When Tom Waters’ diabetes led to erectile dysfunction, it almost cost him his marriage. Here’s how he and his wife got their chemistry back.
Eight weeks after Tom and Frieda Waters met while working at a Florida Holiday Inn, they married. It was “hot chemistry,” they say, virtually in unison, laughing. They were young then, just 19 and 21.
Today Tom is 55, Frieda 56, so you’d think they’d—you know—be over that sort of thing, but the Waters have a way of using phrases like “had to find a hotel room” and “woo-hoo!” that confirms they are not, and have no intention of ever being, over it.
Yet in 1988, when Tom was diagnosed with diabetes, it looked like their sex life might come to an end, and the disease might take their marriage, too. On the day Tom found himself in a hospital emergency room, he’d been driving to work, feeling chest pains. But then “the doctor walked in,” Tom recalls of his ER experience, “and said, ‘Why did you not take your shot today?’ I was like, ‘What shot?’ and he said, ‘Your insulin shot?’ I said, ‘Why would I take an insulin shot? I’m not a diabetic,’ and he said, ‘Well, you are now.’ ”
Trouble in the bedroom
Tom was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, which strikes more than 15,000 adults in the U.S. each year, according to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. With this form of diabetes, your body doesn’t produce insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy. As a result, insulin injections and lifestyle changes are a must. In the beginning, counting carbs, curtailing alcohol and having to monitor his blood sugar depressed and angered Tom, who’d always been fit and athletic. After a few months, though, life went back to normal.
About a year later, Tom started to have trouble in bed. “You know how you see those shows and the guy can’t get it up, and the woman says, ‘Oh, it’s okay,’ and it’s kind of funny?” Tom asks. “Well, it’s not.” Sex had always been a major ingredient in the glue that held Tom and Frieda together and, at only 33, Tom had every reason to think that would be true for a long time.
Now, he didn’t know if he would be able to have an erection or not, so he mostly stopped initiating sex out of fear. Frieda, not wanting to pressure Tom, stopped, too. Suddenly, their love life turned cold, but neither was talking about why. They even stopped holding hands and hugging.
Tom had always been a pleasant, easy-going guy, but at that point, Frieda recalls, “I had lost my husband. He was very depressed and angry, and he wasn’t sharing any of that with me. He became withdrawn.” Afraid of a confrontation, neither spoke much about Tom’s condition. The lack of communication and intimacy cleaved a wide gap in their relationship. The anger and tension mounted until Frieda began to wonder if she and Tom were headed for a divorce.
Fighting for their marriage
Frieda, who runs her own manicure business from home, recalls that one day, a customer asked, “How are you doing?” and she burst into tears, pouring out her problems. The customer suggested that Tom and Frieda see her church pastor. There was no magic to the pastor’s advice—and Tom never mentioned his erection problems—but the counselor did get them talking. They talked about their feelings and how their reluctance to be affectionate had nothing to do with a lack of attraction or love. They discussed Tom’s work stress, and then, finally, Frieda confronted Tom about the problems in bed. “I said, ‘Look, this is awfully young to be giving up your sex life.’ I told him I was willing to try anything,” she says.
Tom saw a urologist, who confirmed his suspicion that his diabetes was causing his erection problems. It turned out he was suffering from erectile dysfunction (ED). So, the two of them worked their way through a string of therapies—like a vacuum pump device that forces blood into the penis and a medication that’s injected into the penis just before sex—to help them reclaim their sex life. Since 2007, Tom has used a penile implant, a device that pumps saline into tubes surgically placed in his penis to imitate the way blood normally fills the tissue. Today, Tom and Frieda are thrilled that they got “that playfulness, that sexiness back.” It’s not something they take for granted, though. Says Frieda, “We’d had a great sex life—and a great relationship—and we had to fight for it every step of the way.”