What You Didn’t Know About Erectile Dysfunction
By Marion Adongo
Erectile dysfunction is when a man has persistent problems achieving and/or sustaining an erection. Erectile dysfunction can first emerge in a man as early as 40 and can make sexual intercourse impossible without treatment.
When blood fills two chambers in the penis (known as the corpora cavernosa) an erection occurs. This causes the penis to expand and stiffen, much like a balloon as it is filled with water. The process is triggered by nerve impulses from the brain and genital area. Anything that interferes with these impulses or restricts blood flow to the penis can result in erectile dysfunction.
Other forms of male sexual dysfunction include poor libido and problems with ejaculation. Men with erectile dysfunction often have a healthy libido, but their bodies fail to respond in the sexual encounter by producing an erection. Usually there is a physical basis for the problem.
Symptoms of erectile dysfunction include erections that are too soft for sexual intercourse, erections that last only briefly, and an inability to achieve erections. Men who cannot have or maintain an erection at least 75% of the time that they attempt sex are considered to have erectile dysfunction.
Sexual dysfunction is more common in men as about 40% experience some degree of inability to have or maintain an erection at age 40 compared to 70% of men at age 70. And the percentage of men with erectile dysfunction increases from 5% to 15% as age increases from 40 to 70 years. However, erectile dysfunction can be treated at any age.
The link between underlying chronic disease and erectile dysfunction is most striking with diabetes. Approximately half of the men with diabetes experience erectile dysfunction. Nevertheless, good blood sugar control can minimize this risk.
Diseases that can lead to erectile dysfunction by interfering with blood flow or nerve impulses throughout the body include cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), kidney disease, Multiple sclerosis
Lifestyle choices, such as smoking, alcohol abuse, and obesity can impair blood circulation and lead to erectile dysfunction. Smoking, excessive drinking, and drug abuse may damage the blood vessels and reduce blood flow to the penis. Smoking makes men with atherosclerosis even more vulnerable to erectile dysfunction. Smokers have almost twice the risk of erectile dysfunction compared to nonsmokers. Being overweight and doing less exercise also contribute to erectile dysfunction. Men who exercise regularly have a lower risk of erectile dysfunction.
Surgical or radiation treatments for prostate cancer, bladder cancer, or prostate enlargement (BPH) can sometimes damage nerves and blood vessels near the penis. Occasionally, the nerve damage is permanent and the patient requires treatment to achieve an erection. Sometimes, surgery causes temporary erectile dysfunction that improves on its own after six to eighteen months.
Many medications can cause or contribute to erectile dysfunction, including certain blood pressure drugs, antidepressants, and tranquilizers. Men with erectile dysfunction should talk with their doctor if they suspect a prescription or over-the-counter drug may be causing erectile problems.
However, psychological factors may be present in 10% to 20% of men with erectile dysfunction. Stress, depression, poor self-esteem post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and performance anxiety can impair the ability to have an erection. These factors can also make erectile dysfunction worse in men whose sexual dysfunction stems from something physical.
Cyclists equally suffer more erectile dysfunction than other athletes because the shape of some bicycle seats causes pressure on the nerves that are vital to sexual arousal. Cyclists who ride for many hours each week may benefit from seats designed to protect the perineum.
Treatment for erectile dysfunction will depend on the underlying cause. You may also need to use a combination of treatments, including medication, lifestyle changes, or therapy.
If you’re experiencing psychological erectile dysfunction, you may benefit from talk therapy because it can help you manage your mental health. You will likely work with your therapist who will address things like major stress or anxiety factors, feelings around sex, or subconscious conflicts that could be affecting your sexual well-being.
If your erectile dysfunction is caused by stress, yoga and massage may help. Pelvic floor muscle exercises (kegel exercises) contribute to the improvement to penile function. Healthy lifestyle habits may also prevent erectile dysfunction, and in some situations reverse the condition.