Staying hydrated is like changing the oil in your car. You may not give it much thought, but it needs to be done to keep everything running smoothly. Ignore this need long enough, and your body, much like a car, will break down. If dizziness and muscle cramps caused by dehydration aren’t enough to inspire you to fill up that reusable water bottle, maybe this will–dehydration affects your performance in not only the office and the gym, but also the bedroom.
So, can dehydration cause erectile dysfunction? The answer is yes—there’s a connection between erectile dysfunction (ED) and dehydration. ED is a common problem. Globally, up to 76.5% of men experience erectile dysfunction (Kessler, 2019). And while the condition often requires medication like Viagra (see Important Safety Information) or Cialis (see Important Safety Information) to resolve, sometimes simple lifestyle changes like hydration, regular exercise, and tobacco cessation may do the trick.
Continue reading to learn more about the connection between dehydration and ED, and what you can do to achieve a healthy, satisfying sex life for you and your partner(s).
Dehydration and ED
Erections aren’t as simple as you might think. Many different bodily systems are involved in creating and keeping an erection long enough for satisfying intercourse. Hydration affects many of those systems.
Dehydration by just 1–2% affects cognitive ability and memory. Dehydration by 4% decreases performance, and causes headaches, sleepiness, and irritability. It also negatively impacts muscle endurance and strength (Shaheen, 2018). Many of these factors can affect performance in the bedroom, but the most applicable biomarker to an erection is blood volume.
Higher levels of hydration also mean higher blood volume. Higher blood volume facilitates better blood flow throughout your system (and more specifically, to your penis). So it’s no wonder that dehydration and ED are connected. The less blood circulating to your penis, the less oxygen—which is carried by red blood cells throughout your body—it will get. People with ED have lower penile oxygen saturation (Padmanabhan, 2007).
Dropping fluid levels in your body also kick off the release of a hormone called angiotensin, which tightens or constricts blood vessels. This can cause an increase in blood pressure and also hinder blood flow to the penis.
In addition to all of these systems that impact your erections, sexual desire is physiological and emotional. Even mild dehydration may negatively affect mood (Ganio, 2011). Some studies suggest people may experience a decrease in sex drive when feeling sad or depressed (Janssen, 2013). That means if drinking enough water contributes to a better mood, it may contribute to better time in the bedroom, too.
Other causes of ED
Of course, there are other causes of erectile dysfunction. If dehydration is the cause of your ED, the solution is fairly obvious. However, other conditions that affect erectile function require the attention of a medical professional and may require medication. Other causes of erectile dysfunction include:
- Circulation problems (including high blood pressure)
- Conditions that affect muscles and/or nerves such, as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis
- Emotional or mental health problems
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
- Prescription medications
- Substance abuse (including alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs)
- Treatments for prostate cancer or enlarged prostate
Erections are tied to many systems in your body, which is why this list of potential causes of ED is so long. If you experience erectile dysfunction, make an appointment with your healthcare provider–one of these underlying conditions could be at play.
Erectile dysfunction treatment
Erectile dysfunction is an extremely treatable condition. Whether that requires treating an underlying condition, taking medication for erectile dysfunction, the use of tools like penis pumps, or lifestyle changes (like staying hydrated), chances are your healthcare provider can help develop a treatment plan that’s right for you. Some erectile treatment options include the following.
- Sildenafil (brand name Viagra)
- Tadalafil (brand name Cialis)
- Vardenafil (brand name Levitra or Staxyn)
- Avanafil (brand name Stendra)
PDE-5 inhibitors are extremely effective for treating erectile dysfunction, but they aren’t magic pills–for the drugs to work properly, you must be sexually aroused.
Medical devices for ED
If medication isn’t the right option for you, penis pumps and cock rings may help you achieve a firmer, longer lasting erection. Penis pumps work by placing a hollow tube over the penis and applying gentle vacuum pressure, which draws blood into the penis and causes it to become firm. A band, or cock ring, is placed around the base of the penis to temporarily keep the blood inside the penis.
