Medical conditions, such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular disease (CVD), and psychological conditions, such as depression and anxiety, also contribute to sexual dysfunction in middle-aged or elderly men. CVD and hypertension cause a narrowing and hardening of the arteries, leading to reduced blood flow to the corporal bodies, which is essential for achieving an erection. Diabetes is a common aetiology of sexual dysfunction, because it can affect both the blood vessels and the nerves that supply the penis. Men with diabetes are four times more likely to experience ED, and on average, experience ED 15 years earlier than men without diabetes.7 Obesity is also correlated to the development of several types of dysfunction, including a decrease in sex drive and an increase in episodes of ED.8
The percentage of men who engage in some form of sexual activity decreases from 73% for men aged 57–64 years to 26% for men aged 75–85 years.3 For some men, this constitutes a problem, but for others it does not. The aetiology for this decline in sexual activity is multifactorial and is in part due to the fact that most of the female partners undergo menopause at 52 years of age with a significant decline in their libido and desire to engage in sexual activity. A study by Lindau and colleagues3 that examined sexuality in older Americans showed that 50% of the men in a probability sample of more than 3000 US adults reported at least one bothersome sexual problem and 33% had at least two such problems.3 This article will review the normal changes that occur with ageing, factors that influence these changes, individual variations and perspectives, and the available treatment options for ED and androgen deficiency.
Many factors can contribute to sexual dysfunction in older men, including physical and psychological conditions, comorbidities and the medications used to treat them. Aspects of an ageing man’s lifestyle and behaviour and androgen deficiency, most often decreasing testosterone levels, may affect sexual function as well. A study of men between the ages of 30 and 79 years showed that 24% had testosterone levels below 300 ng/dL and 5.6% had symptomatic androgen deficiency.2
Recently, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a safety announcement regarding TRT. In part it reads ‘The benefit and safety of these medications have not been established. We are also requiring these manufacturers to add information to the labeling about a possible increased risk of heart attacks and strokes in patients taking testosterone.’37
Lindsay Mitchell, ARNP is a Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and graduated with high honors from South University in Savannah, GA. She has a background in primary care, women’s health and focusing on evidence based practices. She has a strong passion for providing efficient and accessible patient care, along with caring for underserved patient populations. Prior to becoming an ARNP, she worked as a registered nurse in the emergency department in Jacksonville, Fl.
Sexual functioning involves a complex interaction among biologic, sociocultural, and psychological factors, and the complexity of this interaction makes it difficult to ascertain the clinical etiology of sexual dysfunction. Before any diagnosis of sexual dysfunction is made, problems that are explained by a nonsexual mental disorder or other stressors must first be addressed. Thus, in addition to the criteria for erectile disorder, the following must be considered:
Me and my boyfriend have been together almost two years, and he has only said "I love you" about a dozen times. I know he loves me by his actions but I would still like to hear the words. I have tried talking to him about it but he also isn't one for talking about anything that could possibly be uncomfortable. Sometimes this really makes me insecure, especially since I tell him daily I love him. Other times I feel like I am just being silly and that actions speak louder than words. What should I do?
Erection dissatisfaction can actually enhance lovemaking. The dark cloud of erection changes has a silver lining. Young couples often have problems because young men become aroused faster than young women. Young men are often all finished before young women have even started to get aroused. Post-50 erection changes slow men’s arousal process so their erotic pace more closely matches women’s. A slower pace allows plenty time for kissing, cuddling, and whole-body massage, all essential to most women’s enjoyment of sex. Seen in this light, for many older couples, erection dissatisfaction can be a gift.
In some cases, ED can be a warning sign of more serious disease. One study suggests ED is a strong predictor of heart attack, stroke, and death from cardiovascular disease. The researchers say all men diagnosed with ED should be evaluated for cardiovascular disease. This does not mean every man with ED will develop heart disease, or that every man with heart disease has ED, but patients should be aware of the link.