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Intimacy Challenges: Coping with Erectile Dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction isn’t normally a topic of polite conversation, but 18 million American men of all ages have this health condition, and a whopping 70 percent of 70-somethings experience it.

If you haven’t seen the commercials for Viagra and Cialis, here’s the basic overview of erectile dysfunction: the condition occurs when a man is unable to achieve and maintain an erection for sexual intercourse.

It’s an extremely sensitive topic that leads to stress and embarrassment for many men. I often see many patients in my office who are shy to bring up the issue, either because they think they are too young to suffer from this condition and are ashamed of it, or, for my older patients, that think they are “just too old” for sex.

Though this may cause some people to blush, sex is a key part of a healthy relationship and a healthy life, and erectile dysfunction can interfere with this, no matter your age.  A study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior indicated that 54 percent of men and 31 percent of women in their 70s and 80s still have sex at least twice a month. But the condition is becoming more prevalent, as an estimated 322 million men worldwide will suffer from erectile dysfunction by 2025.

If you suspect you have erectile dysfunction, you are not alone and shouldn’t feel ashamed to talk about it, especially with your doctor. But if you haven’t yet broached the topic with your doctor, here’s some helpful information about what erectile dysfunction is and how to cope with this condition:

What is wrong with my erections in the first place?

Erections are a highly regulated process involving nerves and blood vessels. You first must be stimulated. After this, the brain sends signals to your penis to relax its smooth muscles. This allows blood to flow into the penis and stay there. Once this occurs, the smooth muscle contracts and the erection subsides.

What can go wrong?

Anything that affects the signals and normal bodily changes can lead to erectile dysfunction. Often times erectile dysfunction can be a warning sign for deeper medical problems. Depression and stress can alter signals from the brain and diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage nerves and blood vessels essential to maintaining an erection.

In younger men specifically, anxiety or stress is the main cause for cases of erectile dysfunction, and the condition affects nearly 26 percent of men under 40, according to a study from Journals of Sexual Medicine performed in 2013.

If we suspect there may be another underlying issue, we may send you for more tests before treating the erectile dysfunction. Our goal is to take care of the whole patient, so your overall health always will be the top priority.

How can I prevent future erectile dysfunction?

If stress is responsible for your erectile dysfunction, find ways to avoid or better cope with stress triggers and change your mindset. Exercise regularly and maintain an active lifestyle. Keep your blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar in check. The healthier you are, the healthier your blood vessels and nerves will remain throughout your sex life. 

What are my treatment options?

Several medications can help you cope better with erectile dysfunction. Vacuum erection devices, penile injections, urethral suppositories and a penile prosthesis all can restore sexual function. Many companies market “erection aids,” but you should stay away from them because they are not regulated and it’s unclear what is actually in them.

If you experience erectile dysfunction, please talk to your doctor or urologist as openly as possible about this issue. Talk to him or her about how you feel and about the best treatment options. Whether you and your partner are 27 or 77, sex is an important part of maintaining a healthy relationship. We often can treat erectile dysfunction, so you shouldn’t feel resigned to living with it.