What Erectile Dysfunction (ED) Is And What You Can Do About It

A healthy life and a healthy sex life are inextricably linked. Sex helps boost your mood, improves sleep, decreases stress, increases immunity, and lowers the risk of prostate cancer to name just a few of the benefits. For the hundreds of millions of men around the world suffering from erectile dysfunction (ED), all or most of these benefits are non-existent. Fortunately, we now understand many, if not all, the root causes of ED. And with the right lifestyle changes and support from a medical professional, a return to a healthy sex life is within reach. 

What is erectile dysfunction?

A man is considered to be suffering from ED when he cannot consistently get or maintain an erection that permits for satisfactory sexual activity. Most men will experience isolated instances where they cannot become sufficiently erect. But if you can’t become erect with sufficient rigidity for three months, you likely have a form of ED that requires attention. 

The process for becoming erect is a complex one, combining physical, emotional, psychological and environmental factors. The good news is that addressing just some of these factors can remedy ED—and some are easy to treat. It’s important to note however that ED can, on occasion, be a signal for more severe underlying issues that require medical attention. Here are some common causes for erectile dysfunction.

Physical causes of ED

Simply put: the penis needs blood to flow to it to become erect and consistent circulation of blood is needed to maintain an erection. Several common ailments and conditions suffered by millions and millions of people around the world can have an adverse effect on blood-circulation. These include:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes (types 1 and 2)
  • Heart Disease
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Coronary artery disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parksinson’s disease

Medications that can cause ED

Ironically, medications that are meant to improve one part of our life can be deleterious to another. This is true for ED as well. Over-the-counter and prescription medications used to treat everyday conditions like depression, high-blood pressure, and even muscle soreness can have side-effects that lower-blood flow to the penis and lower your sex-drive. Some of the most common medications that impact ED are:

  • Beta blockers and antihypertensives (to lower blood pressure)
  • SSRIs (common drug used to treat depression)
  • Antihistamines for allergies
  • Diuretics (aka “water pills”)
  • Ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Antifungal medicine. 

Any changes to your medication must be discussed with your doctor before taking action. Making your healthcare professional aware of your ED symptoms can potentially lead to an adjustment of medication to alleviate the side-effects that could be impacting your ability to become erect. 

Psychological, emotional factors and ED

While the physical aspects of intercourse often take centre-stage, sex can be a highly emotional experience involving numerous physchological factors. As a result, emotional and mental health issues can often factor into ED. In fact, a 2017 study of erectile dysfunction in young adult males reports that depression plays a significant role in the development of ED. The lack of drive and motivation that often comes with depression impacts all elements of one’s life—sex included. 

Anxiety also factors into ED as it pertains to an obsession with being able to perform sexually. This kind of self-applied pressure can result in an overstated focus on the erection and quality thereof. This can cause a distraction from the enjoyment and stimulus of sexual interaction that would normally result in an erection. And the inability to get an erection from this kind of distracted thought can serve to compound feelings of anxiety. 

It takes two to tango in a game of sexual intercourse, and your partner might have a little or a lot to do with your ED. A fraught or fraying relationship where the emotional connection between partners has been damaged can inhibit the emotional necessities of getting and keep an erection. Frank and honest conversation about you and your partner’s emotional needs is one way to reconnect and increase sexual satisfaction. 

Environmental and lifestyle factors that cause ED

Recreational drug abuse 

The overuse of recreational drugs can have negative impacts on overall health including sexual health. Certain drugs work to dampen or heighten the normal central nervous system processes. Long term use of drugs can damage the cardiovascular system  No matter how you slice it, if drug abuse is affecting your sexual or overall health, it’s time to consult a physician. Here are some of the recreational drugs to look out for:

  • Marijuana/Cannabis
  • Nicotine/Tobacco
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines 
  • Opiates
  • Barbituates
  • Alcohol Abuse 

Despite its ubiquity, alcohol is indeed a recreational drug—and one that can have a negative impact on sexual performance if abused. A 2018 study found that sexual dysfunction was common among men who consistently abuse alcohol. This included erectile dysfunction, unsatisfactory orgasms, and premature ejaculation. Damage to the liver and blood vessels, as well as a decrease in testosterone can all be factors stemming from alcohol abuse. 

Unhealthy lifestyles and ED

A sedentary lifestyle coupled with a poor diet are two predictors of men who suffer from ED. A lack of exercise and a surplus intake of fatty and processed foods are both detrimental to cardiovascular health. These two unhealthy lifestyle habits in combination can lead to arterial damage and eventually erectile dysfunction. What’s more, obesity plays an important role in the development of ED. A Harvard study found that men with 42-inch waists were twice as likely to suffer from ED when compared to men with 32-inch waists. 

The good news in all of this is that inactive lifestyles and poor diets can be remedied with awareness, dedication and commitment. A recent academic review of several studies found that 160 minutes of exercise per week over 60 months contributed to decreasing the prevalence of ED. 

What can I do about ED?

Depending on which of the above causes contribute to your erectile dysfunction, there are many proven treatments available. For some, a change in lifestyle to include more exercise and less processed food can do the trick. For others, reconnecting emotionally with their partner through communication and spending more time together could be the answer. 

Medications for ED that can be taken orally are also highly effective—and there are a few to choose from depending on your needs. Viagra, Cialis and Levitra (sildenafil, tadalafil and vardenafil) can all be part of your return to high sexual performance. More invasive treatments like testosterone injections, penis pumps and implants can also be appropriate for more severe cases. 

Whatever the cause, a healthcare provider will be able to help diagnose and treat your ED. Whether it’s one, or a combination of, the above treatments, help is available. Remember that most men experience some form of erectile dysfunction, so you’re far from alone in this. And the first step in returning to a satisfying and health sex life for you and your partner could be closer than you think.