The male erectile response is a vascular event initiated by neuronal action and maintained by a complex interplay between vascular and neurological events. In its most common form, it is initiated by a central nervous system event that integrates psychogenic stimuli (perception, desire, etc.) and controls the sympathetic and parasympathetic innervation of the penis. Sensory stimuli from the penis are important in continuing this process and in initiating a reflex arc that may cause erection under proper circumstances and may help to maintain erection during sexual activity.
The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of hims, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.
Cavernosography measurement of the vascular pressure in the corpus cavernosum. Saline is infused under pressure into the corpus cavernosum with a butterfly needle, and the flow rate needed to maintain an erection indicates the degree of venous leakage. The leaking veins responsible may be visualized by infusing a mixture of saline and x-ray contrast medium and performing a cavernosogram. In Digital Subtraction Angiography (DSA), the images are acquired digitally.
Long-term predictions based on an aging population and an increase in risk factors (eg, hypertension, diabetes, vascular disease, pelvic and prostate surgery, benign prostatic hyperplasia, and lower urinary tract symptoms) suggest a large increase in the number of men with ED. In addition, the prevalence of ED is underestimated because physicians frequently do not question their patients about this disorder.
That means that as an adult, you need to activate the opposing parasympathetic system through sexually exciting visuals, thoughts and touches to get an erection going. But this nerve transmission is disrupted if you're stressed, anxious or distracted. The latter because you simply don't develop enough total stimulation of your genitals to get an erection, and the former because stress and anxiety all increase adrenaline – a key transmitter in the inhibiting sympathetic nervous system. They quite literally sabotage your erection.
Certain types of blood pressure medications, antiulcer drugs, antihistamines, tranquilizers (especially before intercourse), antifungals (hetoconazole), antipsychotics, antianxiety drugs, and antidepressants, known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs, including Prozac and Paxil), can interfere with erectile function. Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and illicit drug use may also contribute. In rare cases, low levels of the male hormone testosterone may contribute to erectile failure. Finally, psychological factors, such as stress, guilt, or anxiety, may also play a role, even when the impotence is primarily due to organic causes.
An approach to the diagnosis and management of the impotent patient is presented in Figure 187.1. Apparent and likely causes of impotence should be considered first and, if possible, eliminated before the work-up continues. For instance, observing the patient for a few weeks off offending medication may be all that is necessary to establish the cause of impotence. When no obvious or remediable cause is present, the next step is based on the clinical impression of the likelihood of organic versus psychologic impotence. If the latter is considered more likely, it is perfectly reasonable to refer the patient directly for sexual therapy, with the option of reconsidering the diagnosis if, after appropriate therapy, there is no improvement. While an occasional patient with organic impotence will be misrouted, many more with psychogenic impotence will be spared an unnecessary and costly evaluation for organic causes. When organic impotence is likely, a serum testosterone level is the initial screening test for hypogonadism and should be obtained prior to urologic referral. Patients with low testosterone levels require further endocrine evaluations as depicted in Figure 187.1.
Effective treatment for erectile dysfunction is available, and for most men will allow the return to a fulfilling sex life. The side effects of the treatment for erectile dysfunction vary depending on the treatment that is used. Some may interrupt the spontaneity of sexual activity. For example, PDE-5 inhibitors typically need to be taken one hour before sex. Side effects may include headaches, indigestion, vasodilation, diarrhoea and blue tinge to vision. Other treatments such as penile injections may cause pain at the injection site, or an erection that will not go down. Treatment options need to be carefully discussed with your doctor to determine which one is best suited to you.
The inflatable type of device consists of cylinders that are implanted in the corpora cavernosa, a fluid reservoir implanted in the abdomen, and a pump placed in the scrotum. The man squeezes the pump to move fluid into the cylinders and cause them to become rigid. (He reverses the process by squeezing the pump again.) While these devices allow for intermittent erections, they have a slightly higher malfunction rate than the silicon rods.
It is common for a healthy older man to still want sex and be able to have sex within appropriate limitations. Understanding what is normal in older age is important to avoid frustration and concern. Older men and their partners often value being able to continue sexual activity and there is no age where the man is ‘too old’ to think about getting help with his erection or other sexual problems.
Erection is a vascular event. The penis becomes rigid when blood flow to the corpora cavernosa increases sixfold and venous outflow is physiologically impeded. Penile perfusion is governed by three organ systems—the neurologic, circulatory, and endocrinologic systems—each necessary for potency. The neurologic system accounts for vasodilation and venoconstriction of the corporal blood vessels so that blood is shunted to the erectile tissues; the circulatory system provides adequate blood flow to the hypogastric-cavernous bed, a distal branch off the internal iliac vessels; and the endocrine system, mediated by testosterone, plays a permissive role through mechanisms that have yet to be elucidated.
All studies demonstrate a strong association with age, even when data are adjusted for the confounding effects of other risk factors. The independent association with aging suggests that vascular changes in the arteries and sinusoids of the corpora cavernosa, similar to those found elsewhere in the body, are contributing factors. Other risk factors associated with aging include depression, sleep apnea, and low HDL levels.
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.
Impotence is a common problem among men and is characterized by the consistent inability to sustain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse or the inability to achieve ejaculation, or both. Erectile dysfunction 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.
