
Ven: Sure, and I think that’ll be a two-part answer. The first part is around being around those friends that are all talking about their sexual conquest or the partners that they’re with. I had to actually pretend that I was actually also going through similar situations with them, even though it wasn’t true, and yeah, just having those conversations like boys being boys and just talking about it, it was just one area where I was like, “Well, if that’s normal, and I’m not living normal than what am I living, right?”
So that was one thing that was important for me now, whenever I got to a more intimate relationship with someone and we got closer to potentially having a sexual intercourse, there was a lot of fear, there was a lot of fear.
I was just very much in my own head, knowing, believing for sure that it wouldn’t work, so either she finds out and I feel way more ashamed that I’m already really ashamed, or I cut this off.
And then I may be perceived as a player or someone that maybe is hard to get or hard to please, and then it’s kind of like a protective mechanism, so I preferred that option to save face, if I can say it that way, and not have to address the issue, so it was kind of unfortunate that I went that route, but when you’re dealing with fear, shame, guilt, those were the solutions that came to my mind to be able to deal with this.
And perhaps not even address the solution or perhaps give it a try, because I was so convinced in my story that it wouldn’t work. So what’s the point of going further and trying? And if I was right, then what shame would I experience that I did not want to experience with that girl, and what would they go and say to whoever… again, all stories that would put me in such a position to expose my erectile dysfunction.
Mark: Yes, and it sounds like what you’re describing is almost like you made the decision that you were not going to be able to perform, so that it was just like, “What’s my exit strategy? How am I going to avoid having to even get to that point because it wasn’t even a fear that it wasn’t going to work, it was a knowledge, it was that deep inside of you…so it’s just like this anticipatory anxiety and not wanting to engage. Did you feel a disappointment in yourself afterwards or did you feel a relief?
Ven: A huge disappointment because every time I would get into a relationship and it would be intimate, the feelings were true, I was really in love, or I was really interested, and to have to break someone’s heart for the case to be able to exit from… not exposing my erectile dysfunction was very much heartbreaking for myself as well, so I was breaking my own heart as a result of that process, so I was disappointed, but it’s far more than the word disappointment, I was heart broken.
Again, just feeling feelings of sadness and more.
Mark: Another thing I’m curious about is in your therapy process, I think a lot of people are curious about what actually goes on in the therapy process for erectile dysfunction. I think it’s unique to each person. Each man who’s experiencing that.
But I’m wondering if you learned specific factors about yourself that had been contributing to not being able to achieve an erection, and over time you were able to address those and then get yourself to a place where you could more reliably gain and maintain an erection?
Ven: The therapy definitely helped on multiple levels, and yes, it is personalized and addressed to each person’s individual condition or whatever they’re going through, or wherever they’re at in their recovery.
For me, what I remember is there was a mix of demystifying what I thought was true to what are the actual facts, and actually reading several books or even chapters of several books that are specific about what is a penis?
What is the whole process of a penis and going through getting the erection and in penetration and so on, the process of just what are some of the reasons why people have an erectile dysfunction?
And then there was also the emotional. That touched the intellectual part, really getting to understand what are the potential reasons behind erectile dysfunction, what are the solutions, what is the anatomy of a man and their penis and what really goes on down there at a very specific level, and then equally, so addressing the emotional layers, so what did this erectile dysfunction mean for me in terms of not realizing that it just wasn’t about me and myself, it was about how I perceive myself, how I perceive relationships, how I perceive my family and my friends, my work, and everything else in my life.
It was really uncovering these layers again and again, and really going from what was my story, and actually understanding what is the actual truth versus what was the story I made up in my head, it was a big process, it’s like you’re going through so much and no more you’re talking in one day, click… there’s a little switch that says, “Oh yeah, I get it.”
This is not true. And this is really what’s going on here. But the process leading to that was very important, and it really got me to a place of understanding what 10 years of trauma caused to my life and how there was a solution at the end, if I was willing to address it and talk about it, and really be curious about it.
I’m very grateful for the therapy that I’ve gone through, and I’m still in touch with that therapist and she’s from time to time, just shared my TED talk with her, and she’s been very helpful in making me remember what I went through in those therapy sessions, way back in the day.
Mark: Yes and I like the way you describe that, coming to that point, that a-ha moment where things click and they pivot and understanding there’s a process to getting there, of course, sometimes men want to just get to that click and not go through the whole process, and I see that in my practice at times, but the therapy process is so valuable to being able to get to that ‘A-ha moment,’ that click, to be able to really see things differently, think about the process differently, experience the process differently, and ultimately lead to better erections.
So to that end then, were you able to get to a point where you could relax and enjoy sex with a partner?
