September 29, 2015

Causes and effects of erectile dysfunction

The beginning of an erectile dysfunction and its influence on your sex life: About 17% of all men over 18 years of age suffer from this condition known as ‘erectile dysfunction’ in The Netherlands. This means that they don’t or seldom get an erection during sex, which makes intercourse difficult.

Different names for erectile dysfunction

The difference between impotence and erectile dysfunction isn’t always clear, here’s a short explanation.

Erectile dysfunction is the scientific name for what some people call ‘a limp dick’.

It means the malfunction of the erection process in the male body.

When a man is sexually aroused, the sexual centre of the brain initiates a certain routine. This stimulus increases our heartbeat and makes the erectile tissue draw and fill up with blood. By doing this, the veins that drain the blood away from the penis are blocked off, so larger amounts of blood are ‘locked’ in the penis.

This makes the penis keep its erect shape during the period of sexual arousal. The end of the erection is caused by another brain stimulus (often after an orgasm), which also makes the heartbeat slow down and stops the increased blood supply. The erectile tissue shrinks a little, which unblocks the veins and the blood drains out of the penis again. The penis loses its erect, stiff shape.

An erectile dysfunction can manifest itself in two ways:

Erectile dysfunction nr 1

When a man can’t get aroused, it may be that the brains seldom or never sends that first sexual stimulus that causes the extra blood supply to the penis and the blocking of the penile veins.

The penis can’t achieve the erect, stiff shape and this makes sexual intercourse in nearly all cases impossible.

The characteristic of this form of erectile dysfunction is that sexual arousal is nearly or non-existent. This often occurs in a-sexual men who get into a situation where they do want to perform sexually

Erectile dysfunction nr 2

The second form of erectile dysfunction occurs when the brain stimulus that stops the erection after arousal happens at the wrong time (mostly too soon).

This means that the man loses control over his erection and can’t consciously keep it in place.

This is the most common form of erectile dysfunction and it is strongly connected to the mental stability of men during sex.

A certain level of concentration is to maintain the sexual ‘state of mind’. If a man finds it difficult to hang on to the sexual thoughts he has about his partner, it can be difficult to keep an erection during sex. This is not only the most common form of erectile dysfunction, it is also the most treatable, because a big part of the problem is mental focus and that can easily be trained. Many different therapies have been developed over the years to teach men to hang on to concentrating during sex, with many positive outcomes. Sadly many men with this problem never look into these sort of solutions due to the popularity and easy acces to erection pills on the market. They often seek a solution is this sort of risky mediaction before trying out alternative, more healthy solutions.

Impotence vs erectile dysfunction

The terms ‘impotence’ and ‘erectile dysfunction’ are often interchanged, but there is a clear difference between the two.

The erectile dysfunction refers only to a man’s inability to get or maintain an erection.

Impotence, on the other hand, refers to any condition which causes the inability to procreate.

For example, some men have weaker sperm than others (often hereditary); impregnating a partner can be a challenge for these men and in some cases it even needs medical intervention.

Impotence can also be caused by a bad case of premature ejaculation, where a man reaches orgasm far too soon during sex, which makes fertilization impossible.

In some extreme cases the penis size can also be a cause of being unable to have intercourse. That is also called impotence, but in none of these cases there is erectile dysfunction.

Mental effects of erectile dysfunction

So far we have been talking about the physical side of erectile dysfunction, but it is the mental side that makes it very difficult to cope for many men.

Erection problems haunt you

The society in which we live today is very sexually oriented and us men often experience sex as a performance act. When this works well and we think we perform to satisfaction, we feel a sense of pride and gratification.

But at the same level, we feel shame and inferiority if we don’t fulfil our own and (even worse) our partners demands. It is then that the male pride is damaged and our self-esteem takes a plunge.

This is not only the case for men with erectile dysfunction, but for any condition that hampers a healthy sexual relationship, like premature ejaculation, a small penis or other problematic sexual conditions.

Performance anxiety

Erectile dysfunction, a cause of stress

The most prevalent mental side effect of erectile dysfunction is performance fear. This is very often the reason why men don’t feel at ease just before and during sexual intercourse. The fear of a bad sexual performance because of a postponed or non-lasting erection makes men feel stressed. This causes a vicious circle, because it is exactly this stress which is the reason why they can’t focus on the sexual stimulus, this makes the erection fail and then the fear becomes reality.

Even perfectly healthy men can get erectile dysfunction because of this performance fear.

Stress and anxiety then overpower the sexual atmosphere while the body is perfectly able to get an erection.

