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Erectile dysfunction happens when you can’t get an erection that’s sufficient for satisfying sex. That can include erections that aren’t as firm or don’t last as long as you like.
Experiencing erectile dysfunction (ED) can be traumatic, but it’s the most common sexual dysfunction there is: some experts estimate that up to 30 million American men have experienced it. ED can have several potential triggers––some physical, some psychological. One of those psychological causes is stress.
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How can stress cause ED?
Stress can cause a ton of physical symptoms including headaches, stomach trouble, and depression (to name a few). Chronic stress can even weaken your heart and immune system. It’s no surprise, then, that stress can affect the quality of your erections.
Erections involve blood flowing into the penis in response to signals from the brain. But stress can interrupt the signals between brain and body. You might be psychologically aroused, but for one reason or another, your brain isn’t getting the message to produce an erection.
If you’ve heard that a lot about sex is “all in your head,” it’s not just a saying. Here are different types of stress that can contribute to ED:
- Psychological stress: This is usually experienced by younger men and includes performance anxiety, self-esteem issues, or sexual trauma.
- Professional stress: This often contributes to ED in middle-aged men.
- Certain life events: Major life happenings, such as a change in health, being fired from a job, financial troubles, and relationship problems can contribute to ED at any age.
Anxiety and depression can cause erection problems on their own, and guys who are anxious or depressed often compound these issues with unhealthy coping mechanisms that can make ED worse. These include using tobacco products, drinking too much alcohol, not getting enough physical activity, and using recreational drugs.
How to treat stress-related ED
If you’re experiencing ED and suspect it might be stress-related, talk with a healthcare provider and speak honestly about your health and lifestyle. They’ll be able to advise you on whether stress might be playing a role in your ED.
It’s important to talk with a healthcare provider at the first sign of ED because the condition can be an early sign of physical health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes.
The good news is if stress is the main contributor to your ED, there are a number of strategies you can take to reduce it.
If you’re stressed, you might want to explore talk therapy. This could be personal counseling, sex therapy, couples counseling––the options for talk therapy are almost endless.
Therapy can help teach you alternative, healthy ways to deal with stress and work on resolving any relationship issues that might be affecting your sex life. The advent of telemedicine and online therapy has made this easier than ever.
Regular exercise is a great way to relieve stress and improve cardiovascular health, which can only benefit your sexual function. You might also want to try other healthy practices like yoga, meditation or mindfulness, and acupuncture.
Your erections will be best when your physical health is good. Making simple lifestyle changes, such as exercising, eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking, and limiting your alcohol consumption, might be enough to improve ED.
Other treatment options for ED
If stress reduction isn’t enough to resolve your ED, you still have several options.
Oral medications: ED medications are considered safe and effective. Several are available including sildenafil (brand name Viagra; see Important Safety Information), tadalafil (brand name Cialis; see Important Safety Information), and vardenafil (brand names Levitra and Staxyn).
Low testosterone: If low T is responsible for your ED, testosterone replacement therapy is available. This can boost your testosterone levels by an injection, a wearable patch, or gel applied to the skin.
Natural remedies: Some men have found for ED to be effective. Some studies have shown that certain supplements (such as DHEA, ginseng, L-arginine, L-carnitine, and yohimbe) may be helpful.
If you’re experiencing ED, don’t delay in talking with a healthcare provider. They’ll help you find a solution that’s right for you and help resolve other health problems before they become bigger than they need to be.
Dr. Mike is a licensed physician and the Director, Medical Content & Education at Ro.