If you’re experiencing psychological ED, you may benefit from talk therapy. Therapy can help you manage your mental health. You’ll likely work with your therapist over several sessions, and your therapist will address things like major stress or anxiety factors, feelings around sex, or subconscious conflicts that could be affecting your sexual well-being.
As blood flows into the penis, the corpora cavernosa swell, and this swelling compresses the veins (blood vessels that drain the blood out of the penis) against the tunica albuginea. Compression of the veins prevents blood from leaving the penis. This creates a hard erection. When the amount of cGMP decreases by the action of a chemical called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5), the muscles in the penis tighten, and the blood flow into the penis decreases. With less blood coming into the penis, the veins are not compressed, allowing blood to drain out of the penis, and the erection goes down.
In some cases, men who experience abuse or sexual trauma in childhood may develop erectile issues later in life. If you have had this kind of experience, the chances are good that erectile dysfunction is not your only struggle and you should seriously consider seeking professional help. Though childhood trauma is a completely valid reason for developing ED, we’re going to focus on the psychological issues that develop later in life.

Phosphodiesterase inhibitors: This class of medications includes sildenafil, tadalafil, and vardenafil. They work by inhibiting an enzyme called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE-5), allowing more blood to enter the penis and helping to produce an erection. These medications are often taken before sex and will cause an erection only when the man is sexually stimulated.
Erections are neurovascular events, meaning that nerves and blood vessels (arteries and veins) are involved in the process of an erection and all must work properly to develop a hard erection that lasts long enough. Erection begins with sexual stimulation. Sexual stimulation can be tactile (for example, by a partner touching the penis or by masturbation) or mental (for example, by having sexual fantasies, viewing porn). Sexual stimulation or sexual arousal causes the nerves going to the penis to release a chemical, nitric oxide. Nitric oxide increases the production of another chemical, cyclic GMP (cGMP), in the muscle of the corpora cavernosa. The cGMP causes the muscles of the corpora cavernosa to relax, and this allows more blood to flow into the penis. The incoming blood fills the corpora cavernosa, making the penis expand.
"One of the reasons erectile dysfunction increases with age is that the diseases that lead to it also increase with age," notes Dr. Feloney. Evaluating the causes of erectile dysfunction starts with your doctor taking a good health history and giving you a physical exam. Common medical issues that can lead to erectile dysfunction include diabetes, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, low testosterone, and neurological disease. Talk to your doctor about better managing these health conditions.
The relaxing effect of alcohol and the feeling of well-being that comes with a drink or two have made alcohol humans’ favorite beverage for about 10,000 years. Though some studies confirm that alcohol (in moderation!) is good for your heart and circulation (which can work against erectile dysfunction), it’s important to remember that sex and alcohol are a delicate balancing act.
But when you or your partner notice a change in your erections, it’s important to talk to a doctor to discover the underlying cause of your ED. Erectile dysfunction is often an early warning sign of serious health conditions, like heart disease. High blood pressure, diabetes, low testosterone, and high cholesterol are all causes of ED in otherwise healthy men. Don’t assume that it’ll pass—especially if symptoms get worse over time.
The connection between diabetes and ED is related to your circulation and nervous system. Poorly controlled blood sugar levels can damage small blood vessels and nerves. Damage to the nerves that control sexual stimulation and response can impede a man’s ability to achieve an erection firm enough to have sexual intercourse. Reduced blood flow from damaged blood vessels can also contribute to ED.
With coronary artery disease, a buildup of plaque inside the arteries can limit the amount of blood that’s able to flow through them. If the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle is reduced or blocked by this hardening of the arteries, the result can be angina (chest pain) or a heart attack.17 Because the arteries that supply blood to the penis are much smaller than the ones that feed the heart, the problem may show up earlier as having difficulty getting an erection.18
Yet another common erectile dysfunction treatment that can be used in combination with oral drugs is a vacuum pump. This device consists of a plastic cylinder, a pump, a set of constriction bands, and a water-soluble lubricant. The lubricant is applied to the base of the penis to help form an airtight seal. The cylinder is placed over the flaccid penis and held tight against the pelvis. The pump is used to create a vacuum within the cylinder, drawing blood into the penis. Once the penis is engorged with blood, a constriction band is rolled off the cylinder to near the base of the penis. The constriction band is helpful for men with venous leakage, in which blood flows out of the penis as fast as it flows in. However, it should be left on for no more than 30 minutes at a time.
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While there are many ways to treat ED today, men with diabetes may require maximum doses of medications such as Viagra™, Cialis™, Levitra™ and Stendra™, yet still find drugs ineffective.7 In a study of nearly 20,000 men with ED, men with diabetes were 1.5 to 2 times more likely to move on to other treatments, such as pumps and penile implants than men without diabetes.9

As you can imagine, these symptoms can make it difficult to take pleasure in much of anything, let alone sex. A study published in a 1998 edition of Psychosomatic Medicine shows a clear link between depression and erectile dysfunction in men. Using data obtained from the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, researchers were able to conclude that a relationship between depressive symptoms and erectile dysfunction existed and was independent of aging and demographics.


