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.
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.
Anxiety is particularly pernicious. It triggers the fight-or-flight reflex that sends blood away from the central body, including the penis, and out to the limbs for self-defense or escape. Less blood in the central body means less blood available for erection. Erection dissatisfaction is upsetting, but try to accept it. It’s normal. And when men become anxious about it, erections become less likely.
In prescribing sildenafil, a doctor considers the age, general health status, and other medication(s) the patient is taking. The usual starting dose for most men is 50 mg, however, the doctor may increase or decrease the dose depending on side effects and effectiveness. The maximum recommended dose is 100 mg every 24 hours. However, many men will need 100 mg of sildenafil for optimal effectiveness, and some doctors are recommending 100 mg as the starting dose.
Vardenafil and tadalafil belong to the same group of chemical compounds as sildenafil, namely phos-phodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5) inhibitors. Some men cannot benefit from sildenafil or the two newer PDE-5 inhibitors because they have low levels of nitric oxide. British investigators reported in late 2002 that three different types of compounds are being studied as possible medications for men with low levels of nitric oxide. They are Rho-kinase inhibitors, soluble guanylate cyclase activators, and nitric oxide-releasing PDE-5 inhibitors.
#7 You’re way too distracted. It’s not exactly sexy to try and screw while your newborn/parents/relatives/friends are perched in the next room. If you’re distracted by a loud TV, knocks at the door, or your phone going off while you’re trying to go down on your partner, it’s going to make it an aggravating sexual experience. Not exactly ideal grounds for getting an erection.
As it turns out, there are actually tons of things that can keep guys from getting an erection that have nothing to do with you (also, all that stuff you learned in middle school about how all guys are hump-crazed sex lunatics might have been slightly off). Between 20 and 30 million American men experience recurring erection difficulties, and almost all men have, at one time or another, had their top ramen refuse to boil. And while erectile issues are often seen as an older man's problem, in reality, one quarter of men seeking medical treatment for erectile difficulties are under 40.
Injection therapy involves injecting a substance into the penis to enhance blood flow and cause an erection. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a drug called alprostadil (Caverject) for this purpose in July of 1995. Alprostadil relaxes smooth muscle tissue to enhance blood flow into the penis. It must be injected shortly before intercourse. Another, similar drug that is sometimes used is papaverine—not yet been approved by the FDA for this use. Either drug may sometimes cause painful erections or priapism (uncomfortable, prolonged erections) that must be treated with a shot of epinephrine.
Traditionally, erectile impotence (the classical definition of impotence) is the failure to achieve penile erection during intercourse. It may have either physical or psychological causes. Alcoholism, endocrine disease, and neurological disorders are typical physical causes. Psychological causes include anxiety over performance, hostility or other negative feelings toward the sexual partner, and stress, anxiety, depression, or other emotional conflicts outside of the relationship. Erectile impotence occasionally occurs with age and, although attributed by the individual to the aging process itself, it is usually secondary to disorders of aging, such as faulty blood circulation or prostate disease. In cases of impotence caused by blood vessel dysfunction, an insufficient supply of blood flows into the penis, or the blood diffuses out into adjacent tissues.
As blood flows into the penis, the corpora cavernosa swell, and this swelling compresses the veins (blood vessels that drain the blood out of the penis) against the tunica albuginea. Compression of the veins prevents blood from leaving the penis. This creates a hard erection. When the amount of cGMP decreases by the action of a chemical called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5), the muscles in the penis tighten, and the blood flow into the penis decreases. With less blood coming into the penis, the veins are not compressed, allowing blood to drain out of the penis, and the erection goes down.
Look, ED can have many causes. Most of the time, it’s physiological. But there are also lots of psychological reasons why someone may experience ED. Treating ED isn’t all about medication. Dealing with some of these psychological issues can help you battle ED, too. I’m talking about depression, anxiety, loss of desire, sense of inadequacy, guilt, fatigue, anger, relationship dysfunction. Working through these types of psychological challenges can help you achieve the happy, healthy manhood you deserve.
Monitoring erections that occur during sleep (nocturnal penile tumescence) can help you and your doctor to understand if the erectile dysfunction is due to psychological or physical causes. The nocturnal penile tumescence test is a study to evaluate erections at night. Normally men have three to five erections per eight hours of sleep. The test can be performed at home or in a sleep lab. The most accurate way to perform the test involves a special device that is connected to two rings. The rings are placed around the penis, one at the tip of the penis and the other at the bottom (base) of the penis. The device records how many erections occur, how long they last, and how rigid they are. The test is limited in that it does not assess the ability to penetrate.
