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Erectile dysfunction (ED) happens when you can’t get an erection that’s sufficient for satisfying sex. That can include erections that aren’t as firm or don’t last as long as you like. Experiencing ED can be traumatic, but it’s the most common sexual dysfunction there is: Some experts estimate that up to 30 million American men have experienced it.
ED can have several potential triggers—some physical causes, some psychological factors. One of those psychological causes is stress.
- Your mental health can affect the quality of your erections; stress, in particular, can lead to ED.
- Stress can interrupt signals between the brain and body, preventing arousal from producing an erection.
- Several strategies for dealing with stress can help.
- Talk with a healthcare provider as soon as you experience ED; putting it off could affect your overall health.
How can stress cause ED?
Stress can cause a ton of physical symptoms affecting a range of body parts and systems: Headaches, stomach trouble, depression. Chronic stress can even weaken your heart and immune system. No surprise, then, that stress can affect the quality of your erections.
Erections involve blood flowing into the penis in response to signals from the brain. But stress can interrupt signals between the brain and body. You might be psychologically aroused, but for one reason or another, your brain isn’t getting the message to produce an erection. You’ve heard that much of sex is mental? It’s not just a saying.
Different types of stress can contribute to ED:
- Psychological stress about sex, including performance anxiety, self-esteem issues, or sexual trauma. This is usually experienced by younger men.
- Professional stress often contributes to ED in middle-aged men.
- Certain life events, like a change in health, being fired from a job, financial troubles, or relationship problems, can contribute to ED at any age.
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Anxiety and depression can cause erection problems on their own, but guys who are anxious or depressed often compound those issues with unhealthy coping mechanisms that can make ED worse. These include using tobacco products or drinking too much alcohol, being sedentary, and using recreational drugs.
How to treat stress-related ED
If you’re experiencing ED and suspect it might be stress-related, talk with a healthcare provider and speak honestly about your overall health and lifestyle. They’ll be able to advise you whether stress might be playing a role in your ED.
(It’s important to talk with a healthcare provider at the first sign of ED, because the condition can also be an early sign of physical health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes.
But if stress truly is contributing to your ED, there are a number of strategies you can take to reduce it:
You might also want to explore talk therapy—whether it’s personal counseling, sex therapy or couples counseling—to learn alternative healthy ways to deal with stress, or resolve relationship issues that might be stressing you out and affecting your sex life. The advent of telemedicine and online therapy has made this easier than ever.
Regular exercise is a great way to relieve stress and improve cardiovascular health, which can only benefit your sexual function. You might also want to try other strategies like yoga, meditation (a.k.a. mindfulness), or acupuncture.
Your erections will be best when your physical health is good. Making simple lifestyle changes, such as exercising, eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking, and limiting your alcohol consumption, might be enough to improve ED.
Other treatment options for ED
If stress reduction isn’t enough to resolve your ED, you still have several options.
Oral medications for ED are safe and effective. Several are available, including sildenafil (brand name Viagra), tadalafil (brand name Cialis), and vardenafil (brand names Levitra and Staxyn).
If low testosterone is responsible for your ED, testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) is available. This can boost your testosterone levels by an injection, a wearable patch, or gel applied to the skin.
Some men have found natural remedies for ED to be effective. Some studies have shown that certain supplements (such as DHEA, ginseng, L-arginine, L-carnitine, and yohimbe) may be helpful.
If you’re experiencing ED, don’t delay in talking with a healthcare provider. They’ll help you find a solution that’s right for you—and resolve other health problems before they become bigger problems than they need to be.