Normal male sexual function requires a complex interaction of vascular, neurological, hormonal, and psychological systems. The initial obligatory event is acquisition and maintenance of an erect penis, which is a vascular phenomenon. Normal erections require blood flow into the corpora cavernosae and corpus spongiosum. As the blood accelerates, the pressure within the intracavernosal space increases dramatically to choke off penile venous outflow. This combination of increased intracavernosal blood flow and reduced venous outflow allows a man to acquire and maintain a firm erection.

The most common inflatable prosthesis is the three-piece penile prosthesis. It is composed of paired cylinders, which doctors surgically insert inside the penis. Patients can expand the cylinders using pressurized fluid (see figure 3). Tubes connect the cylinders to a fluid reservoir and pump, which doctors also surgically implant. The reservoir is usually in the pelvis. A doctor places the pump in the scrotum. By pressing on the pump, sterile fluid transfers from the reservoir into the cylinders in the penis. An erection is produced primarily by expansion of the width of the penis, however, one model can increase in length a small amount also. Lock-out valves in the tubing prevent the fluid from leaving the cylinder until a release valve is pressed. By pressing the relief valve and gently squeezing the penis, the fluid within the cylinders transfers back into the reservoir.


In most young men with ED, additional testing to assess for the origin of ED is unnecessary as the history gives you the information that you need. With this said, it may be therapeutic for the patient to know his laboratory assessments are normal, in which case additional testing does add significant value to the assessment. From the history alone, we find that most of these men will have situational erectile dysfunction that responds well to low dose oral PDE-5 inhibitors. If the patient does respond well to these medications, the diagnosis of neurogenic erectile dysfunction, clinically significant arterial insufficiency, or venous-occlusive dysfunction can efficiently be ruled out. If the patient responds inconsistently or does not respond to the oral medications, additional workup should be considered, dependent on the additional history provided.


Though stress and anxiety are two different things, they are closely related when it comes to issues of erectile dysfunction. In many cases, stress is the underlying factor, but it causes anxiety which then triggers more stress – it is a vicious cycle. If you take a look at the physical side of things, however, you’ll see that stress and anxiety are even more closely related than you may realize.
Diabetes is known to sabotage two body parts that provide essential components of an erection: nerves and blood vessels. Studies suggest that diabetic nerve damage (neuropathy) is the most important risk factor for ED in people with diabetes. If pelvic nerves that trigger penis muscles to relax are impaired, there may be a break in the chain between brain and penis, disrupting erection. Some researchers suspect that an inadequate supply of oxygen to the nerves causes this damage.

There are many factors that can lead to ED. “Psychological causes of erectile dysfunction in young men can include performance anxiety, guilt about sex in general, guilt about having sex with a particular partner, feelings of anger or resentment towards a partner, or simply finding a partner undesirable,” said Carole Lieberman, MD, a psychiatrist on the clinical faculty of the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute in Los Angeles.

Treatments include psychotherapy, adopting a healthy lifestyle, oral phosphodiesterase type V (PDE5) inhibitors (Viagra, Levitra, Cialis, Stendra, and Staxyn), intraurethral prostaglandin E1 (MUSE), intracavernosal injections (prostaglandin E1 [Caverject, Edex], Bimix and Trimix), vacuum devices, penile prosthesis and vascular surgery, and (in some cases) changes in medications when appropriate.
Anxiety is the most common cause of erectile dysfunction in young men. This can include nervousness about getting your partner pregnant, losing your erection while putting a condom on, or your sexual performance. This often creates a negative spiral, because failure to achieve an erection causes yet more anxiety and stress. Depression, anxiety and stress can also cause ED by reducing libido.
The first is a vacuum erection device (VED).  The device, which can be purchased on line and used at home, is placed over the penis, then pumped up to create a vacuum around the penis. This draws blood into the penis, creating an erection. One study found that the dropout rate with the VED was quite high, with only 50% of couples finding the treatment satisfactory. 2

Finding a satisfying solution to ED can be a life-changing event for many men and their partners. In one study of 200 patients and 120 partners, both men and their partners found the AMS 700 penile implant to be satisfying. 92% of patients and 96% of their partners reported sexual activity to be excellent or satisfactory.10 Talk to your doctor about your treatment options.

