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Last updated May 4, 2020. 5 minute read

Dehydration: can it cause erectile dysfunction (ED)?

Higher levels of hydration also mean higher blood volume. This higher blood volume facilitates better blood flow throughout your system: namely, to your penis. The less blood circulating to your penis, the less oxygen—which is carried by red blood cells throughout your body—it will get.

Linnea Zielinski Written by Linnea Zielinski
Reviewed by Dr. Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

Staying hydrated is like changing the oil in your car. You may not give it much thought, but it needs to be done to ensure everything runs smoothly. Ignore this vital task long enough, and your body, much like a car, will break down. You may not be concerned about the potential dizziness and muscle cramps, but dehydration affects your performance in not only the office and the gym but also the bedroom.

That’s right—there’s a connection between ED and dehydration. ED, or erectile dysfunction, is when a person experiences trouble getting or maintaining an erection. Many people think of ED as a chronic problem, and it can be, but it can also be a random or occasional problem. It’s also a relatively common condition. Globally, between 3 and 76.5% of men experience erectile dysfunction, according to a 2019 study, but it’s important to note that this lumps all age groups together (Kessler, 2019). The researchers also found that there’s an increase in the prevalence of ED as we age, and rates of ED are also associated with cardiovascular disease. 

Younger men aren’t immune to the condition, though. Roughly 8% of men 20–29 and 11% of men age 30–39 have erectile dysfunction, according to one study that looked at 27,000 men from eight different countries (Rosen, 2004). But it’s difficult to get a clear sense of the true numbers. Rosen and his fellow researchers found that in men with ED in their study, only 58% had ever sought help from a medical professional for the condition.

Vitals

  • Erectile dysfunction is when a person experiences problems getting or maintaining an erection.
  • ED can be chronic, but it can also happen occasionally or randomly.
  • Dehydration affects how much oxygen is delivered to penile tissue and releases a hormone that restricts blood flow to the penis.
  • But dehydration is just one of several causes of erectile dysfunction.
  • There are prescription medications that can help if ED isn’t caused by an underlying condition.

ED and dehydration

The truth is, erections aren’t as simple as pop culture makes them seem. Many different systems of the body can affect a man’s ability to get and keep an erection long enough to engage in sexual intercourse. Hydration affects many of those systems. Dehydration by just 1–2% affects cognitive ability and memory. Just 4% increases temperature, decreases performance and causes headaches, sleepiness, and irritability. It also negatively impacts muscle endurance and strength (Shaheen, 2018). Many of those could affect performance in the bedroom, but the most applicable biomarker to a boner is blood volume.

Higher levels of hydration also mean higher blood volume. This higher blood volume facilitates better blood flow throughout your system: namely, to your penis. The less blood circulating to your penis, the less oxygen—which is carried by red blood cells throughout your body—it will get. Men with ED have lower penile oxygen saturation (Padmanabhan, 2007). Dropping fluid levels in your body also kick off the release of a hormone called angiotensin, which tightens or constricts blood vessels. This can cause an increase in blood pressure and also hinder blood flow to the penis.

But even accounting for all the different systems that go into an erection, we left something out: sexual desire is physiological and emotional. Even mild dehydration negatively affects mood, and though this effect is more pronounced in women, it also affects men (Ganio, 2011). Another study found that the vast majority of heterosexual and homosexual men (84–91%) report a decrease in sex drive when feeling sad or depressed (Janssen, 2013). Overall, drinking enough water contributes to better health overall, and that’s a good reason to know the signs of dehydration and watch your hydration levels.

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Other causes of ED

Of course, there are other causes of erectile dysfunction. Dehydration is an easy one to solve, but some other conditions that affect erectile function require the attention of a medical professional and, in some cases, may require medication. Other causes of sexual dysfunction include:

  • Circulation problems (including high blood pressure)
  • Conditions that affect muscles and/or nerves such, as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis
  • Diabetes
  • Emotional or mental health problems
  • Heart disease
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Prescription medications
  • Substance abuse (including alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs)
  • Treatments for prostate cancer or enlarged prostate

As we said, erections are tied to many systems of your body, which is why this list is so long. For more details and a full list of prescription medications that may be at the heart of the issue, check out our full guide to what causes erectile dysfunction.

Treatment options for ED

But just because you should speak to your healthcare provider doesn’t mean it’s impossible to treat these more complicated causes of erectile dysfunction. It’s also important to remember that one bout of ED doesn’t necessarily indicate the presence of a larger health problem. Speak to a medical professional if it helps clear your mind, though, since an anxious mental state can also affect erectile function. Simply put, performance anxiety exists in the bedroom, too.

In many cases, treating erectile dysfunction is a matter of treating the underlying condition. Sometimes that’s as simple as drinking water (like with dehydration) or can involve prescription medication (such as statins to lower blood pressure). If treating the underlying condition doesn’t help, there are prescription medications available to combat ED specifically.

Treatments for ED include oral medication, hormones, and vitamins and supplements. Oral medications are common treatment options and common types—including avanafil (brand name Stendra), sildenafil (brand name Viagra), tadalafil (brand names Adcirca and Cialis), and vardenafil (brand names Levitra and Staxyn)—address the issue by relaxing the muscles in the penis, improving blood flow. In some cases, hormone replacement therapy may be used if ED is caused by low testosterone. Certain vitamins and supplements such as red ginseng may help alleviate ED, but not all of them are proven to work. Lifestyle changes may also contribute to healthier erectile function overall.

The foundations of an overall healthy lifestyle may help prevent ED from happening. Support your sexual health by building healthy habits such as getting enough physical activity, managing stress, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating a heart-healthy diet. Although the old eight glasses of water rule may not be right for everyone, try drinking water throughout the day to maintain proper hydration levels.