Penile erection is managed by two mechanisms: the reflex erection, which is achieved by directly touching the penile shaft, and the psychogenic erection, which is achieved by erotic or emotional stimuli. The former uses the peripheral nerves and the lower parts of the spinal cord, whereas the latter uses the limbic system of the brain. In both cases, an intact neural system is required for a successful and complete erection. Stimulation of the penile shaft by the nervous system leads to the secretion of nitric oxide (NO), which causes the relaxation of smooth muscles of corpora cavernosa (the main erectile tissue of penis), and subsequently penile erection. Additionally, adequate levels of testosterone (produced by the testes) and an intact pituitary gland are required for the development of a healthy erectile system. As can be understood from the mechanisms of a normal erection, impotence may develop due to hormonal deficiency, disorders of the neural system, lack of adequate penile blood supply or psychological problems.[18] Spinal cord injury causes sexual dysfunction including ED. Restriction of blood flow can arise from impaired endothelial function due to the usual causes associated with coronary artery disease, but can also be caused by prolonged exposure to bright light.

Cardiovascular disease, and its underlying pathological process atherosclerosis, is an important cause of morbidity and mortality in the developed and developing world. Coronary heart disease in particular is the commonest cause of death worldwide (AHA 2002; MacKay and Mensah 2004). As well as increasing with age, this disease is more common in the male versus female population internationally, which has led to interest in the potential role of sex hormones in modulating risk of development of atherosclerosis. Concerns about the potential adverse effects of testosterone treatment on cardiovascular disease have previously contributed to caution in prescribing testosterone to those who have, or who are at risk of, cardiovascular disease. Contrary to fears of the potential adverse effects of testosterone on cardiovascular disease, there are over forty epidemiological studies which have examined the relationship of testosterone levels to the presence or development of coronary heart disease, and none have shown a positive correlation. Many of these studies have found the presence of coronary heart disease to be associated with low testosterone levels (Reviews: Jones, Jones et al 2003; Jones et al 2005).
An occasional problem achieving an erection is nothing to worry about. But failure to do so more than 50% of the time at any age may indicate a condition that needs treatment. About 40% of men in their 40s report at least occasional problems getting and maintaining erections. So do more than half (52%) of men aged 40 to 70, and about 70% of men in their 70s.