ICI therapy often produces a reliable erection, which comes down after 20-30 minutes or with climax. Since the ICI erection is not regulated by your penile nerves, you should not be surprised if the erection lasts after orgasm. The most common side effect of ICI therapy is a prolonged erection. Prolonged erections (>1 hour) can be reversed by a second injection (antidote) in the office.

Erectile dysfunction, often referred to as ED, is characterized by a persistent and recurring inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse. Psychological, physical and lifestyle issues can all cause ED, as can trauma to nerves and arteries. The incidence of erectile dysfunction increases with age, but young men can also experience it.
Care for these patients, who in many cases are emotional, demanding, and time consuming, may evoke feelings of frustration and anticipatory anxiety in the time-strapped urologist. Early in the encounter, the urologist must understand the patient’s psychosocial environment and establish a rapport and meaningful alliance with the patient and his family, if present (13). It is important to ensure that the doctor-patient interaction is informative and task oriented for greater patient buy-in and compliance with treatment (13,14). Affirm to the patient that regardless of the short time allotted for the visit that the doctor-patient relationship will endure even after the visit. This may be accomplished through a scheduled follow-up telephone call, electronic message, follow-up clinic visit, or a written letter. It may also be beneficial to refer the patient to a sex therapist or counselor though many young men will reject the idea that there is a psychosocial element to their ED and may refuse to consider therapy.

Certain feelings can interfere with normal sexual function, including feeling nervous about or self-conscious about sex, feeling stressed either at home or at work, or feeling troubled in your current sexual relationship. In these cases, treatment incorporating psychological counseling with you and your sexual partner may be successful. One episode of failure, regardless of cause, may propagate further psychological distress, leading to further erectile failure. Los of desire or interest in sexual activity can be psychological or due to low testosterone levels.
Chronic stress dumps adrenaline in your system multiple times a day. And that can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Chronic stress is like red-lining your car all day long. When you drive 100 mph all the time, something is going to break down. A high-stress environment can actually change the way your brain sends messages to your body. Dumping too much adrenaline into your bloodstream can affect blood flow and severely limit your ability to achieve and maintain an erection.

Combination therapy has proven effective for some men who don’t respond adequately to oral medicines. The idea is to use two drugs with different mechanisms of action for better results. Commonly, sildenafil is used in combination with pellets of alprostadil (synthetic prostaglandin E1) that are inserted into the urethra (the tube in the penis that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body). Alprostadil also increases the blood supply to the penis, but by different means.
Other medical therapies under evaluation include ROCK inhibitors and soluble guanyl cyclase activators. Melanocortin receptor agonists are a new set of medications being developed in the field of erectile dysfunction. Their action is on the nervous system rather than the vascular system. PT-141 is a nasal preparation that appears to be effective alone or in combination with PDE5 inhibitors. The main side effects include flushing and nausea. These drugs are currently not approved for commercial use.
Many younger men are concerned that this will create a dependency on the medication.  However, you cannot become dependent because there is no tachyphylaxis to these medications.  This means, that unlike some other drugs (opiates, benzodiazepines) your body does not get used to these medications over time, so you won’t need to up the dosage over time to get the same effect.  In fact, we have found the opposite to be true.  Over time, many of our younger patients need less medication and need it less frequently.
Where alcohol may succeed as an aphrodisiac in getting people “in the mood” it may fail in execution. During an erection, the penis fills with blood then the vessels close, preventing backflow, so that the penis remains erect. In the short term, overconsumption of alcohol causes the blood vessels in the penis to expand, allowing for more blood flow, but prevents those vessels from closing. As a result, the penis may become erect but not remain so, as there is nothing to prevent backflow.
Once observed that the organic component of ED is the most important one in younger patients (Figure 2), the summarized evidence underlines that metabolic and CV risk must not be underestimated in younger men even when they are apparently healthy. In fact, it is particularly in these men that recognizing the presence of risk factors can help in changing life-style, thus really changing the natural history of metabolic and CV diseases. In older men the damage is often already established and the identification of further risk factors usually does not add information to the estimation of CV risk. ED is a symptom that can provide a chance for both the patients and physicians to unearth the presence of CV risk factors and improve both the quality and length of life of these men.

