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.
Treatments include psychotherapy, adopting a healthy lifestyle, oral phosphodiesterase type V (PDE5) inhibitors (Viagra, Levitra, Cialis, Stendra, and Staxyn), intraurethral prostaglandin E1 (MUSE), intracavernosal injections (prostaglandin E1 [Caverject, Edex], Bimix and Trimix), vacuum devices, penile prosthesis and vascular surgery, and (in some cases) changes in medications when appropriate.
Prostaglandins (alprostadil): Alprostadil can be injected into the penis or inserted as a pellet through the urethra. It causes an erection without sexual stimulation that usually lasts about 60 minutes. The danger with this method is that too high a dose can cause priapism, an erection that won't go away. This condition requires immediate medical attention as it can cause serious bruising, bleeding, pain and permanent penile damage. Once the doctor is sure of the right dose, the man can self-inject at home.
Tests such as the bulbocavernosus reflex test are used to determine if there is sufficient nerve sensation in the penis. The physician squeezes the glans (head) of the penis, which immediately causes the anus to contract if nerve function is normal. A physician measures the latency between squeeze and contraction by observing the anal sphincter or by feeling it with a gloved finger inserted past the anus.
The circulatory system plays a central role in obtaining and sustaining erections. Augmentation of blood flow to the corporal bodies depends on the intravascular pressure in the penile artery. Vascular lesions—typically atherosclerotic, but occasionally fibrotic—and systemic hypotension will limit flow to the corpora. In certain patients, blood flow at rest may be sufficient to obtain an erection but not sufficient to maintain it during intercourse, when the pelvic musculature places greater demands on a compromised blood supply.
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.
Stiffy Solution: Obviously, no one should ever go off a prescribed med without consulting with a doctor. But there are erection-friendly alternatives to nearly every daisy-wilting medicine listed above. And your dude shouldn't let embarrassment keep him from talking to his GP about this — doctors are well aware that erectile difficulties are a possible side effect for all of these medicines; they just don't know which patients will experience what side effects, so they're waiting for you, the patient, to bring it up.
Despite the accumulation of a substantial body of scientific information about erectile dysfunction, large segments of the public -- as well as the health professions -- remain relatively uninformed, or -- even worse -- misinformed, about much of what is known. This lack of information, added to a pervasive reluctance of physicians to deal candidly with sexual matters, has resulted in patients being denied the benefits of treatment for their sexual concerns. Although they might wish doctors would ask them questions about their sexual lives, patients, for their part, are too often inhibited from initiating such discussions themselves. Improving both public and professional knowledge about erectile dysfunction will serve to remove those barriers and will foster more open communication and more effective treatment of this condition.
Stiffy Solution: The good news is, almost all of these conditions can be successfully treated if you catch them early on. And since erectile problems may be the first side effect your dude has experienced, seeking medical treatment for his erectile problems may be the thing to get him into a doctor's office. So if your dude is a well-rested, non-drinking, non-smoking, paragon of relaxation who suddenly can't get wood, urge him to talk to his doctor — his misbehaving penis may actually be communicating something way more important than "Not tonight, honey."
There are hundreds of medications that have the side effect of ED and/or decreased libido. Examples of drugs implicated as a cause of ED include hydrochlorothiazides and beta-blocking agents. Medications used to treat depression, particularly the SSRIs such as citalopram (Celexa), escitalopram (Lexapro), fluoxetine (Prozac, Prozac Weekly, Sarafem), fluvoxamine (Luvox, Luvox CR), paroxetine (Paxil, Paxil CR, Pexeva) and sertraline (Zoloft), may also contribute to ED.9 Bupropion (Wellbutrin) which has a predominant effect on blocking the reuptake of dopamine is an antidepressant with lower incidence of ED.10 The side effects of 5ARIs occurring in fewer than 5% of patients can include gynaecomastia, ED, loss of libido and ejaculatory dysfunction.11
Most of us are raised to believe that men are ravenous sex-beasts, eternally horny and only pretending to be a part of polite society so that they can find some new crevice to jam their Jeremy Irons into. So the first time we cross paths (and genitals) with a guy who can't get an erection, many of us immediately panic and assume that the problem must be us. We must be profoundly unsexy. After all, what could else possibly stop these hormone-addled maniacs from getting an erection?
Martha K Terris, MD, FACS is a member of the following medical societies: American Cancer Society, American College of Surgeons, American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine, American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Urological Association, Association of Women Surgeons, New York Academy of Sciences, Society of Government Service Urologists, Society of University Urologists, Society of Urology Chairpersons and Program Directors, and Society of Women in Urology