Sexual stimulation causes the release of neurotransmitters from cavernosal nerve endings and relaxation factors from endothelial cells lining the sinusoids. NOS produces NO from L-arginine, and this, in turn, produces other muscle-relaxing chemicals, such as cGMP and cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), which work via calcium channel and protein kinase mechanisms (see the image below). This results in the relaxation of smooth muscle in the arteries and arterioles that supply the erectile tissue, producing a dramatic increase in penile blood flow.

The male erectile response is a vascular event initiated by neuronal action and maintained by a complex interplay between vascular and neurological events. In its most common form, it is initiated by a central nervous system event that integrates psychogenic stimuli (perception, desire, etc.) and controls the sympathetic and parasympathetic innervation of the penis. Sensory stimuli from the penis are important in continuing this process and in initiating a reflex arc that may cause erection under proper circumstances and may help to maintain erection during sexual activity.
Surgery to repair arteries (penile arterial reconstructive surgery) can reduce impotence caused by obstructions that block the flow of blood to the penis. The best candidates for such surgery are young men with discrete blockage of an artery because of a physical injury to the pubic area or a fracture of the pelvis. The procedure is less successful in older men with widespread blockage of arteries.
Long-term predictions based on an aging population and an increase in risk factors (eg, hypertension, diabetes, vascular disease, pelvic and prostate surgery, benign prostatic hyperplasia, and lower urinary tract symptoms) suggest a large increase in the number of men with ED. In addition, the prevalence of ED is underestimated because physicians frequently do not question their patients about this disorder.
In the majority of patients the impotence is organic, though not endocrinologic, and there is no easily remedied cause. These patients require physiologic testing and urologic consultation for specific diagnosis. Likely causes of impotence in this group include vascular and neurologic diseases. These patients are candidates for penile prostheses or, in special cases, for revascularization. Patients interested in surgical approaches should be referred for further testing. There is little to be gained by continuing the work-up of patients who prefer not to have an operation.

Having learned a great deal more about erectile dysfunction including its risk factors and causes, you should be equipped to assess your own erectile function. If you have experienced erectile issues or you have some of the risk factors mentioned above, it may be worth making a trip to your doctor’s office. If you choose to seek help, give your doctor as much information as you can about your symptoms including their frequency and severity as well as the onset. With your doctor’s help, you can determine the best course of treatment to restore sexual function.
Martha K Terris, MD, FACS is a member of the following medical societies: American Cancer Society, American College of Surgeons, American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Urological Association, Association of Women Surgeons, New York Academy of Sciences, Society of Government Service Urologists, Society of University Urologists, Society of Urology Chairpersons and Program Directors, and Society of Women in Urology
*all photos are models and not actual patients.If you are interested in a prescription product, Hims will assist in setting up a visit for you with an independent physician who will evaluate whether or not you are an appropriate candidate for the prescription product and if appropriate, may write you a prescription for the product which you can fill at the pharmacy of your choice.
There have been rare reports of priapism (prolonged and painful erections lasting more than six hours) with the use of PDE5 inhibitors such as sildenafil, vardenafil, and tadalafil. Patients with blood cell diseases such as sickle cell anemia, leukemia, and multiple myeloma have higher than normal risks of developing priapism. Untreated priapism can cause injury to the penis and lead to permanent impotence. Therefore, if your erection lasts four hours, you should seek emergency medical care.
On the horizon is gene therapy that would deliver genes that produce products or proteins that may not be functioning properly in the penile tissue of men with ED. Replacement of these proteins may result in improvement in erectile function. Experimental animal models have demonstrated improvement in erectile function with gene therapy. Human studies may also demonstrate success with this therapy. Gene therapy may take a long time for regulatory approval and public acceptance.
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Psychological factors on their own are estimated to be the cause of 20% of all the cases of erectile dysfunction and account for most of the difficulties in young men. They can also contribute towards its continuation in all age groups where physical causes are the main culprit, but the man’s reaction to what he sees as his “failure” has added a psychological impact.
A lot of guys don’t want to admit it, but not being able to get or keep an erection happens more often than you’d think. Guys usually have trouble getting or keeping an erection when they’re nervous, scared or worried about something. They might be worried about how they’ll “perform,” or they could be feeling guilty about having sex. They might be afraid of getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD), or, if they are with a girl, getting their partner pregnant. Drugs (including some anti-depressants) and alcohol can also prevent you from getting and/or maintaining an erection.
Cosgrove et al reported a higher rate of sexual dysfunction in veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than in veterans who did not develop this problem. [42] The domains on the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF) questionnaire that demonstrated the most change included overall sexual satisfaction and erectile function. [43, 44] Men with PTSD should be evaluated and treated if they have sexual dysfunction.
An erection might last indefinitely if it weren’t for chemicals in the body called phosphodiesterases. They work at reversing the process trying to return the penis to being soft (i.e., flaccid). Usually there is a balance between the chemicals that result in an erection lasting for as long as it is needed, which allows the phosphodiesterases to do their job when they should and no sooner. You wouldn’t want an erection forever so it is a good thing that phosphodiesterases exist.
An erection might last indefinitely if it weren’t for chemicals in the body called phosphodiesterases. They work at reversing the process trying to return the penis to being soft (i.e., flaccid). Usually there is a balance between the chemicals that result in an erection lasting for as long as it is needed, which allows the phosphodiesterases to do their job when they should and no sooner. You wouldn’t want an erection forever so it is a good thing that phosphodiesterases exist.

Prevention of some of the causes that contribute to the development of erectile dysfunction can decrease the chances of developing the problem. For example, if a person decreases their chances of developing diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension, they will decrease their chances of developing erectile dysfunction. Other things like stopping smoking, eating a healthy diet (heart healthy with adequate vitamin intake), and exercising daily may reduce a person's risk.
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