Men come with their own built-in health gauge: It’s called the penis. The more quickly and vigorously this health gauge responds—so to speak—the less a man has to worry about. That’s because erections depend on important components of a guy’s overall health—his blood flow, heart strength, hormone levels, nerve function, even brain performance—all can be causes of erectile dysfunction. If there are troubles in any of those sectors, his gauge will indicate it.
According to the American Urological Association, 1 in 10 men will experience erectile dysfunction (ED) at some point in their lives, and the odds increase with age (about 10 percent per decade). ED is medically defined as the “consistent or recurrent inability to attain and/or maintain an erection sufficient for sexual satisfaction.”
Occasional erection trouble isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. Some temporary causes of erectile dysfunction can stem from excessive alcohol consumption, stress, fatigue, or even just having an argument with your partner. But if it interferes with having sex more than 50 percent of the time, then there’s an underlying physical or psychological issue that needs treatment, according to doctors at the Cleveland Clinic. They point out that ED isn’t a disease; it’s a symptom. And, as you’re about to find out, some causes of erectile dysfunction can be life-threatening.
Erection trouble is difficult to diagnose even for doctors because it has so many potential causes. Here’s a quick rundown of the most common causes of erectile dysfunction, along with some advice on remedying them.
Too much fun
Although alcohol and other recreational drugs may heighten sexual desire initially, they usually sap it the more you indulge. Even young men can struggle to get an erection after a hard night of partying. If the trouble disappears with your hangover, then you don’t have anything to worry about. And if you need help cutting back on the booze, check out these 17 tips. But because so much of a man’s ego is tied to his privates, struggling to perform when you’re under the influence can undermine your confidence and build into the next common cause of erectile dysfunction.
Worrying about being unable to get an erection can actually lead to it happening more often. This is because any type of anxiety triggers the release of adrenaline, which in turn directs blood flow away from less vital organs like the penis. And rich oxygenated blood is the foundation of erections. Without it, nothing happens. Performance anxiety can also stem from worries about premature ejaculation, being with a new partner, or being unable to get a spouse pregnant. Whatever the case, the key is not to get all twisted up about it. Having an understanding and supportive partner helps. (For more advice on handling anxiety in general, consider this advice.)
Being unable to emotionally connect with a partner often results in guys being unable to physically connect. When simple honest communication fails to bring couples closer, professional counseling may be needed. Sexual boredom can also leave men limp. Remember that the most important sex organ (for men and women) is the brain. Experiment, be more creative, have fun! Start tonight with these saucy suggestions.
Stress and fatigue are two common causes of erectile dysfunction that many men disregard. Chronic stress releases that erection foiler adrenaline; poor sleep decreases the male sex hormone testosterone. According to the International Society for Sexual Medicine, nearly 70 percent of men with sleep apnea also have ED. For hard-charging guys who have trouble prioritizing sleep and stress reduction, the knowledge that both can enhance sexual performance will be a game-changer. Get started with these 13 tips for sleeping better tonight.
Another cause of erectile dysfunction men often overlook are the pills they pop. Quite a few prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs list ED as potential side effects. These include diuretics, high blood pressure medications, antihistamines, antidepressants, antiarrhythmics, and even NSAIDs such as Advil, Aleve, and aspirin. Ask your doctor for alternatives.
Apathy, frustration, low levels of self-esteem—these can all inhibit sexual expression. But keep in mind that the usual antidote, antidepressants, can make ED worse. Anyone who is already experiencing erectile trouble should explore other first-step treatments with their doctor, such as talk therapy or exercise.
This hormone supports the male sex drive. Although levels peaks in midlife and then slowly declines with age, low testosterone does not appear to be a direct cause of erectile dysfunction, according to the latest research. What’s more, doctors caution against supplementing testosterone and using T-boosting products because the long-term effects are unknown. (There have been some research connections to increased cancer risk.)
Because erections depend so much on blood flow, any deterioration in your circulatory system will have a negative impact. Trouble can come from high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. Experts at Harvard Health point out that weaker erections are often the first sign of heart disease and should always be reported to a doctor. And generally, what’s good for the heart is good for erections—a healthy diet, keeping cholesterol low, not smoking, exercising regularly, and controlling weight. Here are 25 more heart-healthy secrets cardiologists want you to know.
Type 2 diabetes
ED is one of the most common complications of diabetes in men. Among those over age 50, it nearly doubles the risk, reports the Mayo Clinic. Over time, diabetes damages the nerves and blood vessels that power erections. And as with heart disease, ED is usually a precursor to a diabetes diagnosis. When the disease is present, oral ED meds such as Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis can be relationship savers, as they help increase blood flow to the penis. Doctors can often even supply free samples.
Being overweight is now considered an independent risk factor for ED. According to the National Institutes of Health, having a BMI of 25 or greater can disrupt a man’s hormonal balance, cell function, and insulin resistance, along with promoting physical inactivity and psychological problems. If you need some help shedding pounds, here are 42 fast and easy tips.