There have been some studies to suggest that a placebo effect that improves ED may work for some men. One study found that men taking an oral placebo pill showed as much improvement in ED symptoms as men who took actual medication to improve ED. Conversely, men who were given therapeutic suggestions to improve ED did not see signs of symptom improvement.
Depression and anxiety: Psychological factors may be responsible for erectile dysfunction. These factors include stress, anxiety, guilt, depression, widower syndrome, low self-esteem, posttraumatic stress disorder, and fear of sexual failure (performance anxiety). It is also worth noting that many medications used for treatment of depression and other psychiatric disorders may cause erectile dysfunction or ejaculatory problems.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects 50% of men older than 40 years,  exerting substantial effects on quality of life.  This common problem is complex and involves multiple pathways. Penile erections are produced by an integration of physiologic processes involving the central nervous, peripheral nervous, hormonal, and vascular systems. Any abnormality in these systems, whether from medication or disease, has a significant impact on the ability to develop and sustain an erection, ejaculate, and experience orgasm.
Relationship problems can make it difficult for you to get or stay hard when you’re attempting to have sex with the person you’re in a relationship with. However, if you have this problem and you’re in a relationship that doesn’t mean your relationship is necessarily the reason. There are lots of other reasons you might not be able to get or stay hard (see above).
This is similar to magnetic resonance imaging. Magnetic resonance angiography uses magnetic fields and radio waves to provide detailed images of the blood vessels. Doctors may inject a "contrast agent" into the patient's bloodstream that causes vascular tissues to stand out against other tissues. The contrast agent provides for enhanced information regarding blood supply and vascular anomalies.
To start with, ED is NOT in your head. You can’t simply will yourself to get an erection, no matter how much you try. Studies show over 80% of ED cases are caused by a treatable physical disorder. Diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol are common causes. Even a perfectly healthy man can develop ED after a brain or spinal cord injury. ED can be a side effect of certain medications, too. Read more on our Causes of ED page.
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.
If PDE-5 inhibitors are not suitable or don’t work, other therapies include injections into the base of the penis, which cause flow of blood into the penis and a fairly immediate erection that lasts around an hour. The drugs injected are alprostadil (Caverject and Erectile dysfunctionex) and Invicorp (VIP and phentolamine). Alprostadil may also be inserted as a gel into the opening of the penis. This is not suitable if your partner is pregnant.
You get to decide what is normal for you. That might include him still experiencing pleasure from you touching his penis even if he’s not hard. Some men can still orgasm without an erection. Or he may prefer not to have any touching while he is dealing with his erection problems. It is okay for you to orgasm even if he doesn’t. Reading about what might bring you pleasure, or considering how you think about sex can make this something enjoyable to explore together.
Aging, liver and kidney problems, and concurrent use of certain medications (such as erythromycin [an antibiotic] and protease inhibitors for HIV) slows the metabolism (breakdown) of sildenafil. Slowed breakdown allows sildenafil to accumulate in the body and potentially may increase the risk of side effects. Therefore, in men over 65 years of age, in men with significant kidney and liver disease, and in men who also are taking medications called protease inhibitors, the doctor will initiate sildenafil at a lower dose (25 mg) to avoid accumulation of sildenafil in the body. A protease inhibitor ritonavir (Norvir) is especially potent in increasing the accumulation of sildenafil, thus men who are taking Norvir should not take sildenafil doses higher than 25 mg and at a frequency of no greater than once in 48 hours. Other medications that may affect the level of sildenafil include erythromycin and ketoconazole.
Patients with both ED and cardiovascular disease who receive treatment with an oral PDE5 inhibitor require education regarding what to do if anginal episodes develop while the drug is in their system. Such education includes stressing the importance of alerting emergency care providers to the presence of the drug so that nitrate treatment is avoided.
Everyone knows that regular exercise is good for the body and the mind, and in many cases, exercise can be good for relieving stress and helping men’s bodies produce more testosterone. In some cases, however, exercise can be detrimental. This is the case in cycling as long and regular rides can cause the nerves in the perineum to be compacted, leading to a loss of feeling in the penis and/or testicles. Over time, this nerve compaction and damage may lead to either erectile dysfunction or ejaculatory dysfunction.
Is your erectile dysfunction due to psychological (stress, relationship problems, etc.) or physical factors? Your doctor may ask if you note erections at night or in the early morning. Men have involuntary erections in the early morning and during REM sleep (a stage in the sleep cycle with rapid eye movements). Men with psychogenic erectile dysfunction (erectile dysfunction due to psychological factors such as stress and anxiety rather than physical factors) usually maintain these involuntary erections. Men with physical causes of erectile dysfunction (for example, atherosclerosis, smoking, and diabetes) usually do not have these involuntary erections. Men with psychogenic erectile dysfunction may relate the onset of problems to a "stressor," such as failed relationship. Your doctor may suggest a test to determine if you have erections during sleep, which may suggest that there may be a psychological cause of the erectile dysfunction.
Lifestyle choices that impair blood circulation can contribute to ED. Smoking, excessive drinking, and drug abuse may damage the blood vessels and reduce blood flow to the penis. Smoking makes men with atherosclerosis particularly vulnerable to ED. Being overweight and getting too little exercise also contribute to ED. Studies indicate that men who exercise regularly have a lower risk of ED.