What is erectile dysfunction? What causes erection problems?

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Since the accidental development of the drug sildenafil (Viagra) – originally a heart drug that researchers noticed had an effect on men’s penile erections – the condition of erectile dysfunction is something we have all become aware of.

Men who have a problem with their sexual performance may be reluctant to talk to their doctor about an embarrassing issue. But modern medicine understands that there are numerous medical and psychological explanations for erectile dysfunction, including the possibility of underlying conditions that are important to address.

The problem could also be one with a solution – and doctors are used to dealing with embarrassing issues in private consultations. If you or someone close to you has a problem with erections, this article offers helpful information.

What is erectile dysfunction?

A man has erectile dysfunction when his penis has regularly failed to give an erection that has been good enough to achieve or maintain sexual penetration.1-3

Communication difficulties and relationship stresses can lead to problems initiating or maintaining an erection.

Most men have occasionally experienced some difficulty with their penis becoming hard or staying firm, but this is not erectile dysfunction, which is a concern only if satisfactory sexual performance has been impossible on a persistent number of occasions for some time.

Broadly, two forms of erectile dysfunction can affect men’s sex lives – the main cause is either medical or psychosocial.

Here, psychosocial means psychological effects – including the effects of social relationships – on sexual performance. Of course, medical conditions can also affect psychological wellbeing, and while the main cause of sexual impotence will be medical or psychological, there can be overlap between the two.

Erectile dysfunction used to be known more widely as ‘impotence’ before the causes became better understood and successful treatments came into use. Impotence is a term that is still in use, however.

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