The largest amounts of testosterone (>95%) are produced by the testes in men,[2] while the adrenal glands account for most of the remainder. Testosterone is also synthesized in far smaller total quantities in women by the adrenal glands, thecal cells of the ovaries, and, during pregnancy, by the placenta.[122] In the testes, testosterone is produced by the Leydig cells.[123] The male generative glands also contain Sertoli cells, which require testosterone for spermatogenesis. Like most hormones, testosterone is supplied to target tissues in the blood where much of it is transported bound to a specific plasma protein, sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG).
Stress is your body responding to your environment. And it’s a good thing—in limited doses. When you get stressed out your body makes chemicals like adrenaline that make you stronger, faster, fitter, and even able to think more clearly. Most people call this reaction the “fight-or-flight” response, and it’s a life-saver in dangerous situations. In a very real sense, adrenaline makes you a part-time superhero. The problems happen when your body deals with constant stress.
In the short term, alcohol relaxes muscles in the penis, letting blood to flow in (which is a good thing). However, alcohol also prevents other blood vessels from closing and trapping all the extra blood. Erections depend on trapping increased blood flow in the erectile tissue of the penis. If you don’t trap that extra blood, you don’t get an erection. In the long run, excessive alcohol consumption can cause liver scarring, high blood pressure, and can damage your blood vessels resulting in erectile dysfunction.
Changes in body composition are seen with aging. In general terms, aging males are prone to loss of muscle mass and a gain in fat mass, especially in the form of visceral or central fat. An epidemiological study of community dwelling men aged between 24 and 85 years has confirmed that total and free testosterone levels are inversely correlated with waist circumference and that testosterone levels are specifically related to this measure of central obesity rather than general obesity (Svartberg, von Muhlen, Sundsfjord et al 2004). Prospective studies show that testosterone levels predict future development of central obesity (Khaw and Barrett-Connor 1992; Tsai et al 2000). Reductions in free testosterone also correlate with age related declines in fat free mass (muscle mass) and muscle strength (Baumgartner et al 1999; Roy et al 2002). Studies in hypogonadal men confirm an increase in fat mass and decrease in fat free mass versus comparable eugonadal men (Katznelson et al 1998). Taken together, the epidemiological data suggest that a hypogonadal state promotes loss of muscle mass and a gain in fat mass, particularly visceral fat and therefore mimics the changes of ‘normal’ aging.
Epidemiological studies suggest that many significant clinical findings and important disease states are linked to low testosterone levels. These include osteoporosis (Campion and Maricic 2003), Alzheimer’s disease (Moffat et al 2004), frailty, obesity (Svartberg, von Muhlen, Sundsfjord et al 2004), diabetes (Barrett-Connor 1992), hypercholesterolemia (Haffner et al 1993; Van Pottelbergh et al 2003), hypertension (Phillips et al 1993), cardiac failure (Tappler and Katz 1979; Kontoleon et al 2003) and ischemic heart disease (Barrett-Connor and Khaw 1988). The extent to which testosterone deficiency is involved in the pathogenesis of these conditions, or to which testosterone supplementation could be useful in their treatment is an area of great interest with many unanswered questions.
The sexual hormone can encourage fair behavior. For the study, subjects took part in a behavioral experiment where the distribution of a real amount of money was decided. The rules allowed both fair and unfair offers. The negotiating partner could subsequently accept or decline the offer. The fairer the offer, the less probable a refusal by the negotiating partner. If no agreement was reached, neither party earned anything. Test subjects with an artificially enhanced testosterone level generally made better, fairer offers than those who received placebos, thus reducing the risk of a rejection of their offer to a minimum. Two later studies have empirically confirmed these results.[71][72][73] However men with high testosterone were significantly 27% less generous in an ultimatum game.[74] The Annual NY Academy of Sciences has also found anabolic steroid use which increase testosterone to be higher in teenagers, and this was associated with increased violence.[75] Studies have also found administered testosterone to increase verbal aggression and anger in some participants.[76]
Conditions associated with reduced nerve and endothelium function (eg, aging, hypertension, smoking, hypercholesterolemia, and diabetes) alter the balance between contraction and relaxation factors (see Pathophysiology). These conditions cause circulatory and structural changes in penile tissues, resulting in arterial insufficiency and defective smooth muscle relaxation. In some patients, sexual dysfunction may be the presenting symptom of these disorders.
Regardless of the method of testosterone treatment chosen, patients will require regular monitoring during the first year of treatment in order to monitor clinical response to testosterone, testosterone levels and adverse effects, including prostate cancer (see Table 2). It is recommended that patients should be reviewed at least every three months during this time. Once treatment has been established, less frequent review is appropriate but the care of the patient should be the responsibility of an appropriately trained specialist with sufficient experience of managing patients treated with testosterone.
An occasional problem achieving an erection is nothing to worry about. But failure to do so more than 50% of the time at any age may indicate a condition that needs treatment. About 40% of men in their 40s report at least occasional problems getting and maintaining erections. So do more than half (52%) of men aged 40 to 70, and about 70% of men in their 70s.
I think that a very powerful argument to young men who want to perform at the highest level is to point out the destructive nature of what they’re doing. If they’re having 18 drinks per week, if they’re having three, four, five drinks at any one time, they’re going to guarantee that their erections are not going to be at the highest level. I can’t tell you the number of men who come in saying, they went out, they had a date, they had a big dinner– which, by the way, is also not a great thing for erections, because all the blood is now going to your gut instead of to the genital area. And how important lifestyle changes are to improving your performance, as well, if not better, than the medications. So make certain that you exercise modestly, not excessively. Make certain that you have a smaller meal on an evening or a day that you want to have a sexual encounter, because you want the blood to go, once again, to the penile area and not to your gut. And really, the whole idea of stress– if you’re stressed out, if you’re worried about a lot of things, if you’re distracted, you can’t initiate that psychic stimulus to your spinal cord and then ultimately to your penis. So stress management is incredibly important.
Performance anxiety can be another cause of impotence. If a person wasn’t able to achieve an erection in the past, he may fear he won’t be able to achieve an erection in the future. A person may also find he can’t achieve an erection with a certain partner. Someone with ED related to performance anxiety may be able to have full erections when masturbating or when sleeping, yet he isn’t able to maintain an erection during intercourse.
I’m telling you all of this because no matter who you are, keeping your testosterone levels balanced is more important now than ever before. Modern living has not been kind to our hormones. In American men, serum testosterone levels have declined by about 1% each year for the past 30 years [5], and you can make a few educated guesses about why. Hormone-disrupting chemicals are more prevalent than ever before, physical activity is less and less common, veganism is popular (I was a raw vegan for a while), and many doctors insist on pushing a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet for health (by the way, the concept of a low-fat diet began in the mid-70s, shortly before the nationwide testosterone decline. It could be a coincidence, but I doubt it).
There have been case reports of development of prostate cancer in patients during treatment with testosterone, including one case series of twenty patients (Gaylis et al 2005). It is not known whether this reflects an increase in incidence, as prostate cancer is very common and because the monitoring for cancer in patients treated with testosterone is greater. Randomized controlled trials of testosterone treatment have found a low incidence of prostate cancer and they do not provide evidence of a link between testosterone treatment and the development of prostate cancer (Rhoden and Morgentaler 2004). More large scale clinical trials of longer durations of testosterone replacement are required to confirm that testosterone treatment does not cause prostate cancer. Overall, it is not known whether testosterone treatment of aging males with hypogonadism increases the risk of prostate cancer, but monitoring for the condition is clearly vital. This should take the form of PSA blood test and rectal examination every three months for the first year of treatment and yearly thereafter (Nieschlag et al 2005). Age adjusted PSA reference ranges should be used to identify men who require further assessment. The concept of PSA velocity is also important and refers to the rate of increase in PSA per year. Patients with abnormal rectal examination suggestive of prostate cancer, PSA above the age specific reference range or a PSA velocity greater than 0.75 ng/ml/yr should be referred to a urologist for consideration of prostate biopsy. 

