Erections occur in response to tactile, olfactory, and visual stimuli. The ability to achieve and maintain a full erection depends not only on the penile portion of the process but also on the status of the peripheral nerves, the integrity of the vascular supply, and biochemical events within the corpora. The autonomic nervous system is involved in erection, orgasm, and tumescence. The parasympathetic nervous system is primarily involved in sustaining and maintaining an erection, which is derived from S2-S4 nerve roots.
A good indicator that "everything is in working order" and that it is probably a psychological cause is if a “morning erection” is still experienced. Feelings like fear, anger, distress and anxiety cause part of the nervous system to come into play which directly blocks the action of another part of the system involved in creating an erection. This is a natural reaction – our ancestors would find it more difficult to run from a predator with an erection in the way!
Most older men suffer not ED but erection dissatisfaction. Starting around age 50 (often earlier among smokers and/or diabetics), erections change. In some men, the process is gradual, in others, it happens more quickly. Either way, older men lose the ability to raise erections solely from sexual fantasies. Direct fondling of the penis becomes necessary. When erections appear, they rise more slowly and do not become as firm as they were during men’s thirties and forties. And minor distractions may cause wilting—the doorbell or an ambulance siren. These changes alarm many men, who jump to the conclusion that they must have ED. If you can still raise erection durings masturbation, you don’t. What you have is erection dissatisfaction.
Sexual stimulation causes the release of neurotransmitters from cavernosal nerve endings and relaxation factors from endothelial cells lining the sinusoids. NOS produces NO from L-arginine, and this, in turn, produces other muscle-relaxing chemicals, such as cGMP and cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), which work via calcium channel and protein kinase mechanisms (see the image below). This results in the relaxation of smooth muscle in the arteries and arterioles that supply the erectile tissue, producing a dramatic increase in penile blood flow.
A meta-analysis of 36 744 men with ED in 12 prospective cohort studies found that the presence of ED significantly increased the risk of CVD, CAD, stroke and all-cause mortality, and the presence of ED was an independent risk factor for CVD. Ponholzer et al found that men with moderate to severe ED had a 65% increased relative risk for developing symptomatic CAD compared with men who did not have ED.26