Vitamins and supplements
Vitamins and supplements are not regulated by the FDA, and more research is needed to understand which supplements (if any) are suitable for treating erectile dysfunction. However, some supplements that show promising results include (Srivatsav, 2020):
- Korean red ginseng
- Horny goat weed
- DHEA (El-Sakka, 2018)
- Vitamin D (Crafa, 2020)
- Folic acid (Elshahid, 2020)
You should always consult your healthcare provider before adding any vitamin or supplement into your routine.
The foundations of a generally healthy lifestyle may help prevent erectile dysfunction. Support your sexual health by building healthy habits including regular physical activity, managing stress, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating a heart-healthy diet. Although the old eight glasses of water rule may not be right for everyone, try drinking water throughout the day to maintain proper hydration levels. Regardless of the cause, if you experience ED, don’t hesitate to reach out to a healthcare provider. They’ll help you find a safe and effective treatment that’s right for you.
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.
- Borrelli, F., Colalto, C., Delfino, D. V., et al. (2018). Herbal dietary supplements for erectile dysfunction: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Drugs, 78(6), 643–673. doi:10.1007/s40265-018-0897-3. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29633089/
- Crafa, A., Cannarella, R., Condorelli, R. A., et al. (2020). Is there an association between vitamin d deficiency and erectile dysfunction? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrients, 12(5), 1411. doi:10.3390/nu12051411. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32422943/
- Dhaliwal, A. & Gupta, M. (2022). PDE5 Inhibitor. StatPearls. Retrieved on Jan. 31, 2023 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK549843/.
- El-Sakka, A. I. (2018). Dehydroepiandrosterone and erectile function: a review. The World Journal of Men’s Health, 36(3), 183–191. doi:10.5534/wjmh.180005. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29756417/
- Elshahid, A., Shahein, I. M., Mohammed, Y. F., et al. (2020). Folic acid supplementation improves erectile function in patients with idiopathic vasculogenic erectile dysfunction by lowering peripheral and penile homocysteine plasma levels: a case-control study. Andrology, 8(1), 148–153. doi:10.1111/andr.12672. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31237081/
- Ganio, M. S., Armstrong, L. E., Casa, D. J., et al. (2011). Mild dehydration impairs cognitive performance and mood of men. British Journal of Nutrition, 106(10), 1535–1543. doi: 10.1017/s0007114511002005. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21736786/
- Janssen, E., Macapagal, K. R., & Mustanski, B. (2013). Individual differences in the effects of mood on sexuality: the revised mood and sexuality questionnaire (MSQ-R). Journal of Sex Research, 50(7), 676–687. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2012.684251. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00224499.2012.684251
- Kessler, A., Sollie, S., Challacombe, B., et al. (2019). The global prevalence of erectile dysfunction: a review. BJU International, 124(4), 587–599. doi: 10.1111/bju.14813. Retrieved from https://bjui-journals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/bju.14813
- Long, H., Jiang, J., Xia, J., et al. (2018). Icariin improves SHR erectile function via inhibiting eNOS uncoupling. Andrologia, 50(9), e13084. doi:10.1111/and.13084. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29968380/
- Padmanabhan, P. & Mccullough, A. R. (2007). Penile oxygen saturation in the flaccid and erect penis in men with and without erectile dysfunction. Journal of Andrology, 28(2), 223–228. doi: 10.2164/jandrol.106.001313. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17021333/
- Rosen, R. C., Fisher, W. A., Eardley, I., et al. (2004). The multinational Mens Attitudes to Life Events and Sexuality (MALES) study: I. Prevalence of erectile dysfunction and related health concerns in the general population. Current Medical Research and Opinion, 20(5), 607–617. doi: 10.1185/030079904125003467. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15171225/
- Shaheen, N. A., Alqahtani, A. A., Assiri, H., et al. (2018). Public knowledge of dehydration and fluid intake practices: variation by participants’ characteristics. BMC Public Health, 18(1), 1346. doi: 10.1186/s12889-018-6252-5. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30518346/
- Srivatsav, A., Balasubramanian, A., Pathak, U. I., et al. (2020). Efficacy and safety of common ingredients in aphrodisiacs used for erectile dysfunction: a review. Sexual Medicine Reviews, 8(3), 431–442. doi:10.1016/j.sxmr.2020.01.001. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32139335/
Dr. Chimene Richa is a board-certified Ophthalmologist and Senior Medical Writer/Reviewer at Ro.