The causes of ED are numerous but generally fall into two categories: organic or psychogenic. The organic causes can be subdivied into five categories: vascular, traumatic/postsurgical, neurological, endocrine-induced, and drug-induced. Examples of the psychogenic causes are depression, performance anxiety, and relationship problems. In people with diabetes, the main risk factors are neuropathy, vascular insufficiency, poor glycemic control, hypertension, low testosterone levels, and possibly a history of smoking.
In the popular media, it’s easy to find claims of a rising “epidemic” of erectile dysfunction in young men. For example, this article argues that the rate of ED in young men has increased 1000% in the last decade alone—though, problematically, no research is cited to back it up, which makes this a very questionable claim. So what does the science say on this subject? Are erectile difficulties really rising at a dramatic rate in young guys? Let’s take a look.
"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.
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.
These are among the most challenging patients seen in urology practice today: a young, healthy man with neither systemic disease nor a history of trauma, who has complaints of ED (Table 2). These men often have co-morbid diagnoses, such as anxiety, depression, or mood disorders, which make the issue of ED more complex for both the patient and the urologist (12). The psychological burden of ED in these young men is more pronounced than it might be in older men as this is the phase of life during which many men expect to be highly sexually active (4). These young men are usually technologically savvy and may have scrutinized much of the readily available information on the internet regarding ED. Often they arrive to clinic armed with an understanding of the diagnostic evaluation that may be offered to further investigate the etiology of their concerns. This makes the evaluation and treatment of these men more challenging since additional diagnostic testing is often not indicated after a thorough history and physical examination. In many cases, they may have self-diagnosed and self-treated based on the information that they obtained prior to seeing a physician. Many of these men will see multiple urologists on their quest to find a pathophysiology that they can accept, and many have unrealistic expectations of a rapid cure or a surgical cure.

Not only can guilt affect your ability to perform sexually, but so can low self-esteem. The correlation between erectile dysfunction and low self-esteem seems obvious from one direction – an inability to perform in the bedroom can cause you to feel bad about yourself. But how does low self-esteem cause ED? Self-esteem is defined as, “confidence in one’s own worth or abilities.”


Similar to the general population (58), in subjects consulting for sexual dysfunction, T deficiency is progressively more prevalent as a function of age (50). In a series of 4,890 subjects consulting our Sexual Medicine and Andrology Unit for sexual dysfunction, one in five (19.6%) and one in three (29.4%) patients have total T below 10.4 and 12 nmol/L, respectively (60). Clinical correlates of T deficiency show different figures according to patient’s age. In fact, we previously demonstrated that in the youngest quartile (17–42 years old), but not in the oldest one (62–88 years old), severity of reported ED and penile blood flow impairment (dynamic peak systolic velocity) were not associated to decreasing testosterone levels (50). It is possible to speculate that, in young individuals, intercourse-related penile erection is such a complex phenomenon that other determinants (i.e., intrapsychic or relational) might mask its androgen regulation and that T deficiency produces greater sexual disturbances in subjects with greater frailty, such as older individuals. However, reported frequency of spontaneous erection and sexual thoughts were significantly decreased as a function of T decline even in younger subjects (50). Moreover, in young individuals low T was associated with a worse metabolic profile, including hypertriglyceridemia and increased waist circumference (50). Accordingly, the prevalence of MetS in the youngest quartile was clearly associated with T deficiency, as it was in the older quartiles (50). Therefore, T deficiency must be accurately verified in all subjects consulting for sexual dysfunction, even in the youngest ones.
A medical history focused on risk factors, such as cigarette smoking, hypertension, alcoholism, drug abuse, trauma, and endocrine problems including hypothyroidism, low testosterone levels, and hyperprolactinemia, is very important. Commonly used drugs that disrupt male sexual function are spironolactone (Aldactone), sympathetic blockers such as clonidine (Catapres), guanethidine (Islemin), methyldopa (Aldomet), thiazide diuretics, most antidepressants, ketoconazole (Nizoral), cimetidine (Tagamet), alcohol, methadone, heroin, and cocaine. Finally, assessment of psychiatric history will help identify emotional issues such as interpersonal conflict, performance anxiety, depression, or anxiety.
The penis contains three cylinders, the two corpora cavernosa, which are on the top of the penis (see figure 1 below). These two cylinders are involved in erections. The third cylinder contains the urethra, the tube that the urine and ejaculate passes through, runs along the underside of the penis. The corpus spongiosum surrounds the urethra. Spongy tissue that has muscles, fibrous tissues, veins, and arteries within it makes up the corpora cavernosa. The inside of the corpora cavernosa is like a sponge, with potential spaces that can fill with blood and distend (known as sinusoids). A layer of tissue that is like Saran Wrap, called the tunica albuginea, surrounds the corpora. Veins located just under the tunica albuginea drain blood out of the penis.
Until recently, erectile dysfunction (ED) was one of the most neglected complications of diabetes. In the past, physicians and patients were led to believe that declining sexual function was an inevitable consequence of advancing age or was brought on by emotional problems. This misconception, combined with men’s natural reluctance to discuss their sexual problems and physicians’ inexperience and unease with sexual issues, resulted in failure to directly address this problem with the majority of patients experiencing it.