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
PDE5 inhibitors, the primary second-line therapy, have been the mainstay of ED treatment since the release of sildenafil (Viagra) in 1998, with the subsequent development of many others, and still more in the development stage. These medications do improve erectile quality for the majority of men, and they work by enhancing blood flow in the corpora cavernosa. These medications are generally used on demand and need to be taken about an hour before sexual intimacy. Tadalafil (Cialis) is longer acting and does come in a daily preparation potentially eliminating the ‘on-demand’ need. The daily dosing of tadalafil, 2.5–5 mg\day, has also been approved by the FDA for treatment of symptoms of BPH.41 PDE5 inhibitors are contraindicated in men taking nitrates, but otherwise PDE5 inhibitors are very safe and effective. When PDE5 inhibitors are coadministered with nitrates, pronounced systemic vasodilation and severe hypotension are possible. Many patients with ED are elderly and have the same risk factors as patients with CAD, so these drug combinations are commonly considered or encountered in clinical practice.42
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.
“Cardiovascular exercise and weight resistance exercises increase a man’s testosterone, which helps ward off ED,” Gittens says. The problem is, your testosterone levels drop as you age. Your levels now as a 25-year-old will drop about 50 percent by the time you're 75, according to data from the Reviews of Urology. To keep your levels high, check out this testosterone-boosting workout.
It can also help to tell your partner (either before you start or when it happens) that hey, sometimes it takes your penis a while to warm up or sometimes it comes and goes as it pleases — and that they shouldn't take it personally and you won't let it ruin the moment. When it happens, take a few deep breaths, focus on your partner, and go back to doing whatever was feeling good before. "If they approach that with authentic confidence, the partner is usually like 'OK, cool,'" says Skyler. "Remember, you're more than just your penis."
If you are taking medications (alpha-blockers) for problems with an enlarged prostate, you should discuss your prostate medications with your doctor. Alpha-blockers also can cause lowering of the blood pressure. Thus your doctor will need to carefully watch your blood pressure when you start the PDE5 inhibitor. Common alpha-blockers include doxazosin (Cardura), terazosin (Hytrin), and tamsulosin (Flomax).
In other words, there are dozens of reasons he might not be getting it up, which have absolutely nothing to do with your relationship. Honestly, there's just no way for me to give you specific advice here. If it's a serious problem, you should encourage him to check in with his primary care physician first, and then, perhaps, a therapist, in the nicest way possible.
My boyfriend has a hard time getting and staying hard. It's obviously a difficult situation to talk about, but he says he feels pressure when he's with me (versus previous random hookups he wasn't invested in), so he psyches himself out. When we do have sex, I'm almost always really satisfied and I care a lot about him, both things I express in and outside of the bedroom. But the situation seems to be only getting worse. We've stopped having sex during the week because our busy lives mean we don't have an hour or more to devote to sex (which is sometimes what it takes), or we can't have sex at all because of what he's experiencing. I'm afraid this is going to continue to get worse, not only sexually but emotionally in our relationship. How can I help him fix this, and reassure him in the meantime that I care about him and want to support him?
What to do: Close your eyes and relax. If you're overly nervous, you may have triggered your sympathetic nervous system, the so-called "fight or flight" reaction your body has in intense situations. This can prevent you from having an erection for between five and 15 minutes. So go back to the foreplay stage. Kiss passionately. Caress. Perform oral sex. Don't rush things. Let your instinct take over. Remember; she's a person, just like you.
The prostaglandin E1 is contained in a small suppository located at the tip of an applicator. You should urinate first as this lubricates the urethra and makes it easier to insert the applicator into the tip of the urethra (urethral meatus, the opening at the tip of the penis that urine passes through). A patient can release the suppository into urethra by gently wiggling the applicator and pressing the button at the end. Rubbing the penis allows the suppository to dissolve, and the prostaglandin is absorbed through the tissue of the urethra into the penis. It takes 15 to 30 minutes for this occur. Once into the penis, the prostaglandin causes increased blood flow into the penis. The prostaglandin can be present in the ejaculate, and thus doctors recommend that men use a condom when having intercourse with a pregnant partner. Men may need to use a condom if vaginal irritation occurs in female partner.
