Erectile dysfunction is a common finding in the aging male. A prevalence of over 70% was found in men older than 70 in a recent cross-sectional study (Ponholzer et al 2005). Treatment with phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE-5) inhibitors is proven to be effective for the majority of men but some do not respond (Shabsigh and Anastasiadis 2003). The condition is multi-factorial, with contributions from emotional, vascular, neurological and pharmacological factors. The concept of erectile dysfunction as a vascular disease is particularly interesting in view of the evidence presented above, linking testosterone to atherosclerosis and describing its action as a vasodilator.
In one study, 9.6% reported ‘occasional’ erectile dysfunction, 8.9% reported erectile dysfunction occurring ‘often’, and 18.6% reported erectile dysfunction occurring ‘all the time’. Of these, only 11.6% had received treatment.In another study, only 14.1% of men reported that they had received treatment, despite experiencing erectile dysfunction for longer than 12 months.

ED usually has something physical behind it, particularly in older men. But psychological factors can be a factor in many cases of ED. Experts say stress, depression, poor self-esteem, and performance anxiety can short-circuit the process that leads to an erection. These factors can also make the problem worse in men whose ED stems from something physical.
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The laboratory results should be discussed with the patient and, if possible, with his sexual partner. This educational process allows a review of the basic aspects of the anatomy and physiology of the sexual response and an explanation of the possible etiology and associated risk factors (eg, smoking and the use of various medications). Treatment options and their benefits and risks should be discussed. This type of dialogue allows the patient and physician to cooperate in developing an optimal management strategy.

Cross-sectional studies have not shown raised testosterone levels at the time of diagnosis of prostate cancer, and in fact, low testosterone at the time of diagnosis has been linked with more locally aggressive and malignant tumors (Massengill et al 2003; Imamoto et al 2005; Isom-Batz et al 2005). This may reflect loss of hormone related control of the tumor or the effect of a more aggressive tumor in decreasing testosterone levels. One study found that 14% of hypogonadal men, with normal digital rectal examination and PSA levels, had histological prostate cancer on biopsy. It is possible that low androgen levels masked the usual evidence of prostate cancer in this population (Morgentaler et al 1996). Most longitudinal studies have not shown a correlation between testosterone levels and the future development of prostate cancer (Carter et al 1995; Heikkila et al 1999; Stattin et al 2004) but a recent study did find a positive association (Parsons et al 2005). Interpretation of such data requires care, as the presentation of prostate cancer could be altered or delayed in patients with lower testosterone levels.

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).

The neurovascular events that ultimately occur result in the inhibition of adrenergic tone and the release of the nonadrenergic, noncholinergic neurotransmitter, nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is believed to be released from nonadrenergic, noncholinergic nerves and endothelial cells. It subsequently stimulates the guanylate cyclase enzyme system in penile smooth muscle. This results in increased levels of cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) and ultimately in smooth muscle relaxation, enhancement of arterial inflow, and veno-occlusion, producing adequate firmness for sexual activity.
Cross-sectional studies have not shown raised testosterone levels at the time of diagnosis of prostate cancer, and in fact, low testosterone at the time of diagnosis has been linked with more locally aggressive and malignant tumors (Massengill et al 2003; Imamoto et al 2005; Isom-Batz et al 2005). This may reflect loss of hormone related control of the tumor or the effect of a more aggressive tumor in decreasing testosterone levels. One study found that 14% of hypogonadal men, with normal digital rectal examination and PSA levels, had histological prostate cancer on biopsy. It is possible that low androgen levels masked the usual evidence of prostate cancer in this population (Morgentaler et al 1996). Most longitudinal studies have not shown a correlation between testosterone levels and the future development of prostate cancer (Carter et al 1995; Heikkila et al 1999; Stattin et al 2004) but a recent study did find a positive association (Parsons et al 2005). Interpretation of such data requires care, as the presentation of prostate cancer could be altered or delayed in patients with lower testosterone levels.
More can be learned from a large, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of finasteride treatment in 18,800 men aged 55 or more. Finasteride is a 5α-reductase inhibitor which acts to prevent the metabolism of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) – the most active androgen in the prostate. The trial showed a greater overall incidence of prostate cancer in the control group, but men treated with finasteride were more likely to have high grade tumors (Thompson et al 2003), suggesting that reduced androgen exposure of the prostate may delay the presentation of prostate cancer and/or promote advanced disease in some other way.
The vascular processes that produce an erection are controlled by the nervous system and certain prescription medications may have the side effect of interfering with necessary nerve signals. Among the possible culprits are a variety of stimulants, sedatives, diuretics, antihistamines, and drugs to treat high blood pressure, cancer, or depression. But never stop a medication unless your doctor tells you to. In addition, alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs, such as marijuana, may contribute to the dysfunction.
The sex hormone testosterone is far more than just the stuff of the alpha male's swagger. Though it plays a more significant role in the life of the biological male, it is actually present in both sexes to some degree. Despite popular perceptions that testosterone primarily controls aggression and sex drive—although it does play a role in both of those things—research has shown that individual levels of testosterone are also correlated with our language skills and cognitive abilities. Testosterone occurs in the body naturally, but can be administered as a medication, too: its most common uses are in the treatment of hypogonadism and breast cancer, as well as in hormone therapy for transgender men.