Relationship problems

Another side effect of erectile dysfunction is the pressure on the relationship between partners. On the one hand the woman can feel responsible for the man’s inability to maintain an erection in here presence, on the other hand the man can feel guilty for not being able to give sexual pleasure.

It is often very difficult to deal with this issue in relationships because the man feels that discussing this problem is like an assault on his male pride. Women often tend not to discuss the issue to protect the man’s fragile ego. This is bad, because the problem will not be solved this way. Lack of communication and the delay of improvement often cause relationships to get into trouble.

Your partner’s reaction to erectile dysfunction

Avoiding sex

Men with a serious form of erectile dysfunction, who have failed several times to perform can develop an aversion to sex which makes them completely avoid it.

This often happens over a number of years in which continuous bad sexual experiences cumulate.

For some men with a certain form of impotence, sex can become a synonym for negative experiences, anxiety, failure and disappointment.

This can be avoided by early intervention.

As said before, most forms of impotence can be treated well with therapy. Often this means learning to guide your thoughts and to hold on to your focus during sex.

Even when men have reached the point where sex has become unattractive, the damage can still be undone. Sexual activity is programmed within us on an evolutionary level. A short period of mental training is often enough to re-establish a man’s sex drive.

Consequences of the physical forms of erectile dysfunction

In a small percentage of cases the dysfunction is caused by physical problems. Well known examples are nerve damage or a chemical imbalance in the brain. Nerve damage can occur after surgery. Head trauma can also be a cause of impotence in many different forms.

Brain damage and erectile dysfunction

There are even cases of people who suffer from erectile dysfunction after brain damage caused by lack of oxygen.

The most common cause of erectile dysfunction in men is a problem with the blood flow in the penis.

We can classify all the causes of this problem under one denominator:

Cardiovascular problems leading to erectile dysfunction

A man who is overweight often has a high cholesterol level. Cholesterol deposits on the walls of the arteries, which makes them less elastic (arteriosclerosis) and narrower, this makes the blood supply to certain body parts more difficult.

When this is the case in the penis, the process to generate an erection will fail because there isn’t enough blood that can reach the penis fast.

The modern man’s life style is very often one of the biggest problems. We eat too much, move too little and our diet isn’t diverse enough.

Apart from being overweight and cardiovascular conditions, the prostate can also cause erection problems.

Through generations, we have constantly become older. Formerly, a healthy man would not grow older than 40. Now it’s closer to 100, but some organs and body parts still don’t function as well anymore after a few decades. One of those is the prostate, which can start swelling at a later age.  This makes its blood flow more difficult. The blood stream through the prostate is also the blood stream to the penis. When this doesn’t work well, the blood needed for an erection can’t reach its destination any more.

There are also various illnesses and conditions that can influence the blood supply. For example anorexia, which causes the body to have too little blood, and if there were an erection, the blood would be taken from other parts of the body, where it can’t be missed at that time. Diabetes also has this side effect which can cause erectile dysfunction.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) can inhibit the nerves’ transfer of the stimulus needed to initiate an erection.

The effects of erectile dysfunction on the partner

We often think that we are the only ones suffering when we are faced with erectile dysfunction. But, in many cases it is just as bad for our partner.

We already talked about how the communication about different forms of impotence can often be very difficult within a relationship.

Because of that our partners often just don’t know what to do in this situation.

We are presuming that the partner knows that there is an erectile dysfunction problem, because that isn’t always clear.

When a man behaves detached and reacts less enthusiastic to sex than his partner would expect, then this can lead to totally different conclusions than erectile dysfunction. A partner can become insecure about her looks, and can start doubting herself. Women attach a lot of importance to being able to arouse a man; the thought that a man won’t be or can’t be aroused by her looks anymore can be very hard to take.

Erectile dysfunction and its effect on the partner.

Even if there is an open communication about the condition, a partner can become overwhelmed by a feeling of helplessness.

The major problem in all this cases is that sex is not enjoyed anymore. Sex is often partly the pillar of a relationship. Good sex can annihilate many small defects in a relationship and a bad functioning sex life can make many other problems look worse.

We have described the various mental and physical causes and effects of erectile dysfunction. In the coming weeks I will be posting more about possible solutions to this problem.

If you yourself are experienced with this matter, or if you have any questions you would like to ask. Please let me know by leaving a comment!

Mark Meyers

Mark is founder and sexcoach at Sexual Improvements. "Anyone can have an awesome sexlife with the right information!"

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