But when you or your partner notice a change in your erections, it’s important to talk to a doctor to discover the underlying cause of your ED. Erectile dysfunction is often an early warning sign of serious health conditions, like heart disease. High blood pressure, diabetes, low testosterone, and high cholesterol are all causes of ED in otherwise healthy men. Don’t assume that it’ll pass—especially if symptoms get worse over time.

When you become aroused, your brain sends chemical messages to the blood vessels in the penis, causing them to dilate or open, allowing blood to flow into the penis. As the pressure builds, the blood becomes trapped in the corpora cavernosa, keeping the penis erect. If blood flow to the penis is insufficient or if it fails to stay inside the penis, it can lead to erectile dysfunction.
The prostaglandin E1 is contained in a small suppository located at the tip of an applicator. You should urinate first as this lubricates the urethra and makes it easier to insert the applicator into the tip of the urethra (urethral meatus, the opening at the tip of the penis that urine passes through). A patient can release the suppository into urethra by gently wiggling the applicator and pressing the button at the end. Rubbing the penis allows the suppository to dissolve, and the prostaglandin is absorbed through the tissue of the urethra into the penis. It takes 15 to 30 minutes for this occur. Once into the penis, the prostaglandin causes increased blood flow into the penis. The prostaglandin can be present in the ejaculate, and thus doctors recommend that men use a condom when having intercourse with a pregnant partner. Men may need to use a condom if vaginal irritation occurs in female partner.
In the evaluation of physical causes of ED, the health care provider is assessing for conditions that may affect the nerves, arteries, veins, and functional anatomy of the penis (for example, the tunica albuginea, the tissue surround the corpora). In determining a physical (or organic) cause, your health care provider will first rule out certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart and vascular disease, low male hormone level, prostate cancer, and diabetes, which are associated with erectile dysfunction. Medical/surgical treatment of these conditions may also cause ED. In addition to these health conditions, certain systemic digestive (gastrointestinal) and respiratory diseases are known to result in erectile dysfunction:
The physical exam should focus on femoral and peripheral pulses, femoral bruits (vascular abnormalities), visual field defects (prolactinoma or pituitary mass), breast exam (hyperprolactinemia), penile strictures (Peyronie’s disease), testicle atrophy (testosterone deficiency), and asymmetry or masses (hypogonadism). A rectal exam allows for assessment of both the prostate and sphincter tone, abnormalities that are associated with autonomic dysfunction. Sacral and perineal neurological exam will help in assessing autonomic function.
The medications are extremely effective, which is very good. And the medications are, for the most part, extremely well-tolerated. But there are, like with any medications, a potential downside. The one absolute downside to the use of any of these erection what we call PDE5 medications is if a patient is using a nitroglycerin medication. And nitroglycerins are used for heart disease and for angina, for the most part, although there are some recreational uses of nitrites. And that’s important because your blood vessels will dilate and your blood pressure will drop. And that is an absolute contraindication.
A 19-year-old male presents with a history of anxiety, depression, and asthma and chief complaint of ED that began 1-year ago after a “nerve twinge with subtle pain” during masturbation. He also reports decreased penile sensation since the event. He can obtain and maintain an erection with masturbation. He reports inability to obtain or maintain an erection with a partner unless he takes tadalafil 5 mg. He reports straight phallus, normal libido, orgasm, and ejaculation. The remainder of his history is negative. His physical examination is normal. His previous laboratory assessment, including CBC, CMP, TSH, T4, T and Free T, was normal.
When a man becomes sexually excited, muscles in their penis relax. This relaxation allows for increased blood flow through the penile arteries. This blood fills two chambers inside the penis called the corpora cavernosa. As the chambers fill with blood, the penis grows rigid. Erection ends when the muscles contract and the accumulated blood can flow out through the penile veins.
Obesity and metabolic syndrome can cause changes in blood pressure, body composition, and cholesterol which may lead to ED. Other conditions that may contribute to erectile dysfunction include Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, Peyronie’s disease, sleep disorders, alcoholism, and drug abuse. Taking certain medications can also increase your risk for ED.
Erectile dysfunction is more common than most people think. About 40% of men will notice some degree of problem by age 40. The aging of the penis can begin as early as the late 20s but becomes severe enough to notice typically starting in the 40s. As men get older, their odds of getting erectile dysfunction increases by about 10% per decade, and the severity of the problem also increases.
Oral medicines: The best known ED medications are the Big Three: Viagra (sildenafil citrate, made by Pfizer, Inc.), Levitra (vardenafil HCl, made by Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline), and Cialis (tadalafil, made by Eli Lilly). The three are chemically very similar, and all have proven very effective. Because they are effective, convenient, and relatively inexpensive (about nine dollars per pill), these medicines have become the treatment of choice for most men experiencing ED.
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