It is estimated that 5-20% of men experience erectile dysfunction at one time. We are going to explore how stress and testosterone levels may contribute to these high rates of ED.
What causes an erection?
Erections are caused by increased blood flow to the penis. First the penile muscles relax allowing increased blood flow into the arteries, filling the spongy chambers (corpus cavernosum) with blood from the arteries, the penis becoming rigid allowing penetration. Then typically after ejaculation the muscles relax allowing the veins empty and the erection ceases.
Any malfunction in this intricate process can lead to erectile dysfunction, so there are multiple possible causes. Smoking and then diabetes have been found to be the biggest risk factors.
Psychological influences to erectile dysfunction
Anxiety and performance demand are the major psychological risk factors. Accounting for 10-20% of cases of erectile dysfunction.
The desire to please causes anxiety for everybody (but the most free-spirited) especially with a new partner. However the majority of people can move past it and have amazing sex. But for individuals with ED, sex might not even be possible.
This was demonstrated by a study with two test groups: men with ED and those without. Both groups were presented with their aroused partner, but only the non ED group had increased excitement. Actually individuals with ED decreased in arousal. The differing responses may be due to the ED group perceiving the erotic stimuli and responding with anxiety due to the pressure to perform. And anxiety (most of the time) isn’t conducive for arousal.
The term spectatoring was coined to describe an individual, with severe anxiety that views sex in 3rd person – An onlooker rather than a participant. They spend their time monitoring the strength of their erection, thus sex becomes an unpleasant experience.
How can stress cause erection dysfunction
When you find yourself in a sexual situation your brain sends signals to the body, through the central nervous system, the body responds increasing blood flow to the penis causing an erection. Stress in high levels can disrupt the signals from the brain to the penis. The message to allow extra blood into the penis is not received therefore there is no erection. In addition if you are stressed for extended periods you will produce a lot of cortisol and adrenaline – stress hormones – which reduce the production of sex hormones, decreasing your sex drive.
Testosterone levels and erectile dysfunction
Testosterone is a hormone found in both men and women, in greater quantities in the former. Essential for male mating behaviour – a sex hormone. At low levels it is a risk factor for ED.
This may explain why the number of cases of ED increase with age, because the levels of serum testosterone decrease as you age. And low testosterone levels are a risk factor for ED.
The action of testosterone and how it effects erections isn’t clear however it is thought it may act as a vasodilator allowing increased blood flow into the penis facilitating an erection.
“I remember when I was with my ex, sometimes i would prefer to watch porn and masturbate then having sex with her.
She made sex a stressful job for me tbh.
If she won’t finish, she will have a long face and bad mood. So i just started avoiding sex with her”
“More fear of comparison too. My wife was my first. We both married as virgins.”
“More pressure to “perform””
“Last 2-3 years. Following separation. So potentially a fall out from the emotional impact?”
“Mental stress makes you less sex driven. And physical stress tires you, means less libido, sex is not on mind and if tired makes erections more difficult”
“Well I think it was caused by the internal pressure of performance that I was putting on myself”
Go to the doctor!
Erectile dysfunction is nothing to be embarrassed about. There are so many available treatments for you, which will help you. My only advice is to go to the doctor! And get your erection back.