Some men are unable to find real satisfaction with their own wives, though they have no problem at all with other women. The problem is partner-linked, and there is a host of possible reasons. For almost three decades Bernhard Premsela (1890-1944) worked as a gp in Amster­dam. In addition he was medical director of the Aletta Jacobs Family Planning Institute. Over the years he had heard every possible question about sexual matters and learned how to answer them – including ques­tions about partner-linked impotence. He did many people a service by recording his experiences in Sexology in Practice (1940). However, in the chapter describing the psychological causes of ‘relative impotence’ in men, it is women who come in for severe criticism:

A slovenly appearance is often responsible. Some women believe that once they are married there is no further need to take care about clothes or toilet. They look sloppy; a neglected face and hands complete the picture. Don’t misunderstand me:

I’m not arguing for rouge, lipstick and plucked eyebrows. I deplore this kind of make-up, which turns the average woman into a herd animal and robs her face of all personal cachet – which is precisely what gives it its charm. I mean only that pleasant grooming, which keeps the women and marital rela­tions fresh and fascinating. Any woman who neglects such things, may pay dearly for this failure, with her husband’s relative impotence.

A little later he has this to say about odours:

For many partners alcohol-drenched breath is an insurmount­able obstacle to achieving an erection. I believe this pheno­menon is more common that is usually believed. Some people find tobacco smells from the mouth or on the fingers a power­ful arousal-dampening factor, though I have also known cases where the smell of a cigar or pipe, but especially of cigarettes, had exactly the opposite effect.

On excessive hair growth:

There are women who even when young exhibit a different pat­tern of hair growth from the average. Two aspects may have an inhibiting effect on the man’s libido. Firstly, body hair. The average woman has only armpit hair and pubic hair, the upper

limit of which – as a secondary sexual characteristic – is marked by a horizontal line. Many women diverge from this norm and have a more or less virile pattern of hair growth (no horizontal upper limit to the pubic hair, but a diamond-shape, ending at the navel; hair-growth on breasts, arms and legs).

I saw many cases where impotence had resulted from excessive hair on the thighs, sternum or breasts. The second aspect, which can have a powerful inhibiting effect on the emo­tions, is hair growth on the upper lip and chin. This may vary from a very light down above the lip, which some men find very attractive, particularly in dark-skinned women, to the forming of a moustache or beard. The latter may extinguish all sexual feelings. The cure is the removal, preferably as soon as possible, of the corpora delicti.

Of course Premsela’s points are overstated, but some of them may ring true. At the same time one needs to realize that ‘clothes maketh the man’ is not an empty phrase. Many women find sexual relations with their beer-bellied spouse a far from pleasant experience!

In fiction too partner-linked impotence is a much-discussed topic as, for example, in Milan Kundera’s Farewell Waltz:

‘I’m really tired,’ he said.

She took him in her arms and then led him to the bed.

‘You’ll see how I’m going to make you forget your fatigue!’

And she began playing with his naked body.

He was stretched out as if on an operating table. He knew that all his wife’s efforts would be useless. His body shrank into itself and no longer had the slightest power of expansion. Kamila ran her moist lips all over his body, and he knew that she wanted to make herself suffer and make him suffer, and he hated her.