When you become aroused, your brain sends chemical messages to the blood vessels in the penis, causing them to dilate or open, allowing blood to flow into the penis. As the pressure builds, the blood becomes trapped in the corpora cavernosa, keeping the penis erect. If blood flow to the penis is insufficient or if it fails to stay inside the penis, it can lead to erectile dysfunction.
Among their findings, the panel concluded that (1) the term "erectile dysfunction" should replace the term "impotence"; (2) the likelihood of erectile dysfunction increases with age but is not an inevitable consequence of aging; (3) embarrassment of patients and reluctance of both patients and health care providers to discuss sexual matters candidly contribute to underdiagnosis of erectile dysfunction; (4) many cases of erectile dysfunction can be successfully managed with appropriately selected therapy; (5) the diagnosis and treatment of erectile dysfunction must be specific and responsive to the individual patient's needs and that compliance as well as the desires and expectations of both the patient and partner are important considerations in selecting appropriate therapy; (6) education of health care providers and the public on aspects of human sexuality, sexual dysfunction, and the availability of successful treatments is essential; and (7) erectile dysfunction is an important public health problem deserving of increased support for basic science investigation and applied research.
When pills don’t work, an ED implant offers hope. Penile implants are custom-fitted devices that are surgically implanted to allow you to obtain an erection when desired. They are undetectable to the naked eye, so no one will know you have one unless you tell them. The Titan® penile implant from Coloplast produces a totally natural, controlled and spontaneous erection that will restore your confidence, relationships and pleasure.
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.
Aging: There are two reasons why older men are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction than younger men. First, older men are more likely to develop diseases (such as heart attacks, angina, cardiovascular disease, strokes, diabetes mellitus, and high blood pressure) that are associated with erectile dysfunction. Second, the aging process alone can cause erectile dysfunction in some men by causing changes in the muscle and tissue within the penis.
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 physical examination can reveal clues for physical causes of erectile dysfunction. A doctor will perform an assessment of BMI and waist circumference to evaluate for abdominal obesity. A genital examination is part of the evaluation of erectile dysfunction. The examination will focus on the penis and testes. The doctor will ask you about penile curvature and will examine the penis to see if there are any plaques (hard areas) palpable. The doctor will examine the testes to make sure they are in the proper location in the scrotum and are normal in size. Small testicles, lack of facial hair, and enlarged breasts (gynecomastia) can point to hormonal problems such as hypogonadism with low testosterone levels. A health care provider may check pulses in your groin and feet to determine if there is a suggestion of hardening of the arteries that could also affect the arteries to the penis.
Psychosocial factors are important in all forms of erectile dysfunction. Careful attention to these issues and attempts to relieve sexual anxieties should be a part of the therapeutic intervention for all patients with erectile dysfunction. Psychotherapy and/or behavioral therapy alone may be helpful for some patients in whom no organic cause of erectile dysfunction is detected. Patients who refuse medical and surgical interventions also may be helped by such counseling. After appropriate evaluation to detect and treat coexistent problems such as issues related to the loss of a partner, dysfunctional relationships, psychotic disorders, or alcohol and drug abuse, psychological treatment focuses on decreasing performance anxiety and distractions and on increasing a couple's intimacy and ability to communicate about sex. Education concerning the factors that create normal sexual response and erectile dysfunction can help a couple cope with sexual difficulties. Working with the sexual partner is useful in improving the outcome of therapy. Psychotherapy and behavioral therapy have been reported to relieve depression and anxiety as well as to improve sexual function. However, outcome data of psychological and behavioral therapy have not been quantified, and evaluation of the success of specific techniques used in these treatments is poorly documented. Studies to validate their efficacy are therefore strongly indicated.
Jump up ^ Reepmeyer JC, Woodruff JT (2007). "Use of liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry and a chemical cleavage reaction for the structure elucidation of a new sildenafil analogue detected as an adulterant in an herbal dietary supplement". Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis. 44 (4): 887–93. doi:10.1016/j.jpba.2007.04.011. PMID 17532168.
Diabetes mellitus: Erectile dysfunction tends to develop 10 to 15 years earlier in diabetic men than among nondiabetic men. The increased risk of erectile dysfunction among men with diabetes mellitus may be due to the earlier onset and greater severity of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) that narrows the arteries and thereby reduces the delivery of blood to the penis. Atherosclerosis can affect the arteries in the penis, as well as the arteries in the pelvis that supply the penile arteries. Diabetes mellitus also causes erectile dysfunction by damaging nerves that go to the penis, much like the effect of diabetes on nerves in other areas of the body (diabetic neuropathy). Diabetes can also affect the muscles in the penis, leading to troubles with erections. Smoking cigarettes, obesity, poor control of blood glucose levels, and having diabetes mellitus for a long time further increase the risk of erectile dysfunction in people with diabetes.
