Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is a common problem that affects many men. It describes when a man is unable to get or maintain an erection that is firm enough for sex. Because it’s such a sensitive topic, it can be awkward and embarrassing to talk about, leading many men to turn to Dr. Google to search and learn more about what causes erectile dysfunction and what they can do about it.
While there is a wealth of information about ED out there, unfortunately a lot of it simply isn’t true. We’re here to debunk the common myths and misconceptions about ED to help remove the social stigma surrounding this condition that affects 40% of Australian men.
Myth #1: ED and age
Fact: ED is more common in older men, but it can happen to men of all ages. Studies have found that one in four men with ED is younger than 40 years old. So while it’s true that your chances of having erectile dysfunction increase as you get older, being in your 20s or 30s doesn’t mean you’re immune to it.
There are many different reasons why a man might not be able to get an erection, including psychological, physical and lifestyle factors. Certain medical conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity can all contribute to the chances of having ED. Smoking, drinking lots of alcohol and leading a generally unhealthy lifestyle can make it difficult to attain erections. There could also be psychological reasons as to why you’re experiencing ED, such as sexual trauma, stress, poor body image and mental health disorders.
All of these factors contribute to impotence and are not restricted to older men.
Myth #2: ED is all in your head
Fact: Psychological factors can be a key reason why you can’t get hard, but sometimes it’s not the only reason. As mentioned above, there are many physical factors that can cause ED. Medical conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, an over or underactive thyroid and prostate disease have all been linked to impotence.
Some medications, such as for high blood pressure or high cholesterol, have also been linked to sexual dysfunction. Talk to your doctor if you’re worried that your medications are causing ED.
Lifestyle factors like smoking, drinking, recreational drug use and weight problems also impact sexual function. One study found that about one third of obese men with ED were able to cure their ED with lifestyle changes and weight loss.
So, while psychological triggers can lead to erectile dysfunction, there are many other factors to consider that could be causing impotence.
Myth #3: There are herbal and natural remedies for erectile dysfunction
Fact: While there are a vast variety of herbal and natural remedies for ED out there, none of them have been scientifically proven to actually be effective. When consulting Dr. Google for foods to help ED, you’ll find lists including things like watermelon, oysters, coffee, dark chocolate and garlic. The thinking behind each of these items is in helping stimulate blood flow (and in turn, stimulate blood flow to your penis) or boosting testosterone levels to increase sex drive. However, there’s no proof that eating these foods lead to better erections.
There is, however, a link to good overall health and lowered risk of ED. Maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle with minimal smoking, drinking and recreational drug use can help reverse ED in some men.
Myth #4: All ED drugs are the same
Fact: There are a few brand name prescription ED pills that you’ve probably heard of, such as Viagra, Cialis, Spedra and Levitra. They all belong to the same class of drugs called PDE5 inhibitors, which help treat ED by increasing blood flow to the penis to help with erections. However, each of these drugs and their generic counterparts like sildenafil and tadalafil work slightly differently.
Viagra, Cialis, Spedra and Levitra can all be taken as needed and only work when a man is sexually aroused.
Viagra (sildenafil) and Levitra (vardenafil) both reach peak effectiveness in an hour and stay in your bloodstream for about 4 to 5 hours. If you take these ED pills after eating a heavy, fatty meal, it could reduce the efficacy of the drug. Wait 2 to 3 hours after eating heavy meals before taking Viagra or Levitra for best results.
Cialis (tadalafil), on the other hand, takes a little longer to take effect and also stays in your bloodstream longer - up to 36 hours. You can take it with or without food.
Spedra is the quickest to take effect and can start working as quickly as 20 minutes after taking the pill. You can take it with or without food but may start working faster if taken on an empty stomach. As such, it’s recommended to take Spedra about 30 minutes before sex.
Myth #5: Only specialists can treat erectile dysfunction
Fact: Your primary care GP is a great starting point if you want to explore ED treatment options. They can help you identify the potential causes of impotence and run tests to check for related health conditions, such as high cholesterol or diabetes.
However, if these first-line treatments aren’t working, you may need to see a urologist or endocrinologist. A urologist can run further tests related to your reproductive organs and help identify the underlying cause of ED. An endocrinologist specialises in hormonal imbalances and disorders, so if there are issues with your thyroid or testosterone levels, they can help.
If the underlying reason why you’re experiencing impotence is because of psychological reasons, you may consider seeing a therapist or counselor to address those issues to help treat ED.
Don’t get caught up with the myths and misconceptions about erectile dysfunction. It’s a common condition that many men experience but are reluctant to talk about. There are proven treatments available and several options depending on what’s causing it.
- Australian Family Physician (May 2010) - Erectile dysfunction – when tablets don’t work
- The Journal of Sexual Medicine (May 2013) - One Patient Out of Four with Newly Diagnosed Erectile Dysfunction Is a Young Man—Worrisome Picture from the Everyday Clinical Practice
- The College of Family Physicians of Canada (January 2005) - Lose weight to lose erectile dysfunction