05/17/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Erection Fretting (or Why We're Dying to Talk About Sex)

We fret about erections. Those whose erections figure large in their sex lives fret about if they stop getting them, or if the ones they have now are different than the ones they had before. Those who rely on the erections of others for sex play fret that their partners lack of erection is a sign of lack of interest, lack of love, lack of lust.

Sex educators, desperately trying to derail unrealistic and narrowly conceived sexual norms, fret about how much everyone frets about erections. Forget the erections, we're sometimes heard shouting over the ramparts. There are more tools in heaven and earth that can arouse. And some of them come with multiple speeds, if you hadn't noticed.

But toys, fingers, and other body parts aren't actually substitutes for penises. They may at times be more pleasure producing, but suggesting they are the same thing seems pig headed.

And as a recent German study points out, there may be more reasons than a crisis of virility for men and their partners to stand at attention when their erections aren't. From a prepared release:

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a strong predictor of death from all causes and of heart attack, stroke and heart failure in men with cardiovascular disease (CVD), German researchers reported in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

In the first study to show that ED is predictive of death and cardiovascular outcomes, researchers found that men with CVD and ED (compared to those without ED) were twice as likely to suffer death from all causes and 1.6 times more likely to suffer the composite of cardiovascular death, heart attack, stroke and heart failure hospitalization.

This isn't the first research to point out that erections (sensitive as they are to the waxing and waning fortunes of circulation) are something of a canary in a coal mine when it comes to heart health.

The researchers of the most recent study are calling on men to think about heart disease if they are noticing a change in their erections and calling on doctors to ask routinely about erectile functioning. I guess there's an argument that this is good, anything that gets us talking more about sexual health is positive. But in the absence of proper sexual health training for doctors and in the context of a health care system that never gives physicians and patients time to talk about tricky subjects, it's hard to know if the kinds of conversations that may happen as a result of this research and the media coverage of it, will do anyone any good.

Also it would be nice if just once we didn't have to wait to be told we might DIE before we start talking about sex.