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If you’ve ever had difficulty getting an erection, you might have wondered if this is a sign of erectile dysfunction (ED). But the inability to get an erection isn’t the only symptom of ED. Other common symptoms of erectile dysfunction include erections that are too soft or don’t last long enough for satisfying sex.
First, it’s important to know that one bad day (or night) doesn’t mean you have ED. But it may be worth keeping an eye out for some of the most common ED symptoms, including having a hard time getting or staying aroused, so you can tell your healthcare provider just how often you experience difficulties in the bedroom.
Let’s learn more about ED and the symptoms of erectile dysfunction.
Symptoms of erectile dysfunction
Like everything else in your body, erections change as you age. Maybe your erections aren’t as strong or frequent as they used to be. Or you might notice that your erections are softer or don’t last as long. Erectile dysfunction symptoms vary depending on your health, age, sexual activity, lifestyle, and habits. So, are these changes part of the standard aging process, or are they related to ED? The three most common erectile dysfunction symptoms are (Sooriyamoorthy, 2022):
- Difficulty getting an erection
- Softer erections
- Erections that don’t last long enough for satisfying sex
Some experts suggest that you should experience at least one of these symptoms for six months or longer before a healthcare provider can diagnose you with ED (Sooriyamoorthy, 2022).
Symptoms can also vary depending on the underlying cause of your ED. If psychological factors like stress are the cause, your symptoms may start suddenly. If erectile dysfunction is caused by an underlying physical condition affecting penile blood flow, like heart disease or diabetes, the symptoms often occur more gradually (Yafi, 2016).
Most people who experience ED have an underlying physical condition. But some men, especially those who are younger, may experience erectile dysfunction due to psychological causes like stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, or depression (Sooriyamoorthy, 2022).
What is ED, and what is it not?
It’s normal to have times when sex isn’t the most important thing on your mind. Stress, financial worries, disruptions to your routine, illness, or relationship problems can decrease desire and affect erectile function.
But ED is more than just not being in the mood or not having an erection. People can get an erection and still suffer from erectile dysfunction. ED is more about the inability to get and maintain an erection strong enough to have a satisfactory sex life (satisfactory being the key word) (Sooriyamoorthy, 2022).
Erectile dysfunction is complex, and while this list of symptoms is pretty short, you may experience additional symptoms like the loss of morning wood. Some sexual disorders that are related to erectile dysfunction include:
- Inability to orgasm (anorgasmia)
- Premature ejaculation
- Delayed ejaculation
Causes of erectile dysfunction
When you or your partner(s) notice a change in your erections, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider to discover the underlying cause. Erectile dysfunction is sometimes an early warning sign of a serious health condition like heart disease (Yafi, 2016).
Many medical conditions are risk factors for ED, including:
- Cardiovascular diseases like high blood pressure
- Low testosterone levels
- High cholesterol
- Prostate cancer (including treatments like chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation therapy)
- Peyronie’s disease (a build-up of scar tissue that causes the penis to become curved and painful)
- Spinal cord injury
ED may even be a side effect of medications you’re taking, like opiates, antidepressants, or blood pressure medication. Don’t assume it’ll just pass, especially if your ED symptoms worsen over time (Yafi, 2016).
Erectile dysfunction treatment
If you’re looking for an erectile dysfunction treatment, you have several options to relieve your symptoms. Oral medications called PDE-5 inhibitors are highly effective at restoring sexual function and decreasing the frequency of ED symptoms. After taking them, up to 65% of men report satisfactory sexual intercourse (McMahon, 2019). Several are available, including sildenafil (brand name Viagra; see Important Safety Information), tadalafil (brand name Cialis; see Important Safety Information), and vardenafil (brand name Levitra).
Medications may not be suitable for everyone. But there are non-drug options for ED too. You can use devices like penis pumps before sexual activity to help you get an erection and cock rings to maintain a firmer erection. Surgical procedures such as penile implants offer another option.
Aside from medications or devices, treating any underlying physical causes and making specific lifestyle changes can help you ward off the symptoms of ED. Engaging in regular exercise, stopping tobacco and drug use, limiting your alcohol intake, lowering your stress levels, and taking care of your mental health may improve your sexual function (Maiorino, 2015).
If you experience symptoms of erectile dysfunction, you’re not alone. Reach out to a healthcare provider who can work with you to develop a treatment plan that suits your needs.
- Maiorino, M., Bellastella, G., & Esposito, K. (2015). Lifestyle modifications and erectile dysfunction: what can be expected? Asian Journal of Andrology, 17(1), 5–10. doi:10.4103/1008-682X.137687. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25248655/
- McMahon, C. (2019). Current diagnosis and management of erectile dysfunction. The Medical Journal of Australia, 210(10), 469–476. doi:10.5694/mja2.50167. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31099420/
- Sooriyamoorthy, T. & Leslie, S. (2022). Erectile dysfunction. StatPearls. Retrieved on Aug. 29, 2022 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32965924/
- Yafi, F., Jenkins, L., Albersen, M., et al. (2016). Erectile dysfunction. Nature Reviews. Disease Primers, 2, 16003. doi:10.1038/nrdp.2016.3. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27188339/
Dr. Chimene Richa is a board-certified Ophthalmologist and Senior Medical Writer/Reviewer at Ro.