Sex and Romance: Erectile Dysfunction

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Timber! “This happens to all 'guys'", she said. Well, statistically, erectile dysfunction is one of the most common sexual dysfunctions affecting men. A Massachusetts study found that approximately 52 percent of men (that's one in two men!) experienced a degree of erectile dysfunction, and this number only increases with age. 

But I'm Young, It Won't Affect Me, Right?

While erectile dysfunction is surely more common in men over the age of 40, a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that around 26 percent of men under the age of 40 were also affected. 

So What Should I Look Out For?

The rare occurrence of difficulty getting an erection is not a cause for concern, nor does it mean you have erectile dysfunction. The Cleveland Clinic defines normal (i.e. not a cause of concern) as having trouble keeping or getting erected for 1 in 5 sexual encounters. However, it does become a cause for concern if you're having trouble getting or keeping an erection every 1 in 2 sexual encounters. 

Fortunately, there’s plenty both of you can do to overcome ED and enjoy better and more intimate sex.

Tweak Your Diet

Eating healthier can significantly reduce the risk factors associated with erectile dysfunction problems, including high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. As with many conditions, when more risk factors are present, they increase the risk of the disease.

The basic advice may be familiar:

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables – 5 to 9 servings a day.
  • Consume less salt by eating less processed food, which is often high in sodium.
  • Eat more fish, poultry, and other sources of lean protein.
  • Cut back on red meat.
  • Choose low-fat or non-fat dairy products.
  • If weight is a problem, gradually trim your portion sizes.
  • Take some supplements that can increase libido.

Making changes in the way you eat isn’t easy, of course. When a couple makes healthy changes together, they improve the chances of success.

Get Active Together

Being overweight can impede a man's ability to perform sexually. Obesity is associated with lower-than-normal testosterone levels in men, which can cause low libido (resulting in a loss of sex drive). A comparative study carried out at Duke University found that obese men were 25 times (2500%) more likely to be dissatisfied in their sexual encounters than men with a healthy BMI. 

One way to improve sexual satisfaction, as well as, lower the chance of erectile dysfunction, is to consume fewer calories by eating less and burning more calories by increasing physical activity. A published study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that overweight, diabetic men who lost 5 to 10 percent of their body weight improved erectile dysfunction and increased their sex drives. 

Often, physical and psychological aspects of sexual dysfunction are correlated. In some cases, erectile dysfunction can lead to anxiety about sexual performance, which can then exacerbate the inability to achieve an erection. Men who suffer from psychological low libido or loss of sex drive should seek counseling from a health expert.

Regular physical activity not only helps maintain a healthy weight but also improves the function of the heart and blood vessels. Some studies have indicated that men who exercise regularly have a reduced risk of erectile dysfunction. Finding activities to do with your partner can help strengthen your relationship and enhance your sense of intimacy, which can significantly improve the sexual experiences you share.

Put Out the Cigarette

Men who smoke are at a greater risk of developing erection problems. Smoking damages the small vessels that deliver blood to the penis. In a 2005 study of 2,115 men, current smokers were 2.5 times more likely to suffer ED than nonsmoking men. Former smokers who had kicked the habit dramatically reduced their risk.

Quitting smoking is never easy. But millions have done it. Support from your spouse or partner improves your odds of success. Your doctor can also help by prescribing nicotine replacement therapies or other treatments and pointing you toward effective smoking cessation programs.

Getting a firm erection is a matter both of mind and body. Even if the problem has physical causes, such as impaired circulation, emotional and psychological worries often make things worse. Stress at work or home can make it difficult to relax and enjoy sex.

Erection problems can make sex itself stressful. To reduce stress, make a list of the main worries in your life right now. Identify those that you can change. Then find ways to ease the unavoidable stresses. Take 10 minutes now and then to sit quietly, relax, and focus on your breathing.

Other effective ways to ease stress include yoga, meditation, physical activities such as walking or swimming, and simply doing things you enjoy, such as listening to music or talking with a friend. Spending quality time with your spouse or partner is another good way to ease stress. One great way to get quality time with one another is to take a vacation together.

Get a Checkup

The first step when you begin to notice persistent problems getting an erection is to get your health check and make an appointment to see your doctor. Erectile dysfunction is a vascular disease (a blood vessel problem) and often is associated with other vascular diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease. Here's some quick science: when you become sexually aroused, the muscles in the penis become relaxed and allow extra blood to flow to the penis. The blood in the penis fills two chambers of spongy erectile tissue (corpora cavernosa); the filling of the corpora cavernosa is the cause of an erection.  

The ability to develop and maintain an erection depends on healthy blood vessels. When arteries become clogged with cholesterol or damaged by high blood pressure, blood flow into the penis can be impaired.

Erectile dysfunction can be caused by a variety of reasons: 

  • Alcohol Use
  • Drug Use
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High Cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Certain Medication (e.g. blood pressure meds)
  • sleeping Issues
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Blocked Blood Vessel

Men over age 55 with erectile dysfunction have a 50% greater risk of developing heart disease than men without erection problems. Younger men with erection problems have an even higher risk of heart disease.


  2. National Kidney and Urological Diseases Clearinghouse: “Erectile Dysfunction."
  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture: “Steps to a Healthier You."
  4. Holden, C. Medical Journal of Australia, June 2010.
  5. Gades, N. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2005.
  6. Brian Zamboni, PhD, clinical psychologist specializing in human sexuality, University of Minnesota.

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