Despite some very recent legislative changes, opioids—ultra-strong narcotic painkillers—have never been more popular. According to the newest stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), enough opioid prescriptions are written each year to stock the medicine cabinets of every single adult in America (with plenty left over for teens, too). “These types of narcotics suppress testosterone levels,” says Dr. Köhler. That means they also mess with your hard-on. So does smoking, drinking a lot of booze, and any other bad habits that hurt your heart and/or vascular function.
Is erectile dysfunction gradual?
A “cycle”, as you put it, can certainly become established after a man experiences a number of erectile failures and begins to lose confidence. Once the idea of attempting intercourse produces anxiety rather than excitement, it becomes less and less likely he will successfully produce a reliable erection. Pharmaceutical agents can bypass this cycle, but it can also be extremely important to learn to be less fixated on erectile ability and instead focus on pleasure. Learning it is possible to give and receive enormous pleasure without an erection can be a vital aspect of a return to sexual health. This knowledge can lead to a reduction of the pressure you mentioned, as well as to a lifetime of sexual confidence and enjoyment.
The strength and frequency of your erection are an important indicator of your overall health. The blood vessels in the penis are smaller than arteries and veins in other parts of your body, so any problems like blockages, blood vessel dilation issues, or hormone imbalances will often show up as erectile dysfunction (or less firm erections) before something more serious like a heart attack or stroke.
Achieving an erection is a complex process involving the brain, hormones, nerves, muscles and blood circulation. If something interferes with this process, the result may be erectile dysfunction. In some cases, erectile dysfunction is the first sign of other serious underlying health conditions, such as cardiovascular problems, that need treatment because erectile dysfunction can share the same risk factors for heart attacks and strokes.
It’s important not to take a bout of psychological ED personally. Still, when confronting a suddenly soft penis in the moment, “It’s not you” can be hard to believe. For instance, Erin, 22, tried—really tried—to make sex with Drew* happen. The first time his erection died right before they were about to have sex, she improvised and gave him “really long” oral instead. But the lack of a boner was confusing. “That had never happened to me with a sexual partner, so I was like, ‘Okay, he’s just not into me,’” Erin recalls.
Performance anxiety: Perhaps the most common cause of erectile problems among younger guys is performance anxiety. Many cultures place pressure on men to be the "experts" when it comes to sex, which can make men feel like they have to be responsible for sex or know how to please their partner every time. This pressure can be stressful and make it more difficult to get or maintain an erection.
Getting hard is also an overwhelmingly mental task. "Yes, men are saddled with the scheduled 'morning boner' and may experience an occasional random erection but by and large an erection needs to be achieved through mental stimulation," says Backe. "If you aren't turned on, your body isn't going to send more blood to the penis — bottom line. So, ultimately, you need a clean and clear mind for healthy and clear erections. Keeping the mind healthy will allow proper mental stimulation to occur at the right time."
Relationship problems often complicate erectile dysfunction. Improving your relationship may be part of the solution. It may be a good idea to get counseling together from a sex therapist, marriage counselor, or a medical specialist. "I almost always see couples together to discuss erectile dysfunction. It often turns out that both partners have issues regarding the sexual relationship and once they are out in the open, couples can work together on a more satisfying sexual experience," says Feloney.
Regardless of the reason, men spend a lot more time on their butts than they ever have before, shows data from the CDC. And all that sitting hurts your heart and your waistline, which saps your vigor below your belt, Dr. Köhler explains. You need a good 30 to 45 minutes of vigorous exercise at least 5 days a week to counteract all your chair time, experts say.
There can be both an indirect and direct way to achieve this. The reflex erection is the direct way, achieved by touching your penis to trigger the nerves in the lower part of your spinal cord and your peripheral nervous system. The psychogenic erection is the indirect way, via non-mechanical sexual stimulation (visual, for example) and sexual arousal. This activates the limbic system in your brain, sending electrical signals down to your erectile nerve centres via the lower regions of your spinal cord. The latter is why you can get both nocturnal or "morning glory" erections, rather non-erotically referred to as nocturnal penile tumescence. How romantic.
As recently as two decades ago, doctors tended to blame erectile dysfunction on psychological problems or, with older men, on the normal aging process. Today, the pendulum of medical opinion has swung away from both notions. While arousal takes longer as a man ages, chronic erectile dysfunction warrants medical attention. Moreover, the difficulty is often not psychological in origin. Today, urologists believe that physical factors underlie the majority of cases of persistent erectile dysfunction in men over age 50.
As it turns out, there are actually tons of things that can keep guys from getting an erection that have nothing to do with you (also, all that stuff you learned in middle school about how all guys are hump-crazed sex lunatics might have been slightly off). Between 20 and 30 million American men experience recurring erection difficulties, and almost all men have, at one time or another, had their top ramen refuse to boil. And while erectile issues are often seen as an older man's problem, in reality, one quarter of men seeking medical treatment for erectile difficulties are under 40.
Alcohol: A couple of drinks can loosen your inhibitions and help you relax. But alcohol can also impair sexual functioning. Alcohol works on the nervous system by slowing down brain function, breathing, and pulse. Initially, the effect is often psychologically stimulating, since emotions and desires flow more freely. However, while alcohol may boost sexual desire by helping a person to relax, it can decrease performance, especially where erections are concerned. For this reason, it's best for guys to limit their alcohol intake to one to two drinks (or none at all) for optimal sexual function.