This penile tumescence monitor is placed at the base and near the corona of the penis. It is connected to a monitor that records a continuous graph depicting the force and duration of erections that occur during sleep. The monitor is strapped to the leg. The nocturnal penile tumescence test is conducted on several nights to obtain an accurate indication of erections that normally occur during the alpha phase of sleep.

Then you have to be able to make the right diagnosis. What is the basis for their erectile dysfunction? Is it psychogenic? Is it some sort of neurological or blood vessel or hormonal issue? So you have to make a diagnosis. You have to be able to make an assessment. And then only after those things are done, then you start to think about medications.


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.
A number of research groups have tried to further define the relationship of testosterone and body composition by artificial alteration of testosterone levels in eugonadal populations. Induction of a hypogonadal state in healthy men (Mauras et al 1998) or men with prostate cancer (Smith et al 2001) using a gonadotrophin-releasing-hormone (GnRH) analogue was shown to produce increases in fat mass and decreased fat free mass. Another experimental approach in healthy men featured suppression of endogenous testosterone production with a GnRH analogue, followed by treatment with different doses of weekly intramuscular testosterone esters for 20 weeks. Initially the experiments involved men aged 18–35 years (Bhasin et al 2001) but subsequently the study was repeated with a similar protocol in men aged 60–75 years (Bhasin et al 2005). The different doses given were shown to produce a range of serum concentrations from subphysiological to supraphysiological (Bhasin et al 2001). A given testosterone dose produced higher serum concentrations of testosterone in the older age group (Bhasin et al 2005). Subphysiological dosing of testosterone produced a gain in fat mass and loss of fat free mass during the study. There were sequential decreases in fat mass and increases in fat free mass with each increase of testosterone dose. These changes in body composition were seen in physiological and supraphysiological treatment doses. The trend was similar in younger versus older men but the gain of fat mass at the lowest testosterone dose was less prominent in older patients (Bhasin et al 2001; Bhasin et al 2005). With regard to muscle function, the investigators showed dose dependent increases in leg strength and power with testosterone treatment in young and older men but there was no improvement in fatigability (Storer et al 2003; Bhasin 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.
Recently, a panel with cooperation from international andrology and urology societies, published specific recommendations with regard to the diagnosis of Late-onset Hypogonadism (Nieschlag et al 2005). These are summarized in the following text. It is advised that at least two serum testosterone measurements, taken before 11 am on different mornings, are necessary to confirm the diagnosis. The second sample should also include measurement of gonadotrophin and prolactin levels, which may indicate the need for further investigations for pituitary disease. Patients with serum total testosterone consistently below 8 nmol/l invariably demonstrate the clinical syndrome of hypogonadism and are likely to benefit from treatment. Patients with serum total testosterone in the range 8–12 nmol/l often have symptoms attributable to hypogonadism and it may be decided to offer either a clinical trial of testosterone treatment or to make further efforts to define serum bioavailable or free testosterone and then reconsider treatment. Patients with serum total testosterone persistently above 12 nmol/l do not have hypogonadism and symptoms are likely to be due to other disease states or ageing per se so testosterone treatment is not indicated.
There are treatments available to help you to get and maintain an erection. In addition, making healthy changes to your lifestyle could help with impotence. Switching to a healthier balanced diet, taking more exercise and cutting down on or giving up alcohol and cigarettes could help you to see an improvement in sexual function. If you think that the problem may be related to stress or anxiety, counselling can also help.

When testosterone and endorphins in ejaculated semen meet the cervical wall after sexual intercourse, females receive a spike in testosterone, endorphin, and oxytocin levels, and males after orgasm during copulation experience an increase in endorphins and a marked increase in oxytocin levels. This adds to the hospitable physiological environment in the female internal reproductive tract for conceiving, and later for nurturing the conceptus in the pre-embryonic stages, and stimulates feelings of love, desire, and paternal care in the male (this is the only time male oxytocin levels rival a female's).[citation needed]
Testosterone is also important for maintaining bone strength and lean muscle mass in women, as well as contributing to overall well-being and energy levels. This hormone plays a key role in a woman’s sex drive and is responsible for enhancing sexual pleasure during intercourse. However, the levels of testosterone produced by females is still between ten and times less than the amount produced by men.

Erectile dysfunction is the inability to develop or maintain an erection that is rigid enough to allow penetration of the vagina, and therefore functional sexual intercourse. Generally, the term erectile dysfunction is applied if this occurs frequently (75% of the time) over a significant period if time (several weeks to months). If this is the case, the term impotence may also be used.


