Temporary erectile dysfunction: what is it?

Reviewed by Chimene Richa, MD, 

Written by Rachel Honeyman 

Reviewed by Chimene Richa, MD, 

Written by Rachel Honeyman 

last updated: Mar 20, 2023

6 min read

You’ve never had issues maintaining a strong erection before, but you’re now experiencing what over 50% of men between 40 and 70 regularly go through: erectile dysfunction.

These issues may be common, but that doesn’t make them any less distressing. The first couple of times you have trouble keeping an erection long enough for satisfying sex, you might panic internally and wonder if these erectile problems are here to stay. In some cases, you might be experiencing temporary erectile dysfunction, usually caused by specific situations or medications.

We’ll explore temporary erectile dysfunction in this article, but rest assured, even if your erectile dysfunction isn’t temporary, there are effective treatments that can help. 

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What is temporary erectile dysfunction?

Temporary erectile dysfunction (ED) isn’t an official medical diagnosis; it’s a general term referring to ED that starts for a short period, then goes away. 

Some researchers say a person shouldn’t get a diagnosis of erectile dysfunction unless they’ve had symptoms for at least 6 months. By that definition, you could say temporary ED is when symptoms improve within 6 months. 

Typically, cases like these come from a medication or medical condition that causes ED until you stop the medication or treat the medical condition. It can also happen when a particular situation causes ED to occur, often because of anxiety related to the situation. When that circumstance resolves, or the anxiety related to it subsides, you’ll often regain normal sexual function. 

Even if you think you know what might be causing your erectile dysfunction, it’s important to speak with a healthcare provider about what’s going on if you’re noticing more issues with maintaining an erection than you used to. They can investigate the cause, treat any underlying issues, and they can prescribe medications like Viagra (sildenafil) or Cialis (tadalafil) to help you regain function—whether or not your ED is temporary. 

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Symptoms of temporary erectile dysfunction 

Erectile dysfunction is defined as

  • Not being able to get an erection when you want to (or when it’s expected—like when you’re sleeping or when you wake up in the morning)

  • Losing erections more quickly than you or your partner would like for satisfying sex 

These symptoms are the same whether you’ve been struggling with ED for a while (say, longer than 6 months), or if it’s a new issue you have good reason to believe is temporary. 

It’s important to understand that, while there’s a physiological side of things—for instance, if you’re not getting erections when you wake up in the morning—there’s also a subjective side of things. The researchers don’t define how quickly you need to lose your erection to be classified as having ED; it’s up to you and your partner to decide if you’re maintaining an erection long enough for sex to be satisfying for both of you. That amount of time is going to be different for every person, but your subjective experience of your sexual activity is extremely important in diagnosing and treating ED. 

Causes of erectile dysfunction 

There isn’t a single cause of ED. Many risk factors could be at play, and it often comes from multiple causes at once. 

Some possible underlying causes include medical conditions, such as (Sooriyamoorthy, 2022): 

ED can also be a side effect of certain medications, or can come from physical trauma to the pelvis or spinal cord, or from certain surgeries. 

The full list of possible causes of erectile dysfunction is quite long, but this abbreviated list should already give you a good picture that this condition is complex and can come from a lot of different places. Let’s look more specifically at possible causes for temporary ED and situational ED.  

Temporary erectile dysfunction 

There are several possible causes for temporary ED, namely: 

  • Specific medications that can trigger ED, which will go away when you stop the medication

  • Certain medical conditions that can cause ED until they’re treated

The most common medications that can lead to ED are SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, the most common class of antidepressants), antipsychotic medications, some blood pressure medications, and opioids. If you experience ED with any of these medications, don’t stop the medication without your provider’s medical advice. Instead, speak with your healthcare provider about the possibility of switching to a different medication to treat your condition. 

For some men, low testosterone may contribute to ED, but treating low T can be complicated in men trying to conceive. This is because testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) lowers sperm production. Some men use a drug called Clomid instead, which can raise testosterone levels without affecting sperm production. Others may wait to start TRT until they have finished building their family. Either way, ED from this cause is typically temporary, until the underlying condition has been resolved. 

Other medical conditions, like atherosclerosis and hypertension, can also lead to ED, and it’s possible that treating those underlying conditions could resolve the blood flow issues leading to erectile problems. Often, though, once those health conditions have progressed to the point where they’re affecting your ability to get and maintain erections, you probably won’t be able to fully resolve the issue. Luckily, there are many effective treatments for ED in those cases.

Situational erectile dysfunction 

A common cause of erectile dysfunction is sexual performance anxiety, where someone can experience so much anxiety around their ability to perform that it causes them to lose their erection (or be unable to get one in the first place). Sometimes, this can happen after a person has had a couple of experiences of erectile trouble, and it can create a bad cycle where trouble getting an erection leads to performance anxiety, which then leads to ongoing erectile dysfunction. 

In some cases, a person may experience ED at the start of a new relationship, where the pressure to perform may feel more intense, causing sexual performance anxiety. This is usually temporary and can improve as a person gets more comfortable in the relationship. 

Another situation that can bring on ED temporarily is excessive alcohol consumption. While you might think alcohol can get you in the mood, many men find it causes them to lose their erection quickly or to experience premature ejaculation.

