Failure to achieve an erection is not uncommon for most men and may be considered normal even if it happens as often as 20 percent of the time. There is a wide range of normal when it comes to sexual functioning and sexual relationships. "Generally if a couple feels comfortable with their sex life and they enjoy intimacy together, erectile dysfunction may not be much of an issue. But if erectile dysfunction is causing stress in a relationship, then help is available," says Feloney.
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:
That doesn’t mean you need to cut back completely — most experts say moderation is key. But what's “moderation” exactly? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), moderate drinking is no more than two drinks a day for men (and one drink a day for women). The liver can only break down the amount of alcohol in about one standard-size drink an hour, so regularly drinking more than that means that toxins from alcohol can build up in your body and affect your organs, including those involved in sex.
Given the different questions and response options used here, I’d be cautious about concluding that the NSSHB is necessarily registering a rise in ED among young men compared to the aforementioned US study from the 90s. Given that the NSSHB response options allowed for different degrees of severity, it’s likely that this study is detecting more guys who occasionally have mild erectile issues (issues that may not even be significant enough to prompt distress or clinical attention). Also, the NSSHB was bound to produce different figures given that participants only had to think about the most recent time they had sex, as opposed to recalling all sexual experiences over the last year (indeed, thinking only about a single, recent event could make it easier to remember a mild problem that would otherwise be forgotten). For these reasons, the NSSHB data just aren’t directly comparable to the 90s data.

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.


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.”
All of these medicines work by relaxing smooth muscles and increasing blood flow in the penis during sexual stimulation. You should not take any of these medicines to treat ED if you are taking nitrates to treat a heart condition. Nitrates widen and relax your blood vessels. The combination can lead to a sudden drop in blood pressure, which may cause you to become faint or dizzy, or fall, leading to possible injuries.

Sexual dysfunction was rated for the last one year and temporary or situational complaints were ignored. Data regarding the quantity of alcohol usually consumed per day [in standard drinks; where 1 drink = 30 ml. Spirits = 330 ml. Beer = 1/3 sachet of arrack] and duration of dependence, was extracted from the items corresponding to the section on Mental and Behavioural disorders due to use of alcohol [F10.0] in the SCAN and used in the analyses. However, only the presence or absence of tobacco consumption and not a measure of severity was used for analyses. The ratings were sought after two weeks of inpatient stay after the period of detoxification with benzodiazepines.