In addition to its role as a natural hormone, testosterone is used as a medication, for instance in the treatment of low testosterone levels in men and breast cancer in women.[10] Since testosterone levels decrease as men age, testosterone is sometimes used in older men to counteract this deficiency. It is also used illicitly to enhance physique and performance, for instance in athletes.

Once a complete sexual and medical history has been completed, appropriate laboratory studies should be conducted. In the initial evaluation of ED, sophisticated laboratory testing is rarely necessary. For example, serum testosterone (and sometimes prolactin) is typically only useful when the patient demonstrates hypogonadal features or testicular atrophy, or when clinical history is suggestive. Additional hormonal evaluation may include thyroid stimulating hormone in those with a clinical suspicion of hypothyroidism or appropriate diabetes screening in those presenting with a concern for impaired glucose metabolism. If the patient has not been evaluated with a lipid panel and hyperlipidemia is suspected, measurement and appropriate referral to internal medicine or cardiology is recommended. In most cases, a tentative diagnosis can be established with a complete sexual and medical history, physical examination, and limited or no laboratory testing.
Patients at high cardiovascular risk should not be treated for ED until their cardiac condition is stabilize. These conditions include unstable or refractory angina, myocardial infarction or cerebrovascular accident within the past 2 weeks, uncontrolled hypertension, New York Heart Association (NYHA) Functional Classification III-IV congestive heart failure, high-risk arrhythmias, hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathies, and moderate-to-severe valvular disease.25 This class of drugs is also contraindicated in patients who use nitroglycerin or nitrate-containing compounds.26, 27

Of the drugs used for depression, tricyclic antidepressants may be associated with erectile problems and other drugs may be substituted to prevent this complication. Currently available substitutes include bupropion, nefazodone, and trazodone. The selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (eg, fluoxetine, sertraline, paroxetine, citalopram) can also cause difficulties with ED, but they might also have other significant sexual side effects, including decreased libido and anorgasmia.
Low-intensity extracorporeal shock wave therapy has been proposed as a new non-invasive treatment for erectile dysfunction caused by problems with blood vessels. Shock wave therapy machines are now available in some medical practices in Australia. Although there is some evidence that it may help a proportion of men with erectile dysfunction, more research is needed before clear recommendations on its use can be made.

Although vardenafil does not seem to produce significant clinical QT prolongation, it has been suggested that it be avoided in patients who have congenital QT prolongation abnormalities and in patients using class I antiarrhythmic drugs, such as quinidine and procainamide. It is also best to avoid the use of vardenafil with class III antiarrhythmic drugs, such as amiodarone or sotalol.
Most studies support a link between adult criminality and testosterone, although the relationship is modest if examined separately for each sex. Nearly all studies of juvenile delinquency and testosterone are not significant. Most studies have also found testosterone to be associated with behaviors or personality traits linked with criminality such as antisocial behavior and alcoholism. Many studies have also been done on the relationship between more general aggressive behavior/feelings and testosterone. About half the studies have found a relationship and about half no relationship.[66]
Type 2 diabetes is an important condition in terms of morbidity and mortality, and the prevalence is increasing in the developed and developing world. The prevalence also increases with age. Insulin resistance is a primary pathological feature of type 2 diabetes and predates the onset of diabetes by many years, during which time raised serum insulin levels compensate and maintain normoglycemia. Insulin resistance and/or impaired glucose tolerance are also part of the metabolic syndrome which also comprises an abnormal serum lipid profile, central obesity and hypertension. The metabolic syndrome can be considered to be a pre-diabetic condition and is itself linked to cardiovascular mortality. Table 1 shows the three commonly used definitions of the metabolic syndrome as per WHO, NCEPIII and IDF respectively (WHO 1999; NCEPIII 2001; Zimmet et al 2005).