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  • Shawn Kocab

What Is Erectile Dysfunction?

Updated: Sep 13, 2020

Erectile dysfunction is characterized by an inability to sustain an erection long enough for fulfilling sexual intercourse. The condition affects about 30 million men in the United States alone, even though many don't seek professional help out of humiliation.

Erectile dysfunction can be a short-term problem or a recurring long-term condition. You may have ED if:

You've never gotten an erection or are unable to get one completely

You sometimes can't get an erection even when you're sexually excited

You can get an erection, but it doesn't last long enough to fulfill your sexual needs

ED can affect anyone regardless of age or genetic factors. In most cases, it is a symptom of a more serious underlying issue, so seeking medical help is crucial.

What Causes Erectile Dysfunction?

The causes of ED can be classified into physiological, psychological, and behavioral.

Physiological Causes of Erectile Dysfunction

Systemic dysfunctions, i.e., disorders that affect the nervous, endocrine, and vascular system, can contribute to erectile dysfunction. High blood pressure, low nerve sensitivity, and irregular hormones can impact your ability to sustain an erection.

Certain diseases may also play a role in causing ED:


Cardiovascular disease

Chronic kidney disease

Type 2 diabetes

Multiple sclerosis

High blood pressure

Peyronie's disease

Aside from autoimmune/lifestyle diseases, ED can also be the result of trauma to the groin area. For instance:

Bladder surgery can cause ED

Physical injury to the penis, prostate, and bladder can lead to temporary or long-term ED.

Injuries to the musculoskeletal surroundings (spine, pelvis) of the male reproductive system can also cause erectile dysfunction.

Surgical procedures for prostate cancer, including radiation therapy, increase the risk of ED.

It's worth mentioning that having type 2 diabetes makes you twice as likely to develop ED. Diabetes is strongly linked to urological and sexual dysfunctions.

Psychological Causes of Erectile Dysfunction

Psychological factors can induce or exacerbate pre-existing erectile dysfunction. Poor emotional health affects mood, which can impact on hormonal distribution, thus causing ED. Such factors include:

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Low self-esteem

  • Stress

  • Fear of under-performance

Behavioral Causes of ED

Erectile dysfunction can also be a direct result of behavioral or lifestyle factors such as:

  • Smoking

  • Excessive drinking

  • Drug abuse

  • Obesity (or being overweight)

  • Lack of exercise

Other Causes of Erectile Dysfunction


Sometimes ED comes as a side-effect of prescription medication. Many types of medicines are known to affect sex drive. These include:

  • Tranquilizers/prescription sedatives

  • Ulcer medication

  • Blood pressure medication

  • Antidepressants

  • Appetite suppressants

  • Anti-androgens (drugs used to treat prostate cancer)

Does Aging Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

No. Age is not linked to an increased risk of ED whatsoever. However, many age-related diseases can cause ED, which is why the condition is associated with aging.

Fortunately, ED can be treated at any age.

Is Erectile Dysfunction the Same as Impotence?

Yes. Impotence is another term for ED, although it is used sparingly by medical professionals as it has other non-medical meanings.

Who Do I Talk to About ED?

Primary care providers (family doctors, general practitioners, etc.) and specialists like urologists can diagnose and treat erectile dysfunction. You're encouraged to seek medical help for ED as it often indicates a much worse problem.

It's alright to feel a little embarrassed, although there is nothing shameful about erectile dysfunction. It is a condition, like any other, that can affect not just the quality of your sex life, but the quality of life in general. Having a good sex life is part of living a healthy life. Don't hesitate to speak to a professional if ED is getting in the way of yours.

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