You may have to deal with a guy’s performance issues in the bedroom earlier than you think. One in four men seeking help for erectile dysfunction is younger than 40, according to a new study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine. “I’ve seen a large influx in the past couple of years of young men coming in for this,” says sex therapist Brandy Engler, PhD, author of The Men On My Couch. So what’s causing younger guys to have a hard time getting hard? Check out the surprising things screwing with his erection, plus how to deal if it happens to your guy:
The Likely Culprits: Unhealthy Habits, Anxiety, and Porn While some of the most common causes of erectile dysfunction include low testosterone levels and chronic health conditions like diabetes, this isn’t typically the case with younger men. One finding from the study suggests that smoking and illicit drug use may be a factor since these were more prevalent in patients under 40. But excessive drinking, poor nutrition, and lack of exercise can also cause an issue, says Natan Bar-Chama, MD, director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital. So if your guy’s been meaning to get fit or quit smoking, this might be the motivation he needs to finally start a healthier habit.
Another possible cause: Anxiety. Women aren’t the only ones who suffer from stress-related libido troubles. Whether he’s anxious about work or just worried about not being able to perform, any stress can rev up the sympathetic nervous system, making it harder to get or keep an erection, says Bar-Chama.
Finally, one major cause of erectile dysfunction among young men is what Engler refers to as “the porn effect.” Since viewing porn gives men unlimited novelty (and in turn, a huge rush of dopamine), it can have a desensitizing effect if it becomes too much of a habit, says Engler. That can make it much harder to get an erection when the constant novelty isn’t around.
How to Deal So what happens when you’re raring to go and he’s having some trouble? First, don’t take it personally. “The worst reaction is to get mad, shut down, and go to bed,” says Engler. Not only is it highly unlikely that this is about you, but reacting this way can stress him out even more. “It makes him feel like his erection is needed in order to validate her and he’ll feel more emotional pressure,” says Engler.
Instead, let him know it’s no big deal and that you still enjoy having sex with him, says Engler. Then take the focus off his erection and onto you—letting him focus on pleasing you for a while. Taking the demands off of his manhood and slowing down for a bit can sometimes ease the anxiety—and maybe even alleviate his issue getting hard, says Engler.
If it’s a Long-Term Problem While it’s normal for this to happen once in a while, it may be worth talking to your guy if it’s a recurring thing. Engler suggests bringing it up in a less vulnerable situation—not when you’re both naked in bed—and using a lot of “we” language so that he knows you’re being supportive and not confrontational. You can suggest things like working out more together, cutting back on your happy hours, and taking a break from porn. And if the problem persists even after you try these tactics, it might be time to check in with a doctor or psychologist for other options.