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.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Surgery of the penile venous system, generally involving venous ligation, has been reported to be effective in patients who have been demonstrated to have venous leakage. However, the tests necessary to establish this diagnosis have been incompletely validated; therefore, it is difficult to select patients who will have a predictably good outcome. Moreover, decreased effectiveness of this approach has been reported as longer term followups have been obtained. This has tempered enthusiasm for these procedures, which are probably therefore best done in an investigational setting in medical centers by surgeons experienced in these procedures and their evaluation.
Constriction of the trabecular smooth muscle and helicine arteries induced by sympathetic innervation makes the penis flaccid, with blood pressure in the cavernosal sinuses of the penis near venous pressure. Acetylcholine is thought to decrease sympathetic tone. This may be important in a permissive sense for adequate trabecular smooth muscle relaxation and consequent effective action of other mediators in achieving sufficient inflow of blood into the lacunar spaces. When the trabecular smooth muscle relaxes and helicine arteries dilate in response to parasympathetic stimulation and decreased sympathetic tone, increased blood flow fills the cavernous spaces, increasing the pressure within these spaces so that the penis becomes erect. As the venules are compressed against the tunica albuginea, penile pressure approaches arterial pressure, causing rigidity. Once this state is achieved, arterial inflow is reduced to a level that matches venous outflow.
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:
An alprostadil cream that patients apply into the tip of the penis (the urethral meatus, the opening that urine passes through) is currently available in the UK and Europe. It is currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). After application of the cream, an erection occurs within five to 30 minutes, and the erection lasts one to two hours in men who respond to the cream. Doctors recommend that one use the cream for a maximum frequency of two to three times per week and no more frequent than once every 24 hours. It has essentially the same contraindications and side effects as the other formulations of alprostadil. The cream may cause vaginal burning in roughly 4% of partners. Men should not use alprostadil cream for sexual intercourse with women of childbearing potential unless a condom is used. Researchers have performed controlled trial studies to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of this drug. Overall, 52% of men reported improvement in their erections compared to 20% of men receiving placebo. A later analysis demonstrated that 36% of men using the alprostadil cream had a clinically relevant improvement in vaginal penetration ability and 31% clinically relevant improvement in ability to have successful intercourse to ejaculation.
Erectile dysfunction (previously called impotence) is the inability to get or maintain an erection that is sufficient to ensure satisfactory sex for both partners. This problem can cause significant distress for couples. Fortunately more and more men of all ages are seeking help, and treatment for ED has advanced rapidly. The enormous demand for “anti-impotence” drugs suggests that erection problems may be more common than was previously thought. Find out more about the causes and treatment of erectile dysfunction here.
In exchange for political impotence, they would be mostly left alone and allowed to get rich. — Paul Mozur, New York Times, "Inside China’s Dystopian Dreams: A.I., Shame and Lots of Cameras," 8 July 2018 Their suspicion is compounded by rumors that the polio vaccine causes impotence, death and, ironically, paralysis. — Meher Ahmad, New York Times, "Pakistan Has Just One New Polio Case, but Isn’t Declaring Victory Yet," 20 May 2018 Fighting back, even as an exercise in impotence, did a lot for McCain. — Alex Horton, Washington Post, "John McCain rebelled at the Naval Academy — and as a POW — long before he was a Senate maverick," 3 May 2018 Feelings of desperation and impotence are being felt throughout Central America, where the lawlessness, endemic poverty and levels of gang violence akin to war zones that have driven so many families from their homes show little signs of abating. — Washington Post, "Violence keeps Central Americans coming to US despite Trump," 21 June 2018 Uruguay's attacking impotence forced Oscar Tabarez to make two changes before the hour mark, with Nahitan Nandez and Giorgian de Arrascaeta replaced by Carlos Sanchez and Cristian Rodriguez. — SI.com, "Egypt 0-1 Uruguay: La Celeste Start With a Win as Gimenez Header Breaks Pharaohs' Hearts," 15 June 2018 It was fueled by physician ignorance and impotence, the habit of looking askance at patients whose symptoms could not be explained, and the arrival in the U.S. of German psychoanalysts who were disciples of Sigmund Freud. — Jim Carrier, STAT, "Lobotomies were once used to treat this gut disease, part of a shameful medical history," 12 June 2018 That signing's top attribute had better be goal-scoring, because the Sounders simply can't sustain with this level of attacking impotence. — Avi Creditor, SI.com, "The MLS XI, Week 14: Don't Hold Your Breath for an MLS Cup Threematch," 4 June 2018 Prostate cancer surgery in particular can have severe results, including incontinence and impotence. — Steven Petrow, Washington Post, "Watching but not treating cancer can be hard. Sometimes it’s the right approach.," 20 May 2018
Impotence can have emotional causes but most often it is due to a physical problem. The physical causes of impotence include diseases (such as diabetes and hypertension), injuries (such as from prostate surgery), side-effects of drugs (such as the protease inhibitors used in HIV therapy), and disorders (such as atherosclerosis) that impair blood flow in the penis. Impotence is treatable in all age groups. Treatments include psychotherapy, vacuum devices, surgery and, most often today, drug therapy.
Acetylcholine released by the parasympathetic nerves is thought to act primarily on endothelial cells to release a second nonadrenergic-noncholinergic carrier of the signal that relaxes the trabecular smooth muscle. Nitric oxide released by the endothelial cells, and possibly also of neural origin, is currently thought to be the leading of several candidates as this nonadrenergic-noncholinergic transmitter; but this has not yet been conclusively demonstrated to the exclusion of other potentially important substances (e.g., vasoactive intestinal polypeptide). The relaxing effect of nitric oxide on the trabecular smooth muscle may be mediated through its stimulation of guanylate cyclase and the production of cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP), which would then function as a second messenger in this system.
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.
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