It's not one size fits all.
When you hear the term “erectile dysfunction,” you probably have a pretty good idea of what that means. But ED isn’t just about not being able to get an erection - there are several different forms that ED can take.
Different types of ED
The blanket term “erectile dysfunction” is used to describe any of the following symptoms:
- Not getting an erection.
- Not being able to maintain an erection for the completion of sex.
- Getting an erection that is too soft for sex.
- Premature ejaculation (this is usually defined as a separate condition but can be linked).
- Not being able to ejaculate.
Because each of these symptoms has a different root cause (or set of causes), the treatment options will vary. Let’s take a more in-depth look at each of them.
Not Getting an Erection
If the problem is a lack of an erection, you’re experiencing reduced and/or restricted blood flow to your penis. This can be caused by a host of physical ailments, including:
- Heart disease
- Clogged blood vessels (atherosclerosis)
- High cholesterol or high blood pressure
- Treatments for prostate cancer or enlarged prostate
- Certain prescription medications, such as antidepressants, antihistamines, and blood pressure pills
- Sleep disorders
- Surgery or injury to the pelvic area or spinal cord
Lifestyle factors, such as the following, can also contribute:
- Use of alcohol
- Use of drugs
- Lack of exercise
Since sexual arousal has as much to do with the mind as it does with the body, psychological factors can also play a role in hampering your arousal. Stress, anxiety, depression, and mixed feelings about the time, place, or your partner—all of these things can contribute to ED.
Not Staying Erect
Much like with the inability to get an erection, a problem staying erect means the blood isn’t flowing to your penis the way it needs to for you to continue having sex and achieve orgasm. The same causes apply, too.
Too Soft for Sex
The problem might be that you do get an erection, but it’s not hard enough for penetrative sex. As with not getting an erection at all or not being able to stay erect, this means that not enough blood is flowing to your penis, which can be caused by a variety of physical issues, as well as by (or in combination with) psychological factors.
If you’re ejaculating before or very quickly after (say, a minute or so) penetration, you’re suffering from premature ejaculation.
What causes it? Doctors aren’t 100 percent sure, but studies show that men with low levels of the chemical serotonin tend to ejaculate more quickly. Psychological issues such as stress, depression, performance anxiety, guilt, relationship problems, and a worry about maintaining an erection (and therefore rushing to finish) may factor in.
Inability to Ejaculate
The inability to ejaculate, also known as anejaculation, is typically caused by surgery or injury to the prostate, penis or spinal cord; psychological disorders; or drugs used to treat those mental disorders.
Aanejaculation can actually occur with or without an orgasm.
Treating Your ED
While ED is not usually dangerous on its own, it can be an indicator of a more serious health condition, like heart disease. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor about it sooner rather than later, so they can rule out any underlying physical issues that might be at play.
As part of your discussions with your healthcare provider, be sure to check in with them about your mental and emotional health too. While it might seem unrelated, the mind and body work in tandem to cause arousal, so even something like increased stress at work can be a common cause or contributing factor to ED.
Still Not Convinced?
If you’re hesitant to go to the doctor, remember that you’re not alone, and you're not the first person that your doctor has talked to about it. More than 50 percent of men between the ages of 40 and 70 have experienced erectile dysfunction (ED) at some point in their lives, with one study finding that 17 percent of men between 18 and 55 experience occasional ED. In fact, up to 20 million Americans are dealing with it any time. So if ED is affecting you, what are you waiting for? Go talk to your doctor today!