Erectile dysfunction — often referred to as impotence — is a condition in which a man is unable to get or maintain a full erection. This condition is similar to premature ejaculation in that it can negatively affect both the man and his partner, and can put considerable strain on the relationship.
Erectile dysfunction can often be upsetting to the woman, who may fear that her partner is not excited because he does not find her sexy or attractive enough. The man, meanwhile, worries that he is somehow less of a man and will feel ashamed that he is unable to satisfy his partner.
Erectile dysfunction can also have an added complication, in that it can make it difficult or even impossible for the couple to conceive, which can be emotionally traumatic if the couple is trying to have a baby.
According to the National Institutes of Health, anywhere from 15 to 30 million men in the United States suffer from erectile dysfunction. According to the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, for every 1,000 men in the United States, 7.7 physician office visits were made for ED in 1985. By 1999, that rate had nearly tripled to 22.3.
Causes of Erectile Dysfunction
In trying to determine the possible cause of erectile dysfunction, the first factor a doctor will consider is the man's age. In older men, this problem is most likely brought on by a physical condition. Diseases — such as diabetes, kidney disease, chronic alcoholism, multiple sclerosis, atherosclerosis, vascular disease, and neurological disease — account for about 70 percent of ED cases, according to the National Institutes of Health. Diabetes is a huge risk factor; the NIH says between 35 and 50 percent of men with diabetes experience erectile dysfunction.
Smoking, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle are also believed to increase a man's risk for erectile dysfunction. In addition, many common prescription medications — including antidepressants, diuretics, and drugs used to treat prostate cancer, high blood pressure, and Parkinson's disease — can have a side effect of erectile problems (as well as decreasing sex drive).
However, up to 20 percent of all cases of erectile dysfunction are believed to be linked to a psychological cause — including depression, performance anxiety, stress, and low self-esteem. If the man previously enjoyed a good sex life and only recently started to have erectile problems — especially if he is with a new partner, or he and his partner have been experiencing any problems in their relationship recently — this can point to emotional factors as a probable culprit.
The good news is that erectile dysfunction is treatable in most men. Even better, scientific advancements have paved the way for several new drugs that are very successful in treating this condition. Usually a doctor will begin by pinpointing (and treating, wherever possible) any related medical conditions that could be causing the problem. He may also be able to adjust the patient's medications to alleviate side effects that include erectile dysfunction.
Frequently, the doctor will prescribe a prescription medication such as Viagra, Levitra, or Cialis, all of which have been successful in helping many men enjoy a thriving sex life again. If your doctor prescribes one of these medications for your man, you should make an effort to ensure he does not feel this is a sign of lessened manhood. Stress that this is nothing to be embarrassed about. (If it were, would all those pro athletes and high-profile figures willingly appear in ads for these products?)
Just a few short years ago, most people had never heard of Viagra. Today, it has become a cultural phenomenon, with actors and high-profile men like Hugh Hefner raving about the magical powers of “the little blue pill.” The makers of Viagra claim it can work in as little as fourteen minutes and helps up to 80 percent of men who take it.
As with premature ejaculation, if a psychological cause is suspected, therapy and counseling can make a big difference. Often, there is some underlying emotional or psychological problem. A therapist may also discover that the man has some sort of issue with his partner — some kind of negative feelings, which he may not even be consciously aware of — that is the hidden cause of the problem.