A man is considered to have erectile dysfunction when he has regular difficulty in getting or maintaining a firm enough erection to be able to achieve sexual penetration, or which interferes with non-penetrative sexual activity.
Communication difficulties and relationship stresses can lead to problems initiating or maintaining an erection.
Most men have occasionally experienced some difficulty with their penis becoming hard or staying firm, but this is not normally cause for a diagnosis of erectile dysfunction. This condition is only considered a concern if satisfactory sexual performance has been impossible on a persistent number of occasions for some time.
Broadly, two forms of erectile dysfunction can affect men’s sex lives – the main cause is either medical or psychosocial.
Here, psychosocial refers to the psychological effects – including the effects of social relationships – on sexual performance. Medical conditions can also affect psychological well being, meaning that, while the primary cause of sexual impotence is typically either medical or psychological, there is often overlap between the two.
Erectile dysfunction used to be known more widely as ‘impotence’ before the causes became better understood and successful treatments came into use. Impotence is a term that is still in use, however, although it can be seen as pejorative.
Fast facts on erectile dysfunction
Here are some key points about erectile dysfunction. More detail and supporting information is in the body of this article.
- Erectile dysfunction is defined as persistent difficulty achieving and maintaining an erection sufficient to have sex.
- Causes are usually medical but can also be psychological.
- Organic causes are usually the result of an underlying medical condition affecting the blood vessels or nerves supplying the penis.
- Numerous prescription drugs, recreational drugs, alcohol and smoking can all cause erectile dysfunction.
- Diagnosis, with the help of a doctor, can identify the likely cause by taking a history, discussing symptoms, performing blood tests to establish the presence of conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, and physical examination.
- Typical first-line treatment of erectile dysfunction involves the use of medications called PDE-5 inhibitors, including the well-known drug sildenafil (Viagra).
- Mechanical devices are also available to help achieve an erection. Patients experiencing occasional erectile dysfunction and who do not respond to medical treatment may be candidates for surgery to fit a penile implant.