Occasional ED is common in all men, including young and healthy men. But if you have a persistent or recurrent problem with initiating or maintaining an erection and it's causing you or your partner distress, talk to your doctor. “Lack of nighttime erections is another cause for concern, said Wang. These occurrences serve to nourish the penis with oxygen and keeping the blood supply healthy, he explained. "Young men should get four or five of these a night. If you are not getting these and you are having frequent problems with ED, you need to check in with your doctor,” he recommended.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) generally affects men older than 65, but younger men can get it too. If it happens at a younger age, ED may be a warning sign of another health issue. If you have no obvious risk factors and no other health problems, like diabetes, your doctor will run laboratory tests and may order heart tests. The same process that affects the arteries in the penis affects the ones in your heart, too. If something is wrong and it is not diagnosed and treated, you have a fairly high risk over the next four to five years of having some type of cardiac event.
Getting (and maintaining) an erection requires a surprising amount of things to go right. You have to get aroused, then pass that signal from your brain, through your nerves and hormones, to your blood vessels and muscles before an erection can even happen. If one thing goes wrong in that complicated exchange between your cardiovascular, and nerve system, and your hormone levels, blood vessels, and even your mood the result is usually erectile dysfunction. In other words, getting an erection is hard.
Third, men with Diabetes need to control their blood sugar levels. When your blood sugar is not under control, your body does not produce enough Nitric Oxide (NO) and vascular tissues don’t respond as effectively to NO. When enough blood flows into the penis, penile veins close off and block the blood from flowing out. This process results in an erection. If your body does not produce enough NO or if your penile tissues do not respond to NO, the pressure of the blood flowing into your penis is not sufficient to trap the blood, you penis will not get hard.
Nevertheless, this study highlights the ubiquitousness of sexual problems in the heavy-drinking population. It also stresses the need for addiction medicine specialists to note the possibility of sexual problems in their clients. In addition, it highlights the need for sexual medicine specialists to consider the effects of heavy alcohol use on sexual functioning. However, there is ample evidence that alcohol-induced sexual dysfunction, for the most part, is reversible with cessation of alcohol use.[18] Thus, this information can be used in motivational counselling of heavy drinkers to provide impetus for change. Clinicians are well advised to routinely assess sexual functioning in patients with alcohol dependence.
Erections are more complicated than you think. Your brain, nerves, heart, blood vessels, and a whole lot of hormones have to work together perfectly or nothing happens. It’s a lot to ask, and sometimes things break down. And while ED happens to most guys at some point in their lives, erectile dysfunction isn’t something you can just ignore and hope it goes away.
For most men, improving erectile dysfunction means improving blood flow to the penis. Immediate relief often requires medications that increases nitric oxide (NO) in the blood vessels of the penis. NO causes the smooth muscle cells in the blood vessels of the penis to stretch, which increases the flow of blood. NO also keeps the smooth muscle cells younger and helps prevent and even reverse hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels over time. Proper diet (see more below) and regular exercise are key because both can boost NO.
ED can also occur among younger men. A 2013 study found that one in four men seeking their first treatment for ED were under the age of 40. The researchers found a stronger correlation between smoking and illicit drug use and ED in men under 40 than among older men. That suggests that lifestyle choices may be a main contributing factor for ED in younger men.
It's an all too common problem: Roughly half of men with diabetes—and up to 25 percent of men overall—experience erectile dysfunction (ED) at some point in their lives. And it's a complicated problem, too, with diverse physical origins and complex emotional ramifications. Yet diabetes-related ED needn't be a no-sex sentence for men. There are ways to avoid this disorder and to treat it at any age. While much of the research on ED is still in its infancy, here is what science has to say so far.
It's an all too common problem: Roughly half of men with diabetes—and up to 25 percent of men overall—experience erectile dysfunction (ED) at some point in their lives. And it's a complicated problem, too, with diverse physical origins and complex emotional ramifications. Yet diabetes-related ED needn't be a no-sex sentence for men. There are ways to avoid this disorder and to treat it at any age. While much of the research on ED is still in its infancy, here is what science has to say so far.
Talk with your doctor before trying supplements for ED. They can contain 10 or more ingredients and may complicate other health conditions. Asian ginseng and ginkgo biloba (seen here) are popular, but there isn't a lot of good research on their effectiveness. Some men find that taking a DHEA supplement improves their ability to have an erection. Unfortunately, the long-term safety of DHEA supplements is unknown. Most doctors do not recommend using it.
The great majority of ED cases in diabetic men have a physical cause, such as neuropathy or circulatory problems. In some cases, however, the cause of ED is psychological, including depression, guilt, or anxiety. With a thorough exam, the doctor should be able to determine whether the ED is psychological or physical in nature. If the cause is psychological, your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist, psychologist, sex therapist, or marital counselor. Do not view such a diagnosis as an insult. Most psychologically-based ED is easily and successfully treated.
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