Penile erection is managed by two mechanisms: the reflex erection, which is achieved by directly touching the penile shaft, and the psychogenic erection, which is achieved by erotic or emotional stimuli. The former uses the peripheral nerves and the lower parts of the spinal cord, whereas the latter uses the limbic system of the brain. In both cases, an intact neural system is required for a successful and complete erection. Stimulation of the penile shaft by the nervous system leads to the secretion of nitric oxide (NO), which causes the relaxation of smooth muscles of corpora cavernosa (the main erectile tissue of penis), and subsequently penile erection. Additionally, adequate levels of testosterone (produced by the testes) and an intact pituitary gland are required for the development of a healthy erectile system. As can be understood from the mechanisms of a normal erection, impotence may develop due to hormonal deficiency, disorders of the neural system, lack of adequate penile blood supply or psychological problems. Spinal cord injury causes sexual dysfunction including ED. Restriction of blood flow can arise from impaired endothelial function due to the usual causes associated with coronary artery disease, but can also be caused by prolonged exposure to bright light.
One thing you need to know. When you are experiencing anxiety, you get a stress response. You can read more about this here. A stress response is what you automatically feel, say, if a fight broke out near you. Your body gets ready to protect itself. During a stress response, blood is diverted away from less important areas to help your heart beat faster.
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.
The risk of impotence increases with age. It is four-fold higher in men in their 60s compared with those in their 40s according to a study published in the Journal of Urology (2000;163:460-463). Men with less education are also more likely to experience impotence, perhaps because they tend to have less healthy lifestyles, eat a less healthy diet, drink more and exercise less. Physical exercise tends to lessen the risk of impotence.
Conditions associated with reduced nerve and endothelium function (eg, aging, hypertension, smoking, hypercholesterolemia, and diabetes) alter the balance between contraction and relaxation factors (see Pathophysiology). These conditions cause circulatory and structural changes in penile tissues, resulting in arterial insufficiency and defective smooth muscle relaxation. In some patients, sexual dysfunction may be the presenting symptom of these disorders.
I always made sure to satisfy my woman first, from the start of our marriage. When I started having issues with ED a few years ago, I talked to her about it and asked for her to be understanding and also that I needed a lot of the things sexually that she had not really given me much of, regardless of how much pampering or pleasing I did for her. She agreed, but never really stepped it up despite me talking to her about it every few weeks trying to salvage my own interest in sex. I had chased her constantly for over 10 years, then after the psychological effects of ED took their toll and she never really followed through helping me, my sex drive just tanked. I stopped chasing her, then after a little while she slowly started wanting it enough to initiate. Even then, she still wants the same sex as before, without the things I want being a regular part of it. My sex drive is still very low, and I still make an effort, but I can tell that my interest in sex is just deteriorating every time I have an ED episode and feel my desires being neglected. Each time, it just makes me less interested in continuing to try "serve" her because she does not return the favor much. The idea of spending so much effort doing "other stuff" while my wants and desires are barely recognized makes sex sound as exciting as mowing the yard to me now days.
In their extensive review, Bassil and coworkers summarise the benefits and risks, with benefits such as improvement of sexual function, bone density, muscle strength, cognition and overall improvement in quality of life. Among the risks that have been suggested include erythrocytosis, liver toxicity, worsening of sleep apnoea and cardiac function, possibly increasing symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). They also note that although a possibility of stimulation of prostate cancer has been hypothesised, no scientific or clinical evidence exists to this possible risk.38
#3 You’re not having enough sex. The more sex you’re having, the less likely you are to suffer from erectile issues. The American Journal of Medicine reports that men who had sex once *or more* a week were less likely to have issues getting and maintaining an erection. So, not having sex is actually one of the reasons you can’t get hard. [Read: 13 ways to have better sex and change the way you make love]
The primary nerve fibers to the penis are from the dorsal nerve of the penis, a branch of the pudendal nerve. The cavernosal nerves are a part of the autonomic nervous system and incorporate both sympathetic and parasympathetic fibers. They travel posterolaterally along the prostate and enter the corpora cavernosa and corpus spongiosum to regulate blood flow during erection and detumescence. The dorsal somatic nerves are also branches of the pudendal nerves. They are primarily responsible for penile sensation. 
An erection might last indefinitely if it weren’t for chemicals in the body called phosphodiesterases. They work at reversing the process trying to return the penis to being soft (i.e., flaccid). Usually there is a balance between the chemicals that result in an erection lasting for as long as it is needed, which allows the phosphodiesterases to do their job when they should and no sooner. You wouldn’t want an erection forever so it is a good thing that phosphodiesterases exist.
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.
On the horizon is gene therapy that would deliver genes that produce products or proteins that may not be functioning properly in the penile tissue of men with ED. Replacement of these proteins may result in improvement in erectile function. Experimental animal models have demonstrated improvement in erectile function with gene therapy. Human studies may also demonstrate success with this therapy. Gene therapy may take a long time for regulatory approval and public acceptance.
Measurement of the penile vibration perception threshold provides an inexpensive, reproducible, and painless screening test with acceptable sensitivity for detecting neuropathy. Abnormalities at the level of the sacral cord can be documented by sacral latency testing, while upper motor neuron impotence can be demonstrated with genital-cerebral evoked response testing. These latter procedures are not indicated in unselected patients with impotence.
Exercise and lifestyle modifications may improve erectile function. Weight loss may help by decreasing inflammation, increasing testosterone, and improving self-esteem. Patients should be educated to increase activity, reduce weight, and stop smoking, as these efforts can improve or restore erectile function in men without comorbidities. Precise glycemic control in diabetic patients and pharmacologic treatment of hypertension may be important in preventing or reducing sexual dysfunction. 
Vacuum devices for ED, also called pumps, offer an alternative to medication. The penis is placed inside a cylinder. A pump draws air out of the cylinder, creating a partial vacuum around the penis. This causes it to fill with blood, leading to an erection. An elastic band worn around the base of the penis maintains the erection during intercourse.