ED and Your Mind: Is Your Erectile Dysfunction in Your Head?

couple not having sex

It may be embarrassing, but erectile dysfunction is an extremely common problem. In fact, most men will be unable to get or keep an erection at some point in their lives.

The good news is that there are a number of different ways to treat erectile dysfunction (ED), ranging from prescription medicines to counselling. Which treatment you choose will usually depend on what is causing your ED in the first place.

The cause of ED can be physical, psychological or both. Physical causes range from high blood pressure and diabetes, to obesity and high cholesterol. All these conditions cause blood vessels to narrow, and this means that it is more difficult for blood to reach the penis at the crucial moment. If you are over 40 and are suffering from ED, it is important that you see your GP to check for these underlying conditions.
Often, however, ED can have a purely psychological cause; it really can be just in your head. Stress and anxiety can reducing your libido, which results in the loss of both desire to have sex, and ability to maintain an erection. Repeated failure to get it up can create yet more anxiety, creating a negative spiral.

ED in young men

Anxiety is the number one cause of ED in young men. This could be worry about your sexual performance, getting your partner pregnant, or losing your erection while putting on a condom.

Sometimes, this can improve with experience, but often the anxiety creates a negative spiral of repeated erectile dysfunction, which can be very difficult to break out of.

Treatment options

There are many different ways to tackle ED. One of the most popular is prescription medicines such as Viagra.

Viagra, and other similar medicines like Cialis and Levitra, help you get or maintain an erection by increasing blood flow to the penis. They are not aphrodisiacs, so you will have to be sexually aroused in order for them to work.

If your ED has a physical cause, such as high blood pressure or obesity, then Viagra will not cure your ED, but rather treat it in the short term. If you want to get rid of the problem altogether, you will have to address the underlying cause by losing weight or taking medicine to reduce your blood pressure.

Viagra is effective for around 75% of men who take it, however some people find that it causes unpleasant side effects like headaches and nausea. For more information, see Viagra Side Effects.

If your ED is caused by stress or anxiety, prescription medicines like Viagra can sometimes actually solve the problem completely. If you manage to get an erection a few times through taking Viagra, your confidence may be sufficiently restored that, even when you stop taking it, ED doesn’t resurface.

Another option for treating psychological causes of ED is counselling. This may take the form of relationship therapy, where you and your partner discuss with a doctor any emotional or sexual problems that might be contributing to your ED. Alternatively, counselling can be sessions with just you and your psychosexual therapist – simply talking over the issue can often help resolve it.

Counselling can often take some time to work so it is often combined with prescription medicines which help to treat ED in the short term.

Click here for more information on how to treat ED.

So don’t despair if you’re suffering from ED – whatever the cause and whatever your age, there are many easy and effective treatment options available.

This article was written by Dr Tom Brett, Medical Director of LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor. Dr Brett trained St Thomas’ Hospital Medical School in London, and went on to complete his post-graduate General Practitioner training in Australia. In 1998 he gained fellowship of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and was later awarded certificates in Sexual Health and HIV prescribing. In 2007 he returned to live and work in London, and now heads the team of doctors at LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor.