The penis contains three cylinders, the two corpora cavernosa, which are on the top of the penis (see figure 1 below). These two cylinders are involved in erections. The third cylinder contains the urethra, the tube that the urine and ejaculate passes through, runs along the underside of the penis. The corpus spongiosum surrounds the urethra. Spongy tissue that has muscles, fibrous tissues, veins, and arteries within it makes up the corpora cavernosa. The inside of the corpora cavernosa is like a sponge, with potential spaces that can fill with blood and distend (known as sinusoids). A layer of tissue that is like Saran Wrap, called the tunica albuginea, surrounds the corpora. Veins located just under the tunica albuginea drain blood out of the penis.
Associated morbidity may include various other male sexual dysfunctions, such as premature (early) ejaculation and male hypoactive sexual desire disorder. The NHSLS found that 28.5% of men aged 18-59 years reported premature ejaculation, and 15.8% lacked sexual interest during the past year. An additional 17% reported anxiety about sexual performance, and 8.1% had a lack of pleasure in sex. [51]
Psychotherapy, marital counseling, or sex therapy may be helpful in treating cases of impotence that have psychological or emotional causes. A range of other treatments exists for cases of impotence that arise from purely physiological causes. These treatments include vacuum devices, penile injections, and penile implants. These mechanical or physically invasive approaches have largely been superseded, however, by the drug sildenafil citrate (trade name Viagra), which is taken in pill form. This drug works by enhancing the effects of nitric oxide, a chemical that, upon sexual stimulation, is normally released to widen the blood vessels supplying the penis. The increased flow of blood through those vessels into certain tissues in the penis causes an erection. See also sexual dysfunction.
In other cases, men who habitually use alcohol or other drugs may experience similar results. Alcohol is a depressant to the central nervous system. This means that a little bit might be able to lighten the mood, but too much can basically shut down all communication between the brain and the penis. When this happens, no amount of will or stimulation will result in an erection. Other drugs can also affect the body’s ability to achieve an erection, including heroin and MDMA, otherwise known as ecstasy.
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.
Metabolism (breakdown) of vardenafil can be slowed by aging, liver disease, and concurrent use of certain medications (such as erythromycin [an antibiotic], ketoconazole [Nizoral, a medication for fungal/yeast infections], and protease inhibitors [medications used to treat AIDS]). Slowed breakdown allows vardenafil to accumulate in the body and potentially increase the risk for side effects. Therefore, in men over 65 years of age with liver disease, or who are also taking medication(s) that can slow the breakdown of vardenafil, the doctor will initiate vardenafil at low doses to avoid its accumulation. For example,
Endocrine problems, though uncommon, should be considered in patients presenting with impotence. As a rule, impotence due to hypogonadism will be partial and accompanied by decreased libido. Hypothalmic–pituitary problems, which include tumors, are the most common endocrine disorders causing impotence, followed by primary gonadal failure from one of many causes. Poorly controlled diabetes with polyuria and polydypsia is an important reversible cause of impotence, as is hyperthyroidism. Certain drugs, alcohol included, can lead to impotence as a result of endocrine disturbances.
Arterial revascularization procedures have a very limited role (e.g., in congenital or traumatic vascular abnormality) and probably should be restricted to the clinical investigation setting in medical centers with experienced personnel. All patients who are considered for vascular surgical therapy need to have appropriate preoperative evaluation, which may include dynamic infusion pharmaco-cavernosometry and cavernosography (DICC), duplex ultrasonography, and possibly arteriography. The indications for and interpretations of these diagnostic procedures are incompletely standardized; therefore, difficulties persist with using these techniques to predict and assess the success of surgical therapy, and further investigation to clarify their value and role in this regard is indicated.
ED may occur with or without other sexual dysfunction, including decreased libido (decreased interest in sexual activity), orgasmic dysfunction (troubles achieving an orgasm/climax), and ejaculatory dysfunction (problems with the fluid released during sex, including lack of ejaculation [anejaculation], small volume ejaculate, ejaculation that occurs too quickly [premature ejaculation], ejaculate that goes backward into the bladder [retrograde ejaculation] and pain with ejaculation).
Erectile dysfunction is the inability to develop or maintain an erection that is rigid enough to allow penetration of the vagina, and therefore functional sexual intercourse. Generally, the term erectile dysfunction is applied if this occurs frequently (75% of the time) over a significant period if time (several weeks to months). If this is the case, the term impotence may also be used.
Impotence: A common problem among men characterized by the consistent inability to sustain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse or the inability to achieve ejaculation, or both. Impotence can vary. It can involve a total inability to achieve an erection or ejaculation, an inconsistent ability to do so, or a tendency to sustain only very brief erections.
Besides PDE5 inhibitors and among second-line therapies are VCDs which are clear plastic chambers placed over the penis, tightened against the lower abdomen with a mechanism to create a vacuum inside the chamber. This directs blood into the penis. If an adequate erection occurs inside the chamber, the patient slips a small constriction band off the end of the VCD and onto the base of the penis. An erection beyond 30 min is not recommended. These devices can be a bit cumbersome, but are very safe.40
Willful and capricious – erections are funny things. When you're a young man, they seem to pop up at the most inappropriate moments (and the only thing between you and embarrassment is a carefully placed notebook). As you get older, however, they go the other way, and fail to appear on demand no matter how much you try. The sad thing is, my patients often equate this with a loss of masculinity.
Three days after Michael was found to have a dangerously blocked coronary artery, surgeons inserted a stent to prop the artery open. Now he is keen to get more men going to their doctor to be checked up. "When it comes to sex, people keep things to themselves. But this is an easy way to catch heart problems at an early stage and treat them before the worst happens."
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.

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 drugs work best in combination with sex therapy. Several studies have shown this. There’s more to satisfying sex than just an erection. The quality of the relationship is crucial, especially if sex has been a sore point or if the couple hasn’t had much for a while. To find a sex therapist near you, visit the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, the Society for Sex Therapy and Research, or the American Board of Sexology.
Watts and coworkers, in their review article, make several points about this ED/CAD nexus. Endothelial dysfunction is present in both CVD and ED, and is linked through the NO mechanism. The authors note that PDE5 inhibitors improve endothelial function and have a salutary effect on both CVD and ED. Both ED and cardiac disease respond to modifications in lifestyle as well as pharmacologic manipulation. These authors also report that the presence of ED gives the clinician an opportunity to assess CVD and prevention as well.20
Penile prostheses are very effective, and most patients who have a prosthesis placed are satisfied with the prosthesis. However, placement of a prosthesis causes scarring of the tissue within the corpora cavernosa, and if the prosthesis requires removal, other forms of therapy, except for the vacuum device, are often not effective. Thus, most physicians reserve placement of a prosthesis for men who have tried and failed or have contraindications to other therapies.

Men with physical causes of ED have options, including such medicines as sildenafil (Viagra®), vardenafil (Levitra®), or tadalafil (Cialis®). Men who use nitroglycerin products and those who should avoid sexual activity because of cardiovascular disease shouldn’t take these drugs. Other treatment modalities include use of a vacuum pump or injection of a substance (papaverine) into the penis to increase blood flow to the penis. Men can also have surgery to put a prosthesis into the penis.
*All medications have both common (generic) and brand names. The brand name is what a specific manufacturer calls the product (e.g., Tylenol®). The common name is the medical name for the medication (e.g., acetaminophen). A medication may have many brand names, but only one common name. This article lists medications by their common names. For information on a given medication, check our Drug Information database. For more information on brand names, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
The physical side effects of chemotherapy are usually temporary and resolve within one to two weeks after stopping the chemotherapy. However, chemotherapy agents, such as Ciplatin or Vincristine, may interfere with the nerves that control erection leading to possible impotence. Make sure you discuss potential side effects of cancer chemotherapy with your doctor or healthcare provider.

