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Erectile dysfunction (ED) has been a concern for men since the beginning of recorded history—it’s described on the walls of ancient Egyptian tombs and in the Bible. Thankfully, today there are effective treatments for ED, a far cry from wearing a goat’s genitals around your neck (ancient Greece) or ingesting roasted wolf penis (13th century) (Gurtner, 2015). The first step is to recognize the most common ED symptoms and what they could mean. (And fun with history aside, ED can be the sign of some pretty serious health conditions.)
- ED isn’t just about not being able to get an erection.
- It’s about being unable to get or keep an erection sufficient for satisfying sex.
- That could include any change in your erection that precludes sexual intimacy.
- Effective treatments for ED are available.
What is erectile dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction isn’t just about not being able to achieve an erection. Often times men can get an erection and still suffer from some of the early symptoms of erectile dysfunction. ED is more about the inability to get and maintain an erection that’s strong enough to have satisfactory sex. Satisfaction is the key word in that definition. And it encompasses a lot.
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What are the most common symptoms of ED?
The three most common erectile dysfunction symptoms are:
- Difficulty getting an erection
- Softer erections
- Erections that don’t last long enough
ED doesn’t just affect your ability to have sex. It can also affect your sexual desire. You may have less interest in sex because of concerns surrounding your ED. Depression and anxiety can both contribute to and result from ED. You might also experience relationship stress because of ED.
ED and your partner
When the strength and frequency of your erections change enough to affect the pleasure you or your partner experience from sexual activity, that’s ED. In fact, relationship expert Dr. Pepper Schwartz says that the first signs of a man’s diminished erectile function are often noted by his partner.
“Sex often feels different for your partner when you experience ED,” warns Dr. Schwartz. “Men may not notice gradual changes to the girth or angle of his erection. But his partner does.” If you or your partner notice a persistent change in your erections that affects your sexual intimacy, you may have erectile dysfunction—even if you’re still able to get an erection.
ED as a symptom
Like everything else in your body, erections decline as guys age. Maybe your erections aren’t as strong or as frequent as they used to be. Or your erections are softer or don’t last as long. Erectile dysfunction symptoms vary depending on your health, age, sexual activity, lifestyle, and habits.
It’s also normal to have times when sex isn’t the most important thing on your mind. Stress, financial worries, disruptions to your routine, illness, or even relationship problems can decrease desire and erections. Not being able to get an erection from time to time isn’t erectile dysfunction.
But when you or your partner notice a change in your erections, it’s important to talk to a doctor to discover the underlying cause of your ED. Erectile dysfunction is sometimes an early warning sign of serious health conditions, like heart disease.
Erections are a matter of blood flow. Because the blood vessels in the penis are much smaller than those that feed into the heart, if your arteries are unhealthy, the signs might show up as ED before you have any cardiac symptoms.
High blood pressure, diabetes, low testosterone, and high cholesterol can also be causes of ED in otherwise healthy men. Don’t assume that it’ll pass—especially if symptoms get worse over time.
Treatment options for ED
Oral medications for ED are highly effective for restoring sexual function. Several are available, including sildenafil (brand name Viagra), tadalafil (brand name Cialis), and vardenafil (brand name Levitra).
Your erections will be best when you’re in good health. Making simple lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly, following a healthy diet, quitting smoking, and limiting your alcohol consumption, might be enough to improve ED.
If you’re experiencing ED, it’s a good idea to talk with a healthcare provider. They’ll help you find the right solution—and potentially catch other health problems before they become serious problems.