Ven: Yes, yes, I could and Hallelujah. I’m glad, I’m glad. That’s where I’m at right now, and I’m glad that this is the reality I’m living. So I hope there is a happy ending if men are willing to put in the work and talk about their emotions and talk about what they’re facing, and bridging the gap between what they think and what is…
Mark: Yes. Now, not getting an erection is normal, at times it is not, and it’s going to happen even when you do all this good work. I think it’s part of just the natural order of being a male, right, is that your penis does not always respond exactly when you want it to, how did you handle those experiences of not getting an erection after you had been through this process?
Ven: I’m really happy you’re mentioning that, and I’m glad that that’s part of what we’re discussing as well today, because there will be times when there erection will not come for various reasons, could be stress, could be being tired, it could be whatever, it could be any reason, and I was very grateful that I trusted the process, I knew that it worked, so I knew that if it happened, it was just… not the end of the world.
It’s just, it is what it is. I had a very supportive partner, so if it didn’t work, the sun will rise tomorrow. And we’ll try again. And then there were situations where the next day I was working again and it was just part of the journey. Right. But yeah, it’s very important as a man to understand that the erection may not always happen, and if it doesn’t happen, it’s okay, even after going through all of that.
There are times when there may not be an erection, and it’s just part of being a male and just having to deal with whatever we’re dealing with and it’s just, again, trying different things and it will be okay.
Mark: And I have such an appreciation for not only just the terminology that you use, but just the calm demeanor that you have when talking about it, because it is so important to not cycle back into the anxiety if and when inevitably you lose that erection at some point down the line, I had to be able to just stay calm and understand it’s part of the process, and like you said, the sun will come up, the next day, right?
And there’s a pretty high chance that you’re going to be able to gain and maintain an erection when needed. What would you say has been the quality of life improvement for you since addressing the erectile dysfunction?
Ven: I think the biggest thing is freedom, and what I mean by freedom is freedom of expression, freedom of being who I am and not having to live a double life were one thing, but then I’m addressing things in a different way. I think for me to be able to fully express myself in terms of who I am, not just sexually, right. Also, my level of confidence has rose to a different level, being able to be free and be who I am and express myself fully has been quite a transformational journey.
Even as a speaker like now, I’m very much dedicated and committed to fully bring out all the layers of who then is the vibrant vulnerable… Ven visionary Ven, I want everybody to be exposed to all of that, so there’s a sense of freedom of being free and being in full self-expression, which is beautiful, and to be able to talk about everything and seeing it for what it is, rather than what we… it’s a blessing. So for me, that has been the major transformation.
Mark: That seems to expand way beyond just the erectile dysfunction, but just being more full and wholesome with yourself and being able to share that with others, but you said it’s been a part of that journey or something that has come out of that journey of addressing the erectile dysfunction…
Ven: Absolutely, so for me, being able to have these conversations has been a huge game changer for me to normalize erectile dysfunction and for people to know that, “Hey, this is just part of being a human being, this is part of our fabric as humans, and it is just one of different things that people are dealing with, and to be able to bring out my story of shame and to be able to overcome how I address, how I’ve overcome that brings hope to people and not just for men with erectile dysfunction, but for even women that are dealing with their own shame and to be able to have these conversations has really touched a lot of people and has touched me.
And hearing other people’s stories as well, and people coming up to me and telling me their stories about overcoming shame, it has been so freeing and opening, so for me it’s just… it’s been a game-changer.
Mark: Wow. Just listening to you talk about this, what message would you want to give to men who may find themselves in a similar place to where you were?
Ven: My message to them is, seek professional help, whether it’s a doctor, a therapist, or other healthcare professionals. Definitely seek help, their are hands that they’re willing to grab yours, don’t wait and stay in your story in your head, get the help you need.
There is hope and there are solutions out there, so definitely don’t keep this to yourself, learn from my mistake, don’t wait 10 years before addressing this, get the help. Now, let this video or this message now, or if you’ve heard my TED talk, let that be the same, you need it to take action, to do something about it, because there are solutions out there to help you lead you to a happier, healthier quality of life.
Mark: Even like I said in the beginning, I think that you’re amazing for having the courage to share your personal story, and I think it goes such a long way toward helping to try to break the stigma. Do you have any final thoughts about what else can be done to help break the stigma around erectile dysfunction?
Ven: Yes, I recommend people come forward and share their stories when they have the courage or when they’re happy, the more men and women talk about this, the more will be normalized, the more people bring us to the forefront, like we’re doing today with this video, the more we’re helping to raise the awareness that this is an issue, that this is a taboo topic that needs to be brought to the forefront.
It needs to be addressed, the statistics don’t lie. It’s very clear that a lot of men are dealing with this, and we need to raise the awareness, we need to talk about it, the more people talk about it, the more people bring this to the forefront, the more it’s going to be normalized and the more people will be exposed to the solutions available and will have the courage to take action, so speak up, share and help yourself and other people in the process.
Mark: Well, thank you for that, and Ven this has been such an amazing opportunity to be able to speak with you.
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