Let’s cut to the chase and answer this compelling question right off the bat. No, erectile dysfunction (ED) is not inevitable for all aging men. Phew! But (you knew there would be a but, didn’t you?) it is very common, and is often an indication that there is something else awry with your health. While you might be one of the lucky ones who doesn’t experience ED regularly, every man and their partner should read up and learn the ins and outs and ups and downs of erectile dysfunction to learn about potential causes and treatments.
There are octogenarians who are sexually robust and, on the flip side, young men in their 20s who experience erectile dysfunction. It’s not just a factor of age, but, alas, age can be a factor for many. Only about 15 percent of men at age 70 have complete erectile dysfunction. However, the more common mild or moderate ED affects about 10 percent of men per decade of life, so 50 percent of men in their 50s, 60 percent of men in their 60s, 70 percent of men in their 70s and so forth.
Generally speaking, many men experience some sexual decline as they grow older. Symptoms may include:
- Arousal takes longer
- The erection is less full or hard
- It takes longer to reach orgasm
- Orgasms seem less intense
- Recovery after orgasm takes longer (how long it takes before another erection can be achieved).
So what causes ED?
Achieving an erection is a complex process that involves the vascular, endocrine and nervous systems, and, of course, even a man’s emotions come into play.
Experts estimate about 70 percent of ED cases have some sort of physical cause, with another 20 percent an offshoot of stress, anxiety or depression. The remaining 10 percent have no clearly identifiable cause.
Physical causes and risk factors for ED are related to overall health, so if you have other health issues your likelihood of having ED goes up. Conditions that affect blood flow to the penis, its inability to retain blood during erection and its reduced ability to send or receive proper nerve signals are some common physical causes. These conditions include:
- Cardiovascular disorders like high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and blocked arteries
- Diabetes and insulin resistance
- Use of certain prescription drugs, particularly blood pressure and cardiovascular meds, and antidepressants
- Neurological diseases including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis
- Hormone disorders like thyroid disease and hypogonadism
- Enlarged prostate and disorders of the penis, such as Peyronie’s disease
- Pelvic trauma, surgery or radiation therapy
- Spinal cord injuries
Lifestyle choices such as substance abuse, obesity and smoking, can affect erectile function too. Psychological factors like stress and anxiety can also contribute to ED, and like a vicious circle, having ED can contribute to psychological issues. The mental stress can affect a man’s self-confidence an diminish his willingness to be intimate with his partner, which can be damaging to relationships.
What can you do about ED?
There’s no need to be shy about, ashamed of or to suffer with ED, so don’t let it get to the point of damaging your relationship or self esteem. Talk to a doctor or urologist to have a thorough examination to help identify any underlying causes that may be affecting your erectile function.
There is help available. Treatments include:
Oral medication (the little blue pill)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that there are handy prescription drugs for erectile dysfunction these days. The most common ones are Sildenafil (Viagra), Vardenafil HCl (Levitra) and Tadalafil (Cialis). These selective enzyme inhibitors work in about two thirds of men, as they relax the smooth muscles of the penis to allow blood to flow into the erectile tissue. Side effects can include headache, indigestion, nasal congestion and muscle aches. Note, however, there are some men who shouldn’t take these drugs due to certain conditions like high blood pressure or cardiac issues.
Many natural remedies are touted as ED cures, but few have been adequately studied. Some worth trying include fish oil supplements, which can improve blood vessel flow throughout the body, arginine, an amino acid that helps increase circulation, and ginseng, which has some anecdotal evidence as a treatment for impotence.
Healthy behaviors like eating a healthy diet, avoiding alcohol, not smoking, getting plenty of exercise and watching your weight can improve erectile function.
Relaxation techniques like deep breathing and mindful meditation can help relieve the stress which can impede sexual function.
So while ED is not inevitable, it is common enough that you should be prepared for it to happen from time to time as you get older. Luckily there are some treatments that can help, so there’s no need to just accept it as a part of aging or let it impede your sex life.