So the man downstairs just won’t rise up to the occasion, bummer. The million-dollar question is why and how to deal with the situation that most times, if not all, proves a tad bit too embarrassing for a man to discuss even with his partner. So, what is erectile dysfunction? Simply put, erectile dysfunction is a condition whereby repeatedly and consistently a man is unable to sustain an erection thus making sexual intercourse a wild goose chase, never happening. Erectile dysfunction is in most situations spoken of in hushed tones because it is commonly deemed as a “failure” on the man’s part. However, the knowledge that most lack is that erectile dysfunction is actually a treatable condition.
So what is an erection and how does it occur?
An erection is particularly a scientific process that works tiny wonders such as making babies and keeping couples in love. However, let us focus on the science bit of it.
Erections involve the central nervous system, peripheral nervous system, psychological and stress-related factors, local problems with the erection bodies or the penis itself as well as hormonal and vascular (blood flow or circulation) factors. The penile portion of the process leading to erections represents only a single component of a very complicated and complex process.
Erections occur in response to touch, smell, and visual stimuli that trigger pathways in the brain. Information travels from the brain to the nerve centers at the base of the spine where primary nerve fibers connect to the penis and regulate blood flow during an erection and afterward.
Sexual stimulation causes the release of chemicals from the nerve endings in the penis that trigger a series of events that ultimately cause muscle relaxation in the erection bodies of the penis. The smooth muscle in the erection bodies controls the flow of blood into the penis. When the smooth muscle relaxes, the blood flow dramatically increases and the erection bodies become full and rigid, resulting in an erection. Venous drainage channels are compressed and close off as the erection bodies enlarge.
Detumescence (when the penis is no longer in a state of erection) results when muscle-relaxing chemicals are no longer released. Ejaculation causes the smooth muscle tissue of the erection bodies in the penis to regain muscle tone, which allows the venous drainage channels to open and the blood drains from the penis.
Needless to say, sex is an integral part of any mature man’s life and the inability to participate in such has its own given side effects. The most common of them all is being depression because no one has control over the situation. Failure to have an erection is directly proportional to failure to have sex, which in most situations is directly related to stress and anxiety which are great catalysts for depression.
Causes of Erectile Dysfunction
There are several causes of erectile dysfunction, with the causes mainly being grouped into two major groups: medical and psychosocial causes.
Almost any disease can affect erectile function by altering the nervous, vascular, or hormonal systems. Various diseases may produce changes in the smooth muscle tissue of the penis or influence mood and behavior.
Vascular diseases account for nearly half of all cases of ED in men older than 50 years. Vascular disease includes atherosclerosis (fatty deposits on the walls of arteries, also called hardening of the arteries), a history of heart attacks, peripheral vascular disease (problems with blood circulation) and high blood pressure. Prolonged tobacco use (smoking) is considered an important risk factor for ED because it is associated with poor circulation and reduced blood flow in the penis.
Trauma to the pelvic blood vessels and nerves is another potential factor in the development of ED. Bicycle riding for long periods has been implicated, so some of the newer bicycle seats have been designed to soften pressure on the perineum (the soft area between the anus and the scrotum).
Reduced blood flow to the penis – This is, by far, the most common cause of ED in men over the age of 40. Like in other parts of the body, the arteries that take blood to the penis can become narrowed. The blood flow may then not be enough to cause an erection. Risk factors can increase your chance of the narrowing of the arteries. These include getting older, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking.
Diseases that affect the nerves going to the penis – For example, multiple sclerosis, a stroke, Parkinson’s disease, etc.
Diabetes – This is one of the most common causes of ED. Diabetes can affect blood vessels and nerves.
Hormonal causes – For example, a lack of a hormone called testosterone, which is made in the testes. This is uncommon, however, one cause of a lack of testosterone that is worth highlighting is a previous head injury.
Head injuries – A head injury can sometimes affect the function of the pituitary gland in the brain. The pituitary gland makes a hormone that stimulates the testis to make testosterone. So, although it may not at first seem connected, a previous head injury can in fact lead to ED. Other symptoms of a low testosterone level include a reduced sex drive (libido) and changes in mood.
Injury to the nerves that serve the penis – For example, spinal injury following surgery to nearby structures, fractured pelvis, radiotherapy to the genital area, etc.
Side effect of certain medicines – The most common are some antidepressants, beta-blockers such as propranolol, atenolol, etc., some “water tablets” (diuretics), and cimetidine. Many other less commonly used tablets sometimes cause ED.
Alcohol and drug abuse – This is another contributing factor to ED.
Cycling – ED after long-distance cycling is thought to be common. It is probably due to pressure on the nerves going to the penis from sitting on the saddle for long periods. This may affect the function of the nerve after the ride.
Excessive outflow of blood from the penis through the veins (venous leak) – This is rare but can be caused by various conditions of the penis. Psychological causes such as guilt, fear of intimacy, depression and severe anxiety are also factors.
There are various ways in which one can overcome erectile dysfunction
As mentioned before, erectile dysfunction is a treatable condition. There are several ways of going about this; one would be by taking tablets prescribed by a doctor. Such tablets include sildenafil, tadanafil and vardenafil. Other medical treatment methods include injection treatment, urethral treatment, vacuum devices and penile prosthesis.
Treating Underlying Conditions
For example, treating depression, anxiety, changing medication, cutting back on drinking lots of alcohol or treating certain hormonal conditions may cure the associated ED.
Lifestyle and other advice
As mentioned above, erectile dysfunction is often a marker that heart disease or other cardiovascular diseases may soon develop. Therefore, you should review your lifestyle to see if any changes can be made to minimize the risk of developing these problems. For example, stop smoking if you are a smoker, exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet, etc.
Also, your doctor may prescribe a statin medicine to lower your blood cholesterol level if your risk of developing cardiovascular disease is high.
Due to the fact that erectile dysfunction is at times a psychological condition, counseling may come in handy to correct the situation. Sessions of couples therapy and sex therapy work wonders in saving the situation.
Erectile dysfunction may in some cases come about as a result of an unhealthy lifestyle. To curb this situation and overcome erectile dysfunction, it is key that one watch what they eat and maintain a healthy lifestyle that involves exercise.
Constant communication between partners
In any situation, sex normally involves two parties, and the input of both greatly contributes to whether the experience is a winner or just another session. Constant and open communication between a couple that is experiencing erectile dysfunction is a key factor in alleviating the situation, especially in conditions where it is psychological. Communication allows for comfort and drives away any embarrassment or feelings of guilt associated with the condition.