All devices that are currently approved by the FDA are considered safe for use in magnetic resonance imaging environments. However, 2 previously approved devices–the OmniPhase and the DuraPhase penile prostheses–are not considered safe in this environment. Other surgical procedures–including venous ligation to limit penile venous outflow and penile revascularization procedures–are rarely successful and are not recommended.19 These surgeries are only indicated when a patient demonstrates recent-onset ED and an occlusive lesion seen on angiogram or magnetic resonance angiography and should be performed only in centers of excellence for ED.
Androgens may modulate the physiology of vaginal tissue and contribute to female genital sexual arousal.[48] Women's level of testosterone is higher when measured pre-intercourse vs pre-cuddling, as well as post-intercourse vs post-cuddling.[49] There is a time lag effect when testosterone is administered, on genital arousal in women. In addition, a continuous increase in vaginal sexual arousal may result in higher genital sensations and sexual appetitive behaviors.[50]
Currently available testosterone preparations in common use include intramuscular injections, subcutaneous pellets, buccal tablets, transdermal gels and patches (see Table 2). Oral testosterone is not widely used. Unmodified testosterone taken orally is largely subject to first-pass metabolism by the liver. Oral doses 100 fold greater than physiological testosterone production can be given to achieve adequate serum levels. Methyl testosterone esters have been associated with hepatotoxicity. There has been some use of testosterone undecanoate, which is an esterified derivative of testosterone that is absorbed via the lymphatic system and bypasses the liver. Unfortunately, it produces unpredictable testosterone levels and increases testosterone levels for only a short period after each oral dose (Schurmeyer et al 1983).
In one study, 9.6% reported ‘occasional’ erectile dysfunction, 8.9% reported erectile dysfunction occurring ‘often’, and 18.6% reported erectile dysfunction occurring ‘all the time’. Of these, only 11.6% had received treatment.In another study, only 14.1% of men reported that they had received treatment, despite experiencing erectile dysfunction for longer than 12 months.
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There is a negative correlation of testosterone levels with plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1) (Glueck et al 1993; Phillips 1993), which is a major prothrombotic factor and known to be associated with progression of atherosclerosis, as well as other prothrombotic factors fibrinogen, α2-antiplasmin and factor VII (Bonithon-Kopp et al 1988; Glueck et al 1993; Phillips 1993; De Pergola et al 1997). There is a positive correlation with tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) which is one of the major fibrinolytic agents (Glueck et al 1993). Interventional trials have shown a neutral effect of physiological testosterone replacement on the major clotting factors (Smith et al 2005) but supraphysiological androgen administration can produce a temporary mild pro-coagulant effect (Anderson et al 1995).
The effect excess testosterone has on the body depends on both age and sex. It is unlikely that adult men will develop a disorder in which they produce too much testosterone and it is often difficult to spot that an adult male has too much testosterone. More obviously, young children with too much testosterone may enter a false growth spurt and show signs of early puberty and young girls may experience abnormal changes to their genitalia. In both males and females, too much testosterone can lead to precocious puberty and result in infertility. 
Sexual stimulation causes the release of neurotransmitters from cavernosal nerve endings and relaxation factors from endothelial cells lining the sinusoids. NOS produces NO from L-arginine, and this, in turn, produces other muscle-relaxing chemicals, such as cGMP and cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), which work via calcium channel and protein kinase mechanisms (see the image below). This results in the relaxation of smooth muscle in the arteries and arterioles that supply the erectile tissue, producing a dramatic increase in penile blood flow.
"Smoking is a short- and long-term cause of erectile dysfunction," warns Feloney. "In the short-term nicotine constricts the blood vessels that you need to get an erection, and in the long-term nicotine contributes to hardening of the arteries that can cause erectile dysfunction." Some approaches for quitting include making a clean break, avoiding the triggers of smoking, trying a nicotine patch or gum, and joining a smoke cessation program.

Lifestyle choices that impair blood circulation can contribute to ED. Smoking, excessive drinking, and drug abuse may damage the blood vessels and reduce blood flow to the penis. Smoking makes men with atherosclerosis particularly vulnerable to ED. Being overweight and getting too little exercise also contribute to ED.  Studies indicate that men who exercise regularly have a lower risk of ED.
Robbins, C. L., Schick, V., Reece. M., Herbenick, D., Sanders, S. A. Dodge, B., & Fortenberry J. D., (2011, December 1). Prevalence, frequency, and associations of masturbation with partnered sexual behaviors among US adolescents. JAMA Pediatrics, 165(12), 1087–1093. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/1107656

Studies also show a consistent negative correlation of testosterone with blood pressure (Barrett-Connor and Khaw 1988; Khaw and Barrett-Connor 1988; Svartberg, von Muhlen, Schirmer et al 2004). Data specific to the ageing male population suggests that this relationship is particularly powerful for systolic hypertension (Fogari et al 2005). Interventional trials have not found a significant effect of testosterone replacement on blood pressure (Kapoor et al 2006).

Health.com is part of the Meredith Health Group. All rights reserved. The material in this site is intended to be of general informational use and is not intended to constitute medical advice, probable diagnosis, or recommended treatments. All products and services featured are selected by our editors. Health.com may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice. See the Terms of Servicethis link opens in a new tab and Privacy Policythis link opens in a new tab (Your California Rightsthis link opens in a new tab)for more information. Ad Choicesthis link opens in a new tab | EU Data Subject Requeststhis link opens in a new tab
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