An award-winning international fashion model whose chiselled features and confident swagger have made him a global sex symbol has spoken candidly of his confidence-crushing battle with erectile dysfunction.
Champ Imi had just turned 22 and was enjoying huge success modelling for major brands in Japan, Thailand and Italy when he split up with the woman he loved – leaving him broken-hearted and making sex seemingly impossible.
For when Champ, now 28, of Manchester, decided to move on and become intimate with another woman, he was unable to perform.
He said: “I was doing a lot of work where I showed off my muscles. I was meant to be this God of War-style character, who was powerful and strong.
“But, when it came to having sex, I just couldn’t do it. I was thinking: ‘Oh my God, what is happening to me?’ It was so surreal. I became afraid of having sex, 100 per cent. I was happy to kiss possible partners, but would make excuses so we didn’t go home together.
“It became imprinted in my mind that I couldn’t have sex, so I avoided it.”
Speaking out to mark International Men’s Day today (November 19) and in support of Upjohn, Men’s Health Forum and relationships expert Sarah Louise Ryan’s Time to Raise It campaign, which aims to remove the shame and stigma associated with erectile problems, Champ wants men to stop suffering in silence.
Recalling how his own erectile problems (EP) began after he and his former fiancée, who he does not wish to name, parted, he said: “It was a really intense relationship.
“We moved into a flat in east London together after three months when I was 21 and she was 19. I then proposed when I was 22.”
“She was an aspiring model at the time and I was already established, so I helped her with her portfolio. But, our relationship started to fall apart when I travelled across the world for work,” he added.
As their romance crumbled, in mid-2014 Champ moved in with his aunt, housewife Saida Khan, nearby, before travelling to Pakistan, where he is originally from, for a couple of months to spend time with family while his heartbreak healed.
Returning to London later that year, he jumped straight back into the party scene and started dating a woman from Birmingham, who he would visit regularly.
Despite developing strong feelings for her, to his horror, he could not perform when they tried to make love.
He said: “This had never happened before. I didn’t think this could even happen to someone my age. I was in my prime at 22 and I put it down to stress.
“I apologised to her. She knew I’d been through a break-up, but I don’t know if she thought that had anything to do with it.”
“We were together for about four months and every time we started to get intimate, the same thing happened. I couldn’t perform,” he continued.
“I don’t think we properly had intercourse for the whole time because of my erectile problems.”
Although he was very young and EP typically affects men over 40 – usually being caused by stress, tiredness, anxiety or drinking too much alcohol – it can happen to men of all ages, according to the NHS.
Meanwhile, a Men’s Health Forum survey of 5,000 men found that 25 per cent of participants suffered from EP – despite being under 35.
It also found an estimated five million men in the UK experience EP, which can be linked to underlying health problems like diabetes, yet almost a third – 27 per cent – have never spoken about it.
Champ, who believes the stress caused by his heartbreak triggered his own EP, said he became increasingly depressed and anxious about his sexual performance, but was too embarrassed to tell anyone.
He said: “It was a horrible feeling. It’s one of the worst things you can imagine. You’re meant to be taking advantage of your youth, but your manhood is saying no to you.
“Seeing a woman’s face change when she realised I couldn’t perform was awful.
“Most women I dated were very kind and would say, ‘No, no don’t worry about it. It happens.’”
He continued. “But there were times when I could tell they didn’t mean it, which made me feel much worse.
“It was also very awkward if I met them again and it’s not a pleasant situation to be in.”
Finally, knowing he had to speak to someone for the sake of his sanity, Champ tried to bring up the subject of EP with his pals.
He said: “I pretended it was another mate of mine who was having these problems.”
But, circling the issue was no help and, finally, he told his friend the truth during a drunken night out in 2015 – hoping he would have forgotten the conversation by morning.
He said: “I spoke freely, as I knew he wouldn’t remember anything, as he’d been drinking.”
“But I was amazed when he was really honest with me and told me his own problems with EP,” said Champ. “After that, I spoke to him again when he was sober and felt so much more at ease, knowing it wasn’t just me who this had happened to.”
And, as soon as Champ started to relax, his problems with intimacy disappeared.
He said: “It still took about six months for me to realise that my EP could have been because I was heartbroken from my previous relationship.”
Now enjoying a successful relationship with a girlfriend who would prefer to stay anonymous, Champ is flying high again.
Named Orion Star Award Male Model of the Year 2020, he has a healthy work-life balance and a great sex life.
He said: “When I have sex now, it’s fine. I’ve prepared my mind for it and I accept that there’s nothing wrong with me in any way.”
“Now I want other men with EP to come forward. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to get help. It’s a very natural thing and there’s a solution to it. Rather than blaming yourself, discuss it with your doctor, or at least a friend and speak about it,” he said.
“There is no shame in it and I know that if I’d been more open and honest about my own EP, I wouldn’t have felt as bad as I did.
“So, speak up and be true to yourself.”
For more information about EP visit www.nhs.uk/conditions/erection-problems-erectile-dysfunction/