How to get harder erections with or without medication

Felix Gussone, MD - Contributor Avatar

Reviewed by Felix Gussone, MD, Ro, 

Written by Michael Martin 

Felix Gussone, MD - Contributor Avatar

Reviewed by Felix Gussone, MD, Ro, 

Written by Michael Martin 

last updated: Apr 24, 2023

5 min read

Erections often seem to happen automatically, but the process of getting one is actually quite complex. To understand how erections work, it’s important to look beyond the penis. Erections involve your head, heart, blood vessels, nerves, hormones, and even your mood—so with that many factors at play, it’s not surprising that sometimes erections aren’t as hard or strong as you want. But nonetheless, it can be stressful when you can't—well—get a boner.

Blood flow (circulation) plays a key role in getting an erection. More specifically, blood must flow to the corpora cavernosa, two tubes of spongy tissue running down either side of the penis. Many well-known medications for ED (erectile dysfunction), like Viagra and Cialis, work by increasing blood flow to the penis. 

But there are also things you can do to get harder erections that don’t involve medications. 

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How to increase blood flow to the penis naturally: 6 strategies

Some simple lifestyle changes can improve your overall health and circulation, which can help you get stronger, harder erections. These natural methods of fighting ED (those with scientific backing) have the same end result: more blood flow to the penis.

These include: 

1. Exercise

Exercise is one of the best ways to strengthen erections. Regular exercise, especially moderate aerobic physical activity, improves blood pressure, blood flow, and hormone levels, and raises chemicals like nitric oxide that increase penile blood flow. As a bonus, physical activity can also boost stamina, strength, and flexibility. 

There are also specific exercises for better erections. These so-called Kegel exercises may help strengthen specific pelvic muscles  which are active when you get an erection. One study of men with ED found that those who performed Kegel exercises regularly over six months saw more improvement in symptoms than those who did not.

2. Eat a healthy diet

If you’re looking for natural viagra alternatives—ED remedies that don’t involve prescription medications—it may be a good idea to start thinking about diet. Several studies have linked a nutritious, balanced diet to better erectile function. A healthy diet also helps reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity, all risk factors for ED. The goal is to increase your fruits, veggies, and whole grains and reduce your intake of processed foods, sugars, and red meat

Some studies found that certain foods may even help improve circulation. Here are some foods that help with erections

It also helps if you avoid large meals before having sex. Eating a big meal diverts blood away from your penis toward your digestive system. 

3. Get enough sleep

Studies suggest that sleep deprivation and sleep apnea may lower testosterone levels and contribute to ED, especially if you get less than six hours of sleep a night. Lack of sleep also increases your likelihood of developing obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease—all of which affect blood flow and increase the risk of ED. If you’re looking into ways to naturally increase testosterone, getting enough sleep every night is one of the best things you can do for your sexual and general health.

If you’re diagnosed with low T and lifestyle changes don’t help, there are also medications that increase testosterone. Talk to your healthcare provider to find out if these medications may be right for you. 

4. Minimize stress

Anxiety and stress trigger your body to release a chemical called epinephrine. Epinephrine increases blood flow to areas like the heart and brain, but diverts it away from areas like the penis, making it tougher to get an erection. 

So much of sexual performance is mental, and stress and anxiety can also take your head out of the game and affect sexual function, resulting in less-than-stellar erections. It can also lead to a vicious cycle of stress causing ED, leading to more stress and performance anxiety, leading to worsening ED, and so on. Stress management techniques may improve your erections and your overall sex life. You can reduce stress through exercise, meditation, or mindfulness practices.

5. Consider herbal supplements

There are some supplements and vitamins for erectile support. For example, studies have found that horny goat weed can reduce blood pressure and improve blood flow by blocking the same chemicals in your body as drugs like Viagra. Other supplements purported to improve erectile function include DHEA, ginseng, L-arginine, and yohimbe, though not all experts agree on their effectiveness. 

It’s important to remember that herbal supplements may interact with other medications, so it’s good to speak to a healthcare provider if you have questions about mixing them with your medications. And remember that the FDA does not regulate herbal supplements, so be sure to get yours from a trusted source.

6. Quit smoking and reduce alcohol intake

You are more likely to have erectile dysfunction if you smoke cigarettes. Smoking damages your blood vessels, which decreases blood flow to the penis. The good news is that quitting smoking can improve your erections (and your overall health).

Small to moderate amounts of alcohol may facilitate sexual activity by giving you a euphoric feeling or “buzz.” But in larger quantities, it can decrease your ability to have a satisfying erection. If you want to understand how alcohol affects erections and leads to a phenomenon called “whiskey dick”, we have to take a look at what alcohol is doing to the brain. Alcohol acts as a depressant on the central nervous system (CNS)—meaning, it has a sedating effect on the brain and body and slows down the messages between the brain and the rest of your body (including your penis). When the brain sends messages to the penis during sexual arousal, telling it to become erect, alcohol slows the signals between the brain and body, resulting in ED. In the long run, excessive alcohol consumption can cause liver damage, high blood pressure, and damage to blood vessels. 

Medications for stronger erections

There’s no shortage of medications to treat erectile dysfunction and improve erectile function. 

Oral ED medications are often highly effective. The most common treatments are a type of drug called PDE5 inhibitors (phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitors), which work by causing the penile blood vessels to relax, which increases blood to flow into the penis and strengthens your erection. 

PDE5 inhibitors include sildenafil (brand name Viagra), tadalafil (brand name Cialis), and vardenafil (brand name Levitra). The best-known drug in this class, Viagra, may have benefits outside of treating EDstudies show that participants who took Viagra experienced higher confidence, self-esteem, and sexual satisfaction than those who took a placebo

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When to get help

If you’ve tried these strategies and you’re not getting satisfying erections, speak with your healthcare provider about other causes of ED. ED, an inability to get or keep an erection for satisfying sex, is common and occurs in up to 30 million men in the US. It can affect your sexual desire in addition to your sexual function.  

If you’re trying to boost your erectile health, there are both medical and natural strategies you can try. You can continue to try natural strategies even if your provider recommends taking medication—in fact, that’s often encouraged! Improving your overall health and wellness is a great way to support a healthy sex life. 


If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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How we reviewed this article

Every article on Health Guide goes through rigorous fact-checking by our team of medical reviewers. Our reviewers are trained medical professionals who ensure each article contains the most up-to-date information, and that medical details have been correctly interpreted by the writer.

Current version

April 24, 2023

Written by

Michael Martin

Fact checked by

Felix Gussone, MD

About the medical reviewer

Felix Gussone is a physician, health journalist and a Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.

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