While erectile dysfunction (ED) is common, it’s also frequently misunderstood. Perhaps that’s because ED is a subject that is not often talked about—it can be awkward and embarrassing for both and men and women to discuss, even with a healthcare provider. But talking about it, and learning about it, can help men and their partners understand and manage this common condition.
What ED is:
What ED isn’t:
This last point is an important one to remember—there are solutions. The first step to that solution is talking to a healthcare provider to figure out what is causing ED. There are many things that can cause ED:
A healthcare provider can help figure out what is causing ED, and what treatment might be best.
ED isn’t just a man’s problem—his partner is affected as well. ED can cause a man to withdraw from sex and his partner. A female partner may blame herself, thinking that she is no longer desirable. She may also blame her partner and suspect infidelity as the cause behind his ED. A lack of communication can be destructive for couples dealing with ED. For men in relationships dealing with ED, talking with a partner is an essential part of managing the condition.
So how do couples start the conversation about ED?
What to do:
What not to do:
There are a number of options to treat ED, depending on the cause. And since ED can often be the first sign of an underlying medical condition, discovering and treating this may help resolve the issues with ED as well as improve overall health.
This is perhaps the most well known treatment for ED, but not necessarily well understood. ED drugs have helped many men with erection difficulties, but they aren’t magic pills that rev up the sex drive, give men instant “super” erections and make them better lovers. What these prescription drugs do is increase blood flow to the penis—a man still needs to be sexually aroused to achieve an erection. They don’t affect libido or give a man without ED a “better” erection, so they aren’t meant to be used as recreational drugs to improve the sexual experience.
There are several FDA-approved oral treatments for ED, all of which work in largely the same way. These drugs do have side effects and may not work for every man. They are also not recommended for men taking certain medications, including some to treat high blood pressure and chest pain, as the combination of such drugs can be dangerous. A healthcare provider should review all of a man’s medications before deciding whether oral medication is a safe option.
And oral medications—prescribed by a qualified provider—are a safe and effective option. ED drugs and “alternative” treatments sold online with no prescription needed are not.
For some men, a vacuum constriction device may be the best alternative. As the name suggests, the device is used to create a vacuum to stimulate an erection. The penis is placed in to pump (a tube, or cylinder). Air is manually pumped up, stimulating blood flow to the penis, which helps bring on an erection. To maintain the erection, the man will place a ring around the base of the penis. While success rates with this device vary, research showed that more than 90% of men can experience functional erection with a vacuum constriction device with adequate practice. But as with oral medications, this therapy is not right for all men.
Low testosterone is not a common cause of ED, but in these rare cases, testosterone therapy may be recommended. A man with testosterone deficiency will have symptoms other than ED, such as depression, a decreased interested in sex, and difficulty concentrating. Testosterone therapy can be given in different forms—including injections and patches—each of which has advantages and disadvantages. If hormone replacement is recommended by a healthcare provider, he or she will discuss which might be best.
In cases where ED is the result of psychological issues, including anxiety, relationship issues, or stress, counseling with a qualified therapist is an option. Therapy has been shown to be more successful when a man’s partner is involved as well.
Less common options for treatment include penile implants, self-administered penile injections, and transurethral therapy (where a pellet is inserted into the urethra).
In addition to choosing a specific treatment option, there are other things a man can do to address ED. If needed, he can make lifestyle changes, like quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol use, and getting regular exercise. Another essential part of treatment is communication—talking with your partner and improving intimacy are essential.
An erection isn’t necessary for sexual satisfaction (or orgasm, for that matter). When managing ED, remember that there are many ways to please a partner and experience sexual pleasure. This can be an opportunity to expand your sexual boundaries as a couple and explore new practices, positions, and techniques. Keep the focus on pleasure, not an erection.