Neelima V. Chu, MD, is an endocrinology fellow in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of California, San Diego. Steven V. Edelman, MD, is an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of California, San Diego, and the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the San Diego VA Health Care Systems in San Diego. He is founder and director of Taking Control of Your Diabetes, a nonprofit organization, and an associate editor of Clinical Diabetes.
These findings demonstrate the importance of recognizing a possible organic component of ED even in younger men. In fact, in younger, more than in older men, who are by definition at high CV risk, searching for signs of metabolic or CV disorders can help identify those men who apparently healthy, have subtle and subclinical conditions that can be treated before the damage becomes clinically overt.
Luckily, awareness of ED as a significant and common complication of diabetes has increased in recent years, mainly because of increasing knowledge of male sexual function and the rapidly expanding armamentarium of novel treatments being developed for impotence. Studies of ED suggest that its prevalence in men with diabetes ranges from 35–75% versus 26% in general population. The onset of ED also occurs 10–15 years earlier in men with diabetes than it does in sex-matched counterparts without diabetes.
Erectile dysfunction can occur as a side effect of medication taken for another health condition. Common culprits are high blood pressure meds, antidepressants, some diuretics, beta-blockers, heart medication, cholesterol meds, antipsychotic drugs, hormone drugs, corticosteroids, chemotherapy, and medication for male pattern baldness, among others.
While these are the two most comparable datasets on this subject, there’s a problem with both of these studies, which is that they don’t tell us anything about the severity of the difficulties experienced. Having erectile “difficulty” doesn’t necessarily mean that these guys can’t get an erection at all or that they have problems every time and with every partner. Also, we don’t know whether guys who had very mild problems answered these questions consistently (e.g., if it only happened once or you didn’t think it was a big deal, would you still report it as a problem?).
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.
Control your blood sugar through your diet. Eating a diabetes-friendly diet will help you better control your blood sugar levels and lessen the amount of damage to your blood vessels and nerves. A proper diet geared at keeping your blood sugar levels in check can also improve your energy levels and mood, both of which can help reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction. You may consider working with a dietitian who is also a certified diabetes educator to help adjust your eating style.
3. Are there physical causes of erectile dysfunction? Erectile dysfunction may be a symptom of underlying medical conditions, which if not detected may cause further medical problems. A prior history of cigarette smoking, heart attacks, strokes, and poor circulation in the extremities (for example, intermittent claudication or cramping in your leg[s] when you walk) suggest atherosclerosis as the cause of the erectile dysfunction. Loss of sexual desire and drive, lack of sexual fantasies, gynecomastia (enlargement of breasts), and diminished facial hair suggest low testosterone levels. A prior history of pelvic surgery or radiation and trauma to the penis/pelvis/perineum can cause problems with the nerves and blood vessels. Symptoms of intermittent claudication of the lower extremities with exercise may suggest a vascular problem as a cause of the erectile dysfunction.
"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.
The recommended starting dose of tadalafil for use as needed for most patients is 10 mg taken orally approximately one hour before sexual activity. A doctor may adjust the dose higher to 20 mg or lower to 5 mg depending on efficacy and side effects. Doctors recommended that patients take tadalafil no more frequently than once per day. Some patients can take tadalafil less frequently since the improvement in erectile function may last 36 hours. Patients may take tadalafil with or without food. Tadalafil is currently the only PDE5 inhibitor that is FDA-approved for daily use for erectile dysfunction and is available in 2.5 mg or 5 mg dosages for daily use.
Anxiety, stress, and depression can lead to ED. In a small study, 31 men newly diagnosed with ED either took tadalafil (Cialis) only, or took tadalafil while also following an eight-week stress management program. At the end of the study, the group who participated in the stress management program saw more improvement in erectile function than the group who took only tadalafil.
If you are experiencing ED, you should talk with your doctor about your potential risk for cardiovascular disease. And if you’re already taking certain medications such as nitrites for your heart or alpha-blockers to manage blood pressure, your doctor will discuss whether ED medications are right for you or whether other options may be more appropriate.
ED is common and has a significant impact on men and their partners. The first step is acknowledging that ED is affecting you and that it bothers you. If so, then it is time to get help. Often your primary care health provider can start the evaluation of your ED to determine if there are any potential reversible causes. It is important to be evaluated if you have ED as ED is often caused by medical conditions, which if not recognized and treated, could cause you harm. Did you know that the ED is a strong predictor of underlying cardiovascular disease? If you have underlying cardiovascular disease, your primary health care provider or a specialist (if needed) needs to make sure it is safe for you to participate in sexual activity.
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 common PDE5 inhibitor drugs approved in the United States are sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra and Staxyn, the generic form), tadalafil (Cialis), or avanafil (Stendra). All of the currently approved PDE5 inhibitors work in the same way. They differ in the number of available doses, how quickly they work and last in your system, the dosing, and to some extent in the side effects. However, they generally share the same indications and contraindications. Currently, tadalafil is the only medication that patients can take on a daily basis and is approved for the treatment of both ED and BPH (benign enlargement of the prostate).
Association between severity of erectile dysfunction and SIEDY Scale 1, Scale 2 and Scale 3 (organic, relational and intrapsychic pathogenetic components of erectile dysfunction, respectively). Data are derived from a population of 1,873 men aged 18–44 years, representing the first tertile of age in a population of patients consulting the Sexual Medicine and Andrology Unit of the University of Florence for erectile dysfunction. Data are adjusted for age, smoking habits, alcohol intake and education. Erectile dysfunction is defined according to a previously validated definition (21) using the sum of the scores obtained from question 1A (Do you have full erection sufficient for penetration? Rating 0= always, 1= often, 2= quite often and 3= sometimes) and question 2 (Does it occur to have a normal erection which you are not able to maintain? Rating 0= sometimes, 1= quite often, 2= often, and 3= always) of SIEDY, which reproduce the definition of erectile dysfunction as “The persistent inability to achieve and/or maintain an erection adequate for satisfactory sexual activity” (1). SIEDY, Structured Interview on Erectile Dysfunction.
These findings demonstrate the importance of recognizing a possible organic component of ED even in younger men. In fact, in younger, more than in older men, who are by definition at high CV risk, searching for signs of metabolic or CV disorders can help identify those men who apparently healthy, have subtle and subclinical conditions that can be treated before the damage becomes clinically overt.
Few men want to talk about their inability to get or maintain an erection, however, erectile dysfunction can have a profound impact on relationships and self-esteem. Fortunately, trouble in the bedroom doesn't necessarily mean you're dealing with erectile dysfunction. Most men will have problems with an erection at some point in their sexual history. But one bad day in the bedroom doesn't mean major sexual health problems. So how can you know if you're dealing with erectile dysfunction?
The contents of your medicine cabinet could affect your performance in the bedroom. A long list of common drugs can cause ED, including certain blood pressure drugs, pain medications, and antidepressants. But do not stop taking any medicines without talking to your doctor first. Street drugs like amphetamines, cocaine, and marijuana can cause sexual problems in men, too.

We are writing this commentary to provide urologists with additional information regarding ED in young men and to open the discussion for new approaches to treatment of ED in young men. Hypertonic cavernous smooth muscle is an organic etiology of erectile dysfunction and should be considered in the differential diagnosis for these young men. Developing a system to explain the pathophysiologic mechanism of the dysfunction may make it easier to effectively treat these complex patients.
Because blood vessel problems are the leading cause of erectile dysfunction, erections have been described as a useful barometer for a man’s overall health. The American Heart Association urges that physicians screen for cardiovascular risks in patients who have erectile dysfunction, even if no other risk factors are present; the onset of ED can precede cardiac events by two to five years.

Drinking in moderation can be beneficial to your heart health, and therefore your sex life. A 2004 study published in the journal Seminars in Vascular Medicine found moderate alcohol consumption was associated with decreased cardiovascular mortality due to the antioxidant capacities of alcoholic beverages. The polyphenolic compounds — a group of compounds that include tannins and anthocyanins — were shown to change the lipid profiles, decrease coagulation, increase fibrinolysis, inhibition of platelets, and increase nitric oxide. This is vital since vascular diseases (those that affect the blood vessels) commonly cause erectile dysfunction.
ED is common among patients with cardiovascular diseases (CVD). Sexual problems usually precede the onset of CVD, and should, therefore, be considered as a risk factor for cardiac events. Similarly, patients with preexisting CVD are at increased risk of experiencing ED. Therefore, ED and CVD might be considered as two different clinical manifestations of the same systemic disease.19
Another common reason for failures of oral therapy is the absence of sexual or genital stimulation prior to attempting sexual intercourse. These medicines facilitate an erection by increasing blood flow to the penis, but they do not act as an aphrodisiac or as an initiator of the erection. A man who is not “in the mood” or does not have adequate physical stimulation will not respond with an erection.
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