In the short term, alcohol relaxes muscles in the penis, letting blood to flow in (which is a good thing). However, alcohol also prevents other blood vessels from closing and trapping all the extra blood. Erections depend on trapping increased blood flow in the erectile tissue of the penis. If you don’t trap that extra blood, you don’t get an erection. In the long run, excessive alcohol consumption can cause liver scarring, high blood pressure, and can damage your blood vessels resulting in erectile dysfunction.
A number of herbs have been promoted for treating impotence. The most widely touted herbs for this purpose are Coryanthe yohimbe (available by prescription as yohimbine, with the trade name Yocon) and gingko (Gingko biloba), although neither has been conclusively shown to help the condition in controlled studies. In addition, gingko carries some risk of abnormal blood clotting and should be avoided by men taking blood thinners such as coumadin. Other herbs promoted for treating impotence include true unicorn root (Aletrius farinosa), saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), ginseng (Panax ginseng), and Siberian ginseng (Eleuthrococcus senticosus). Strychnos Nux vomica has been recommended, especially when impotence is caused by excessive alcohol, cigarettes, or dietary indiscretions, but it can be very toxic if taken improperly, so it should be used only under the strict supervision of a physician trained in its use.
Nearly every primary care physician, internist and geriatrician now understand that many older men retain an interest in sexual activity as they age. Some primary care physicians think that sexual potency in older men is the norm, and that if it is lacking, it is ‘all in the head.’ This viewpoint has not been supported by current literature. The Massachusetts Male Aging Study (MMAS) found that 52% of men between 40 and 70 years old reported having some form of erectile dysfunction (ED).1 The reality is that ED is a natural part of ageing and that the prevalence increases with age. In the MMAS, they found that roughly 50% of men at 50 years old, 60% of men at 60 years old and 70% of men at 70 years old had ED. Thus, nearly all men who live long enough should develop ED. The myths that surround the problems of impotence or ED confound the attempts of patients to receive treatment and the attempts of physicians to help them.1
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.
After the history, physical examination, and laboratory testing, a clinical impression can be obtained of a primarily psychogenic, organic, or mixed etiology for erectile dysfunction. Patients with primary or associated psychogenic factors may be offered further psychologic evaluation, and patients with endocrine abnormalities may be referred to an endocrinologist to evaluate the possibility of a pituitary lesion or hypogonadism. Unless previously diagnosed, suspicion of neurologic deficit may be further assessed by complete neurologic evaluation. No further diagnostic tests appear necessary for those patients who favor noninvasive treatment (e.g., vacuum constrictive devices, or pharmacologic injection therapy). Patients who do not respond satisfactorily to these noninvasive treatments may be candidates for penile implant surgery or further diagnostic testing for possible additional invasive therapies.
Currently, there are no therapies that cure erectile dysfunction. However, a number of effective therapies are available that allow an individual to have an erection when desired. Depending on the cause of the erectile dysfunction, certain therapies may be more effective than others. Although there is limited data on lifestyle modification, intuitively, decreasing risk factors for erectile dysfunction may help prevent progression of disease.
But he may have a real problem. Generally, erectile dysfunction is linked to cardiovascular health. If your guy has serious health problems, drinks and smokes too much, or does too many drugs, those conditions may play a role. Obesity, heart disease, prescription medications, and diabetes are just a few of the common risk factors. And then there are the psychological causes: depression, stress, and the million things flashing through his head when he's struggling to get it on.
Diabetes is a well-recognized risk factor for ED. A systematic review and meta-analysis found that the prevalence of ED was 37.5% in type 1 diabetes, 66.3% in type 2 diabetes, and 52.5% in diabetes overall—a rate approximately 3.5 times higher than that in controls.  The etiology of ED in diabetic men probably involves both vascular and neurogenic mechanisms. Evidence indicates that establishing good glycemic control can minimize this risk.
In comparison, 37% of men who had received external radiotherapy as their primary therapy reported the ability to attain functional erections suitable for intercourse, along with 43% of men who had received brachytherapy as primary treatment. Pretreatment sexual health-related quality of life score, age, serum prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level, race or ethnicity, body mass index, and intended treatment details were associated with functional erections 2 years after treatment. 
Implantable penile prostheses are usually considered a last resort for treating impotence. They are implanted in the corpora cavernosa to make the penis rigid without the need for blood flow. The semirigid type of prosthesis consists of a pair of flexible silicone rods that can be bent up or down. This type of device has a low failure rate but, unfortunately, it causes the penis to always be erect, which can be difficult to conceal under clothing.
The vacuum device creates a vacuum to pull blood into the penis. Unlike a normal erection, the inflow of blood does not continue once the individual removes the vacuum device. The rubber band placed at the base of the penis constricts the penis to prevent the blood from leaving the penis. As there is no inflow or outflow of blood when the rubber band is in place, it is uncommon for the tip of the penis (the glans) to appear a little blue and the penis to be cooler. Once intercourse is completed, the individual removes the rubber band and the blood drains out of the penis.