Although erectile dysfunction increases progressively with age, it is not an inevitable consequence of aging. Knowledge of the risk factors can guide prevention strategies. Specific antihypertensive, antidepressant, and antipsychotic drugs can be chosen to lessen the risk of erectile failure. Published lists of prescription drugs that may impair erectile functioning often are based on reports implicating a drug without systematic study. Such studies are needed to confirm the validity of these suggested associations. In the individual patient, the physician can modify the regimen in an effort to resolve the erectile problem.
The drugs are worth trying, but don’t expect miracles. Everyone has heard of Viagra, but Cialis is actually more popular because it’s effective longer—24 to 36 hours instead of three to five. Erection drugs improve erections in around two-thirds of men. They don’t work for about one-third. When they work, they do not produce porn-star erections. Over time, many men need larger doses. But as dosage increases, side effects become more likely, notably, headache and nasal congestion. Finally, the drugs have no effect on arousal, so men may raise erections but don't feel particularly interested in sex. Many men feel disappointed with the drugs. Fewer than half refill their prescriptions.
Some men report being helped by an oral medication called yohimbine, which comes from the bark of a tree that grows in India and Africa. This drug, which needs to be taken every day, has been reported to help about 20 to 25 percent of the men taking it. A relatively new but widely used oral medication called Viagra requires a careful medical evaluation by your doctor.
Thanks for your question, Frightened Turtle! To help answer it, we spoke with Dr. Darius Paduch, urologist and male sexual medicine specialist at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, and sex therapist Jenni Skyler, Ph.D., director of The Intimacy Institute for sex and relationship therapy in Boulder, Colorado. Here's what they had to say:
The 1985 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey indicated that there were about 525,000 visits for erectile dysfunction, accounting for 0.2 percent of all male ambulatory care visits. Estimates of visits per 1,000 population increased from about 1.5 for the age group 25-34 to 15.0 for those age 65 and above. The 1985 National Hospital Discharge Survey estimated that more than 30,000 hospital admissions were for erectile dysfunction.

In fact, one common reason many younger men visit their doctor is to get erectile dysfunction medication. Often, men with erectile dysfunction suffer with diabetes or heart disease, or may be sedentary or obese, but they don’t realize the impact of these health conditions on sexual function. Along with erectile dysfunction treatment, the doctor may recommend managing the illness, being more physically active, or losing weight.
This consensus development conference on male erectile dysfunction has provided an overview of current knowledge on the prevalence, etiology, pathophysiology, diagnosis, and management of this condition. The growing individual and societal awareness and open acknowledgment of the problem have led to increased interest and resultant explosion of knowledge in each of these areas. Research on this condition has produced many controversies, which also were expressed at this conference. Numerous questions were identified that may serve as foci for future research directions. These will depend on the development of precise agreement among investigators and clinicians in this field on the definition of what constitutes erectile dysfunction, and what factors in its multifaceted nature contribute to its expression. In addition, further investigation of these issues will require collaborative efforts of basic science investigators and clinicians from the spectrum of relevant disciplines and the rigorous application of appropriate research principles in designing studies to obtain further knowledge and to promote understanding of the various aspects of this condition.
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.
Men with a rare heart condition known as long QT syndrome should not take vardenafil since this may lead to abnormal heart rhythms. The QT interval is the time it takes for the heart's muscle to recover after it has contracted. An electrocardiogram (EKG) measures the QT interval. Some people have longer than normal QT intervals, and they may develop potentially life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms, especially when given certain medications. Men with a family history of long QT syndrome should not take vardenafil, as it is possible to inherit long QT syndrome. Furthermore, vardenafil is not recommended for men who are taking medications that can affect the QT interval such as quinidine (Quinaglute, Quinidex), procainamide (Pronestyl, Procan-SR, Procanbid), amiodarone (Cordarone), and sotalol (Betapace).
I’m going to share a secret with you. I understand that for men it’s a big (well, perhaps flaccid and at least momentarily small) deal when you can’t get hard. However, in most instances, women don’t give a fuck. We’re understanding creatures who (ahem) know a thing or two about not being able to get off every time. To ease the awkwardness, here are a few go-to phrases to drop when you just can’t get it up.
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.
Phosphodiesterase inhibitors: This class of medications includes sildenafil, tadalafil, and vardenafil. They work by inhibiting an enzyme called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5), allowing more blood to enter the penis and helping to produce an erection. These medications are often taken before sex and will cause an erection only when the man is sexually stimulated.

The risk of impotence increases with age. It is four-fold higher in men in their 60s compared with those in their 40s according to a study published in the Journal of Urology (2000;163:460-463). Men with less education are also more likely to experience impotence, perhaps because they tend to have less healthy lifestyles, eat a less healthy diet, drink more and exercise less. Physical exercise tends to lessen the risk of impotence.
Erections occur in response to tactile, olfactory, and visual stimuli. The ability to achieve and maintain a full erection depends not only on the penile portion of the process but also on the status of the peripheral nerves, the integrity of the vascular supply, and biochemical events within the corpora. The autonomic nervous system is involved in erection, orgasm, and tumescence. The parasympathetic nervous system is primarily involved in sustaining and maintaining an erection, which is derived from S2-S4 nerve roots.
Hypogonadism may be suggested by the patient's general appearance. If testosterone deficiency antedates puberty, as in Klinefelter's syndrome, eunuchoid proportions—defined as an arm span 5 cm or more in excess of height, or a sole-to-pubis length exceeding crown-to-pubis length by more than 2 cm—may be present. In postpubertal males whose testosterone levels are markedly depressed, the secondary sexual characteristics may become atrophic. Testicles less than 4 cm in length or a prostate gland that is smaller than expected may be the only clues on physical examination to a pituitary tumor with secondary hypogonadism.
The link between chronic disease and ED is most striking for diabetes. Men who have diabetes are two to three times more likely to have erectile dysfunction than men who do not have diabetes. Among men with erectile dysfunction, those with diabetes may experience the problem as much as 10 to 15 years earlier than men without diabetes. Yet evidence shows that good blood sugar control can minimize this risk. Other conditions that may cause ED include cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), kidney disease, and multiple sclerosis. These illnesses can impair blood flow or nerve impulses throughout the body.
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