Men's Health

What Is Erectile Dysfunction: Get the Facts

What is Erectile Dysfunction: Get the Facts

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a condition in which a man is unable to get or maintain an erection long enough during sexual activity to satisfy his sexual needs. The condition was referred as impotence before medical research highlighted the underlying causes. Most men encounter erection problems at some point, but when the problem becomes persistent, it is a cause for concern. With erectile dysfunction, you may find yourself getting an occasional erection or not getting them at all. For instance, you may wake up with an erection or have one during masturbation, but when it comes to sexual intercourse, you may not be able to get an erection at all.

Erectile dysfunction is a common problem affecting around 20 percent of men. However, its incidence increases with age. Individuals above the age of 55 are more likely to develop the condition due to associated medical ailments. After the age of 75, it becomes a very common condition, although, it does not necessarily affect the entire male population above that age.

Erection in men requires some kind of sexual stimulation. Stimulation can be visual, psychological, or can be brought on by contact with the penis. Sexual stimulation releases several hormones that work to relax the muscles in the penis. Relaxation of muscles increases the flow of blood into the penile arteries. The blood rushes in to fill the chambers of the penis, thereby making it firm and rigid. The valves located at the back of the penis prevent this blood from flowing back, which helps in maintaining an erection.

What causes an erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction can be caused by a problem occurring at any of the stages of erection. Several factors can affect the normal functioning of the penis, and they can be broadly categorized into two groups:

1) Psychological factors

The desire for sexual activity originates in the brain. We depend on the brain to feel stimulated and also to experience and interpret pleasure during intercourse. Any disorder affecting the brain can affect the functioning of sexual organs.

  • Depression: Prolonged or severe depression may lead to loss of interest in sexual activity. This can cause symptoms of erectile dysfunction.
  • Stress: Stress can cause a man to have problems with erection. Stress can be professional, emotional, or personal.
  • Performance pressure: Increased anxiety levels due to fear of failure may lead to problems in sexual activity.
  • Communication or other problems in a relationship: Stress and depression resulting from the problems in a relationship may cause an erectile dysfunction.

2) Physical factors

Three physiological functions are involved during an erection: hormones, nerve supply, and blood flow. A problem with any of the three functions may result in an erectile dysfunction.

  • Narrow blood vessels: The narrowing of the blood vessels can restrict the flow of blood into the penis. When this happens, there will be insufficient blood to enable an erection. High cholesterol levels, smoking, or diabetes can cause atherosclerosis, which is the clogging of the arteries. These conditions can lead to an erectile dysfunction.
  • Obesity: Aside from being the cause of other medical conditions, obesity can also cause an erectile dysfunction.
  • Prescription drugs: The medications you may be taking may also be causing your erectile dysfunction. Examples include some drugs used to treat hypertension, beta blockers, antihistamines, or antidepressants.
  • Age: As you grow older, the likelihood of developing erection problems also increases. The reason is that being older means more prone to developing other ailments such as heart or kidney problems, and the weakening of arteries as well as penile muscles.
  • Diabetes: Besides causing atherosclerosis, diabetes can also lead to diabetic neuropathy, which is a condition that causes nerve damage. Diabetic neuropathy is one of the common causes of erectile dysfunction.
  • Heart conditions: High blood pressure and heart diseases are caused to some extent by atherosclerosis. As mentioned earlier, this condition can lead to erectile dysfunction.
  • Hormonal disorders: Thyroid conditions and a deficiency in testosterone (the male sex hormone that controls sexual drive) can also cause an erectile dysfunction. The thyroid can affect the levels of testosterone in the body.
  • Drug abuse: Drug and alcohol abuse can also lead to ED.
  • Anatomy: A structural or anatomical disorder of the penis such as Peyronie's disease can also cause ED. 
  • Injuries and surgery: Surgical complications, radiation therapy for pelvic disorders, and injuries to the spinal cord or the pelvic region can also contribute to erectile dysfunction. 

Porn-Induced Erectile Dysfunction

Watching porn actually increases the level of dopamine in your brain. If you watch porn too much, the receptors in your brain become desensitized to watching porn, as well as participating in sexual activity. You might need to watch more porn and more graphic porn to get an erection. Moreover, it will also become more difficult to get an erection to participate in a real-life sexual activity.

Men who are conservative in their relationship, who are not confident about themselves, or have some kind of stigma related to sex may experience erectile dysfunction symptoms from watching porn.


Some men, based on what they see in porn videos, set unrealistic expectations in real life related to their partner and how their ideal sex life should be. When the reality doesn’t meet their fantasies, it makes it difficult for men to engage themselves in sexual activity. Sometimes, men also develop self-confidence issues from watching porn if they think they cannot perform like the men they see on screen. This can lead to anxiety and frustration, causing erectile dysfunction. 

What are the symptoms of erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction can easily be noticed during sexual intercourse. A man may take a longer time to achieve an erection or he may not maintain an erection for very long. These things can happen sometimes, but if they do not go away, then it may be a serious health problem. You may, therefore, have to visit a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

How is erectile dysfunction treated?

There are a number of methods used to treat erectile dysfunction. Treatments may include the following:

  • Oral medications: Oral medications such as Stendra (avanafil), Viagra (sildenafil), or Cialis (tadalafil) may be used for ED. These medications improve the effect of nitric oxide, which relaxes the penile muscles and improves the blood flow to the penis, thereby maintaining an erection.
  • Penile self-injection therapy: Carrying out self-injections in the penis is done at the side or at the base of the penis. It helps provide an erection that can last for up to 40 minutes. It is, however, accompanied by side effects such as the formation of fibrous tissues at the sites of injection or bleeding at times. 

Other Treatments

  • Testosterone replacement: Involves an increase of testosterone levels in men who have low levels of it.
  • Penile implants: These are devices that are surgically placed inside the penis to help men achieve an erection. 
  • Surgery: A surgical procedure is rarely used and is considered as a last option only in severe cases of erectile dysfunction.

The Bottom Line

Erectile dysfunction is a condition that can cause stress and emotional problems for both the man and his partner. However, it is treatable and most of the methods of treatment have been effective. Counseling by a trained psychotherapist has also been proven to be helpful in dealing with the problem.