Your erection problems may be putting a strain on your relationship. You may have stopped touching and cuddling your partner, scared that it could lead to sex - and then to disappointment because you cannot get hard. You may have found it has led to regular arguments. At its worst, erection problems can lead to the breakdown of relationships. So it is vitally important to talk things over with your partner.
Total testosterone levels: Health care professionals should obtain a patient's blood samples for total testosterone levels in the early morning (before 8 a.m.) because the testosterone levels go up and down throughout the day. If you have a low testosterone level, a health care professional should check it again to confirm that it is truly low. In some men, a specialized test measuring the active form of testosterone (free or bioavailable testosterone) may be recommended.
Cardiovascular diseases: The most common cause of cardiovascular diseases in the United States is atherosclerosis, the narrowing and hardening of arteries that reduces blood flow. Atherosclerosis (a type of vascular disease) typically affects arteries throughout the body; hypertension, high blood cholesterol levels, cigarette smoking, and diabetes mellitus aggravate atherosclerosis. Hardening of the arteries to the penis and pelvic organs, atherosclerosis, causes insufficient blood flow into the penis. There is a close correlation between the severity of atherosclerosis in the coronary arteries and erectile dysfunction. For example, men with more severe coronary artery atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries in the heart) also tend to have more erectile dysfunction than men with mild or no coronary artery atherosclerosis. Some doctors suggest that men with new onset erectile dysfunction undergo evaluation for silent coronary artery diseases (advanced coronary artery atherosclerosis that has not yet caused angina or heart attacks).

Elise joined Lemonaid because she believes healthcare should be accessible and affordable to everyone! With extensive professional healthcare experience, Elise has spent the last decade as an advocate for the highest quality patient care in specialties like gynecology, internal medicine, and otolaryngology and has excelled in various roles such as office manager, surgery coordinator, and front office coordinator. She feels every patient should be treated with kindness and understanding, and she brings this attitude to work every day. Aside from her medical background, she’s also a professional musician and enjoys living life to the fullest with a smile on her face.
More recent estimates suggest that the number of U.S. men with erectile dysfunction may more likely be near 10-20 million. Inclusion of individuals with partial erectile dysfunction increases the estimate to about 30 million. The majority of these individuals will be older than 65 years of age. The prevalence of erectile dysfunction has been found to be associated with age. A prevalence of about 5 percent is observed at age 40, increasing to 15-25 percent at age 65 and older. One-third of older men receiving medical care at a Department of Veterans' Affairs ambulatory clinic admitted to problems with erectile function.
Nerve or spinal cord damage: Damage to the spinal cord and nerves in the pelvis can cause erectile dysfunction. Nerve damage can be due to disease, trauma, or surgical procedures. Examples include injury to the spinal cord from automobile accidents, injury to the pelvic nerves from prostate surgery for cancer (prostatectomy), and some surgeries for colorectal cancer, radiation to the prostate, surgery for benign prostatic enlargement, multiple sclerosis (a neurological disease with the potential to cause widespread damage to nerves), and long-term diabetes mellitus.
The liver is the largest gland and organ in the body. There are a variety of liver diseases caused by liver inflammation, scarring of the liver, infection of the liver, gallstones, cancer, toxins, genetic diseases, and blood flow problems. Symptoms of liver disease generally do not occur until the liver disease is advanced. Some symptoms of liver disease include jaundice, nausea and vomiting, easy bruising, bleeding excessively, fatigue, weakness, weight loss, shortness of breath, leg swelling, impotence, and confusion. Treatment of diseases of the liver depends on the cause.
You’ve probably heard of Viagra, but it’s not the only pill for ED. This class of drugs also includes Cialis, Levitra,  Staxyn, and Stendra. All work by improving blood flow to the penis during arousal. They're generally taken 30-60 minutes before sexual activity and should not be used more than once a day. Cialis can be taken up to 36 hours before sexual activity and also comes in a lower, daily dose. Staxyn dissolves in the mouth. All require an OK from your doctor first for safety.
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