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.
Neurologic impotence is suggested by the absence of sensation in the sacral dermatomes when tested by pinprick, or by neurologic abnormalities elsewhere. The bulbocavernosus reflex may be assumed to be present if anal sphincter tone is normal on rectal examination. If there is doubt, the reflex can be tested by pinching the glans penis and assessing sphincter contraction during the rectal examination.
Organic Impotence. Diabetes mellitus, thyroid disease, and dysfunction of the pituitary gland or testes can cause impotence, as can certain medications. Other organic causes include arterial ischemia associated with atherosclerosis of the aorta and common iliac arteries, extensive pelvic surgery such as radical prostatectomy, spinal cord injury and other neurologic disorders, and a history of cigarette smoking. Because certain medications can cause impotence, it is recommended that in cases of recent impotence it be determined whether the patient has started on a new drug. The most common offenders are diuretics, antihypertensives, and vasodilators. Alcohol, which sometimes is ignored as a drug, is often a contributor to the problem of impotence.
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.
Since endothelial dysfunction, CVD and ED are closely associated in epidemiological studies, the question for clinicians is whether to recommend the man presenting with ED undergo a cardiovascular (CV) evaluation. Clearly, based on numerous studies, ED can be considered at least a ‘marker’ for possible further vascular disease or CVD.15 In their report, Vlachopoulos and coworkers make the point that the man presenting with ED, the clinician, is offered an opportunity to attempt to improve the health of the man by addressing lifestyle modification, and consider further vascular evaluation owing to the clear relationship between endothelial dysfunction, ED and CVD.19
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.
Prevention of some of the causes that contribute to the development of erectile dysfunction can decrease the chances of developing the problem. For example, if a person decreases their chances of developing diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension, they will decrease their chances of developing erectile dysfunction. Other things like stopping smoking, eating a healthy diet (heart healthy with adequate vitamin intake), and exercising daily may reduce a person's risk.
However, men are affected psychologically when it comes to achieving erections. For instance, if a man is with a woman for the first time, or even before he feels comfortable with her, he may suffer from performance anxiety. In such a situation, his mind and body are both saying yes, but then they become out of sync. The body is then saying yes, but the mind is filled with question. “Will I be able to perform?” “How long will I last?” “Am I big enough to satisfy her?” “Is she looking at that mole on my stomach?” All kinds of questions may be going through a man’s mind upon getting in bed, and these can be distracting, they can lead to self-doubt, and therefore, failure to achieve or maintain an erection.
Psychological factors — Psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, guilt or fear can sometimes cause sexual problems. At one time, these factors were thought to be the major cause of impotence. Doctors now know that physical factors cause impotence in most men with the problem. However, embarrassment or "performance anxiety" can make a physical problem worse.
While impotence may be the presenting symptom of vascular disease, in neurologic disease impotence generally occurs in the setting of an obvious nervous system disorder, typically in patients known to have spinal cord pathology or neuropathy. Impotent patients should be questioned about decreased genital sensation, which would suggest diabetic, alcoholic, or other forms of neuropathy; weakness, which may accompany multiple sclerosis or spinal cord tumors; and back pain, bowel, and bladder symptoms, which raise concern for cauda equina syndrome. A careful drug history is important in the evaluation of impotence. Drugs that cause impotence (Table 187.3) generally do so by interfering with neurotransmission.
For the patient whose history suggests organic impotence, further history, physical and laboratory data will help identify the cause. The classification listed in Table 187.2 is based on the pathophysiologic scheme presented above, and includes mechanical problems that can interfere with erection. Vascular disease is the most common cause of impotence. In advanced cases, Lehriche's syndrome of aortoiliac occlusion will be suggested by bilateral thigh or calf claudication, loss of muscle mass in the buttocks and legs, and impotence. However, the majority of patients with vascular impotence have less severe vascular disease and many will have occlusive disease of the hypogastric-cavernous bed only. Even among patients without claudication, vascular disease is still a likely cause of impotence, especially if risk factors for atherosclerosis are present. Nonatherosclerotic disease is a consideration in the patient with a history of trauma or radiation to the pelvis, both of which cause fibrosis of vessels.
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.