Treatment for temporary erectile dysfunction 

The treatments for temporary ED are mostly the same as those for ongoing ED. There are several effective medication options, lifestyle factors that can help, and in some cases, therapy may be recommended. 

Where treatment differs for temporary erectile dysfunction vs. long-term ED is when it comes to more invasive options, like surgical procedures (penile implants) or penile injections. Those are usually a last resort, so they likely wouldn’t be recommended if your ED has only been going on for a short period of time. 

Medication treatments for erectile dysfunction 

Whether you have temporary or long-term ED, your healthcare provider will most likely recommend starting your erectile dysfunction treatment with a type of drug called a PDE-5 inhibitor.

These oral medications work by inhibiting an enzyme called phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE-5), which causes a cascade of effects that ultimately open up the blood vessels and help more blood flow into the penis. Since blood flow to the penis is an essential part of how erections work, these drugs make it possible for most people to get an erection when sexually stimulated. 

The most common PDE-5 inhibitors include: 

These medications all have different dosages, and last for different amounts of time in the body. They can all be taken on an as-needed basis, generally within a couple of hours of when you plan to have sexual intercourse. They do not cause you to have an instant erection; rather, they set the stage so you’re able to get an erection if you want to, with sexual stimulation.

Ro offers visits with licensed healthcare providers and discrete delivery of medications straight to your door, if prescribed. 

Lifestyle changes to treat erectile dysfunction 

Erections are surprisingly complex, and many things need to be working properly for them to happen as they should. 

One of the keys to a healthy erection is proper blood flow to the penis, which requires good blood flow throughout the body. So, that means if your overall health isn’t great, you’re more likely to experience erection problems. That’s why conditions like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes can contribute to ED, since these conditions all affect blood flow. 

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a balanced, healthy diet and regular exercise is important for your overall health, and that extends to your erectile function. Whether your ED is new, or you’ve been experiencing it for a while, adopting healthy lifestyle habits is a good idea, along with any medical interventions you decide to make.

Therapy for erectile dysfunction 

When it comes to the role of psychological factors in erectile dysfunction, it’s often a chicken-or-egg situation: Did psychological causes lead to ED, or has ED caused psychological issues to crop up? 

It’s often hard to know which came first, but it doesn’t entirely matter. What’s important is recognizing that conditions like depression and anxiety can contribute to ED, but having ED can take a huge toll on a person’s mental health and self-esteem, and can often lead to depression or anxiety over time. 

Psychotherapy can be very helpful in managing the psychological aspect of ED. Some researchers have found that people with ED get better results from sildenafil (aka generic Viagra) and other ED treatments when taken in conjunction with psychotherapy.

One promising new approach to psychotherapy for ED is called cognitive behavioral sex therapy, based on the principles of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). It’s in the early stages of development but may offer added help for managing erectile dysfunction or other sexual dysfunction.

If you’re experiencing difficulty getting or maintaining an erection, don’t hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider. Regardless of how long this issue has been going on, even if it’s new and you think it’s short-term, there are many treatment options that can help. You deserve a satisfying sex life, and your healthcare provider can help you find the right path to get there.

DISCLAIMER

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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  • Berger, M. H., Messore, M., Pastuszak, A. W., & Ramasamy, R. (2016). Association between infertility and sexual dysfunction in men and women. Sexual Medicine Reviews , 4 (4), 353–365. doi:10.1016/j.sxmr.2016.05.002. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27872029/

  • Bilal, A. & Abbasi, N. U. H. (2020). Cognitive behavioral sex therapy: an emerging treatment option for nonorganic erectile dysfunction in young men: a feasibility pilot study. Sexual Medicine , 8 (3), 396–407. doi:10.1016/j.esxm.2020.05.005. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7471093/

  • Dewitte, M., Bettocchi, C., Carvalho, J., et al. (2021). A psychosocial approach to erectile dysfunction: position statements from the European Society of Sexual Medicine (ESSM). Sexual Medicine , 9 (6), 100434. doi:10.1016/j.esxm.2021.100434. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8766276/

  • Landmark, B. F., Almås, E., Brurberg, K. G., et al. (2012). The effects of sexual therapy interventions for sexual problems. Knowledge Centre for the Health Services at The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) , No. 02-2012. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29319959/

  • Melnik, T., Soares, B. G., & Nasello, A. G. (2008). The effectiveness of psychological interventions for the treatment of erectile dysfunction: systematic review and meta-analysis, including comparisons to sildenafil treatment, intracavernosal injection, and vacuum devices. The Journal of Sexual Medicine , 5 (11), 2562–2574. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2008.00872.x. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18564156/

  • Patel, A. S., Leong, J. Y., Ramos, L., & Ramasamy, R. (2019). Testosterone is a contraceptive and should not be used in men who desire fertility. The World Journal of Men's Health, 37 (1), 45–54. doi:10.5534/wjmh.180036. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6305868/

  • Sooriyamoorthy, T. & Leslie, S. W. (2022). Erectile dysfunction. StatPearls . Retrieved on Mar. 12, 2023 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562253/


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

March 20, 2023

Written by

Rachel Honeyman

Fact checked by

Chimene Richa, MD


About the medical reviewer

Dr. Richa is a board-certified Ophthalmologist and medical writer for Ro.

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