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Last updated: May 12, 2022
6 min read

How to get harder erections with or without medication

chimene richa

Medically Reviewed by Chimene Richa, MD

Written by Michael Martin

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.

Erections often seem to happen automatically, but the process of getting one is actually quite complex. It involves your head, heart, blood vessels, nerves, hormones, and even your mood—so it’s not surprising that sometimes erections aren’t as hard or strong as you want. But there are many things you can do to get harder erections, with or without medications. 

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How to get stronger erections

Blood flow (circulation) plays a key role in getting an erection. The penis needs to be filled with blood to get hard. That’s why many well-known medications for ED (erectile dysfunction), like Viagra and Cialis, work by increasing blood flow to the penis. Natural methods of fighting ED (those with scientific backing) have the same end result: more blood flow to the penis.

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 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 (Duca, 2019). As a bonus, physical activity can also boost stamina, strength, and flexibility. 

2. Eat a healthy 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 (Sooriyamoorthy, 2021). 

Some studies found that certain foods may even help improve circulation, including: 

  • Spicy peppers: Capsaicin, a chemical found in foods like jalapenos and cayenne pepper, can reduce inflammation, improve blood flow, and lower blood pressure (Juturu, 2016).  
  • Onions: Onions contain beneficial antioxidants that can benefit blood flow and overall heart health (Nakayama, 2013). 
  • Cinnamon: Cinnamon can reduce inflammation in your body, lower blood pressure, and improve circulation (Kawatra, 2015). 
  • Garlic: Garlic may lower blood pressure and improve blood flow, even in people with a history of heart disease (Mahdavi-Roshan, 2017). 
  • Fatty fish: Fatty fish like salmon contain nutrients called omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart health, blood flow, and blood pressure (Pearson, 2014). 

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 (Cho, 2019). Life is hectic, but getting enough sleep every night is one of the best things you can do for your health.

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 (Mollaioli, 2020). You can reduce stress through exercise, meditation, or mindfulness practices.

5. Consider herbal supplements

Some dietary supplements and vitamins may help support stronger erections. 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 (Ganapathy, 2020). 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. Reduce alcohol and nicotine 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) (Mollaioli, 2020).

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 (a phenomenon sometimes called “whiskey dick”). Alcohol depresses the central nervous system, slowing down the messages between the brain and the rest of your body (including your penis). In the long run, excessive alcohol consumption can cause liver damage, high blood pressure, and damage to blood vessels (Mollaioli, 2020). 

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; see Important Safety Information), tadalafil (brand name Cialis; see Important Safety Information), and vardenafil (brand name Levitra). The best-known drug in this class, Viagra, may have benefits outside of treating ED—studies show that participants who took Viagra experienced higher confidence, self-esteem, and sexual satisfaction than those who took a placebo (Althof, 2006).    

When to get help

If you’ve tried these strategies and you’re not getting satisfying erections, speak with your healthcare provider. 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 (Nunes, 2012).  

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. 

References

  1. Althof, S. E., O’leary, M. P., Cappelleri, J. C., et al. (2006). Sildenafil citrate improves self-esteem, confidence, and relationships in men with erectile dysfunction: Results from an international, multi-center, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 3(3), 521–529. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2006.00234.x. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16681478/ 
  2. Cho, J. W. & Duffy, J. F. (2019). Sleep, sleep disorders, and sexual dysfunction. The World Journal of Men’s Health, 37(3), 261–275. doi:10.5534/wjmh.180045. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30209897/
  3. Duca, Y., Calogero, A. E., Cannarella, R., et al. (2019). Erectile dysfunction, physical activity and physical exercise: recommendations for clinical practice. Andrologia, 51(5), e13264. doi:10.1111/and.13264. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30873650/
  4. Ganapathy, A. A., Hari Priya, V. M., & Kumaran, A. (2021). Medicinal plants as a potential source of Phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors: A review. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 267: 113536. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2020.113536. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33137431/ 
  5. Juturu, V. (2016). Capsaicinoids modulating cardiometabolic syndrome risk factors: current perspectives. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, 2016, 4986937. doi:10.1155/2016/4986937. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4893589/ 
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  7. Mahdavi-Roshan, M., Mirmiran, P., Arjmand, M., et al. (2017). Effects of garlic on brachial endothelial function and capacity of plasma to mediate cholesterol efflux in patients with coronary artery disease. Anatolian Journal of Cardiology, 18(2), 116–121. doi:10.14744/AnatolJCardiol.2017.7669. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5731260/ 
  8. Mollaioli, D., Ciocca, G., Limoncin, E., et al. (2020). Lifestyles and sexuality in men and women: the gender perspective in sexual medicine. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology: RB&E, 18(1), 10. doi:10.1186/s12958-019-0557-9. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32066450/
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  10. Nunes, K. P., Labazi, H., & Webb, R. C. (2012). New insights into hypertension-associated erectile dysfunction. Current Opinion in Nephrology and Hypertension, 21(2):163–170. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4004343/ 
  11. Pearson, S. J., Johnson, T., & Robins, A. (2014). Fish oil supplementation, resting blood flow and markers of cellular metabolism during incremental exercise. International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research. Internationale Zeitschrift fur Vitamin- und Ernahrungsforschung. Journal International de Vitaminologie et de Nutrition, 84(1-2), 18–26. doi:10.1024/0300-9831/a000189. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25835232/ 
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