Unconventional CV risk factors, such as impaired erections during masturbation and reduced flaccid acceleration, are interesting parameters to implement in Sexual Medicine context, because they can help fill the gap of information on CV risk, left by the conventional risk factors (the so-called residual risk) (38). However, it should be recognized that not all the healthcare professionals who deal with the complaint of ED (i.e., general practitioners, diabetologists, cardiologists, sport physicians, nurses, etc.) have the facilities or competence for the specific assessment of these parameters. In contexts different than Sexual Medicine and Andrology, the assessment of conventional risk factors is certainly more convenient. Metabolic syndrome (MetS) represents a cluster of metabolic derangements easily and commonly evaluated in several different medical contexts. In a population of more than 600 subjects attending the Sexual Medicine and Andrology Unit of the University of Florence for ED, the presence of MetS was associated with an increased incidence of MACE during 4.3 years of follow-up in younger (first tertile of age: 18–52 years) (Figure 3, Panel A and B) but not in middle aged and older men (second and third tertiles of age: 53–60 and 61–88 years, respectively) (Figure 3, Panel B). Similar to MetS, the algorithms for estimating the risk of developing MACE are easily computed and they take into account factors largely available in a clinical setting. In Europe, the most commonly used algorithm is the SCORE, which takes into account age, smoking habits, systolic blood pressure and total cholesterol (26). These parameters are introduced in a calculation tool that returns the 10-year risk of developing the first MACE. The same estimated risk rate can obviously be derived from different combinations and extent of the single risk factors and, as aforementioned, age has a heavy weight in the amount of risk, even when the other parameters are normal. For overcoming this overestimation, the concept of vascular age, based on the predicted CV risk, has been introduced. Vascular age of a subjects with a specific CV risk profile corresponds to the chronological age of a subjects who has the same estimated risk but only due to chronological age, because of the absence of the other modifiable risk factors (i.e., a non-smoker, normotensive and normocholesterolemic subject) (39,40). Vascular age carries the advantage of easily and directly communicating the concept of high relative risk to patients, in particular to younger ones, who are by definition at low absolute risk (“Your CV risk is the same of a man that is 15 years older than you”). Based on this interesting and useful concept of vascular age, we recently studied the clinical consequences of having a high discrepancy between the estimated vascular and the actual chronological age in our population of men consulting for ED. In our sample, a greater difference between vascular and chronological age was associated with higher glucose and triglyceride levels as well as with impaired penile colour Doppler ultrasound parameters, suggesting a CV impairment (41). When evaluating the subset of men for whom information on incident MACE during a mean follow-up of 4.3 years was available, a greater difference between vascular and chronological age was associated with the incidence of MACE in younger, but not in older men (42).
Cigarette smoking is a risk factor for ED, according to the 2014 Report of the U.S. Surgeon General. Excess weight can also contribute to erectile dysfunction. A 2004 Italian study found that one-third of their 110 obese study subjects were able to eliminate their erectile dysfunction problems by losing fifteen percent of their weight through diet and exercise.
Since 1998, when sildenafil (brand name Viagra) first came on the market, oral therapy has been successfully used to treat erectile dysfunction in many men with diabetes. (Sildenafil was followed in 2003 by the drugs tadalafil [Cialis], vardenafil [Levitra] and avanafil [Stendra], which work in much the same way.) Some 50% of men with Type 1 diabetes who try the drugs report improved erections, and some 60% men with Type 2 diabetes do, too. However, that leaves a large percentage of men with diabetes and erectile dysfunction who do not respond to therapy with one of these pills. This article takes a look at what can be done to treat those men who do not respond to oral therapy.
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