Stress and ED: Can Stress Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

Stress can kill you. Literally. Stress-related deaths in the US reach up to 120.000 per year, according to the American Institute of Stress. And when it doesn’t kill you, it still won’t make you stronger. 

Instead, it will most likely have a negative effect on some aspect of your physical and mental health. The National Institutes of Health report that enduring stress routinely may cause serious health issues such as hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, diabetes, and depression, all of which can lead to erectile dysfunction.

Understanding Erectile Dysfunction and Stress

Many people assume that erectile dysfunction is a modern scourge to men. But, the very first records of inadequate erection in men are found in ancient Egyptian scriptures that are more than 5000 years old. Erectile dysfunction is even mentioned in the Old Testament.

Ancient Hindus believed that erectile dysfunction could result from mental illnesses. The Chinese, on the other hand, believed that ED was the result of an imbalance in Yin and Yang, the two contrary and interconnected forces of nature. Remedies for erectile dysfunction can also be found in ancient texts. Some of the earliest treatments suggest eating the testes of goats, according to the Samhita (ancient Hindu manuscript). The Chinese, on the other hand, suggest that a potion made of 22 ingredients that even the emperor himself drank, would do the trick.

Humans have since improved their understanding of this potentially precarious condition and have developed effective treatments for it

Still, to this day, erectile dysfunction is a topic that many men steer away from discussing, or are understandably challenged when they have to talk about it. However, the prevalence of the problem that affects many men, and by extension, their romantic partners, necessitates more discussion about it. 

Erectile dysfunction afflicts an increasing number of men in the US, with some not-so-insignificant consequences on sexual function and overall quality of life. But, it doesn’t have to be so!

Having a good understanding of what erectile dysfunction is and how stress can cause it is essential for everyone who wants to prevent ED or revert its effects. Knowing the enemy can help everyone develop a personalized and effective approach to deal with it.

Stress and anxiety can influence how your brain instructs your body’s physical response. Too much or certain types of stress can interfere with how your brain sends messages to the penis to allow extra blood flow. Nevertheless, let’s get specific.

The Scope of the ED Problem and Why We’re Talking About It

This article dives deep into the psychological causes of erectile dysfunction. Why? This is a topic well-deserving of attention due to its scope. Erectile dysfunction afflicts an increasing number of men worldwide; according to research published in the International Journal of Impotence Research in 2000, the global prevalence of ED is expected to increase to 322 million men by 2025.

Erectile dysfunction concerns a growing number of men in the US too. About 30 million Americans suffer from erectile dysfunction. Furthermore, one in ten men is predicted to suffer from erectile dysfunction at some point in his lifetime.

The Psychological Burden of Erectile Dysfunction

A lot of men occasionally experience difficulties in getting an erection. Sporadic episodes shouldn’t be a source of concern. However, when erectile dysfunction is a recurring problem, it might cause tension, affect your self-esteem, and impact your relationship.

There’s a lot of stigma surrounding this issue, and a large proportion of the men affected are ashamed to talk openly about it. This creates additional stress and hinders effective and timely treatment of the condition.

Unfortunately, some men instinctively close down when faced with ED and refuse to discuss it with their partners. And since no good has ever come from not talking things out with your partner, this behavior often leads to serious tension and further discomfort in a relationship, such as refusing intimacy of any kind.

To add to the complexity, there’s a lot of misinformation and myths surrounding the topic that can prevent addressing the issue at the core.

So, if we’re going to have an open and informed discussion about it – and we intend to – let’s get those out of the way. The following are the top myths and misconceptions about ED.

Age and erectile dysfunction are correlated

The common wisdom is that erectile dysfunction is highly related to age. In fact, this is one of the most widespread beliefs about ED and many people think that erectile dysfunction is a normal part of growing older and that men have to learn to live with it. Though it is normal for older guys to require a bit more stimulation, a substantial proportion of men are able to get erections well into their senior years.

Similarly, a widely-held belief is that erectile dysfunction doesn’t affect younger men. Although your chances for erectile dysfunction do increase with age and ED is more prevalent in individuals older than 75, the fact is that guys of any age can have it. 

The notion that erectile dysfunction doesn’t affect younger men is a myth. The results from a research study from the Journal of Sexual Medicine show that one out of every four ED patients is 40 years old or younger. 

Furthermore, about 15% of the male population under the age of 40 say they’ve experienced erectile dysfunction occasionally.

Erectile dysfunction is an isolated problem

Remember the three symptoms of ED? Erectile dysfunction is highly variable from case to case in terms of its manifestation. While some may not be able to achieve an erection at all, others may have an issue with an erection that goes as fast as it comes, i.e. a difficulty maintaining an erection. In another scenario, a person may not achieve a hard enough erection for effective penetration during intercourse.

The medical definition of ED covers a wide range of situations. And these may be caused by both physical and psychological causes. The most common physical roots of erectile dysfunction are related to blood pressure and circulation and may be caused by high cholesterol, heart disease, and atherosclerosis. The way these contribute to ED is by impacting the amount of blood that flows to the penis. Diabetes too may contribute to ED by damaging nerves and blood vessels.

However, major contributors to ED that are often overlooked are psychological factors. Stress and anxiety disrupt the hormonal balance and interactions that lead to normal erectile function.

Viagra is the only treatment for erectile dysfunction

Probably everyone who is online or watches TV has heard about Viagra – the little blue pills that also go by the name of Revatio. Levitra and Cialis are also among the brands that are used to treat ED (or the side effects of Viagra). 

These medications are in a class known as PDE5 inhibitors, and each addresses erectile dysfunction, though in slightly different ways. For those that don’t prefer PDE5 inhibitors, there are other options, such as an injectable drug called alprostadil.

In case ED is caused by decreasing testosterone levels, testosterone replacement therapy might help. But, if the levels are normal, taking testosterone would not be beneficial. In general, the little blue pills, like any other medication, have side effects such as headaches, facial flushing, or blue tint to the vision, and might not work in combination with other medicines. Viagra, for example, can, in some cases cause priapism, which is a long-lasting and often agonizing erection that must be treated as a medical emergency. To avoid this type of risk, men who are not able to achieve or maintain a full erection try natural alternatives to viagra, such as herbal treatments. 

What Is Erectile Dysfunction (ED)?

Erectile dysfunction is a medical condition that is characterized by an inability to get or keep an erection firm enough for effective sexual intercourse.

Due to the nature of the condition, erectile dysfunction is self-diagnosable most of the time, and lab tests or medical imaging is rarely required. Symptoms of erectile dysfunction might include persistent difficulty getting an erection, trouble keeping an erection, and reduced sexual drive.

As such, erectile dysfunction has the potential to develop into a chronic condition that can last for many years or can even be lifelong if you don’t do anything about it.

Currently, there are different treatment options for ED. Medical professionals can use various therapeutic approaches ranging from the use of medication to treat the symptoms, to treatment that can address the underlying cause and reverse symptoms with no medication.

How Do Erections Work?

Contrary to the proverbial bone(r), the male reproductive organ has no bones in it. In fact, for the most part, male genitalia is made up of a squishy tissue called corpus cavernosum. More precisely, the penis has a set of two spongy tissues that have the capability to be filled up with blood through a dense web of blood vessels that runs through it. The tissues are allocated in two chambers surrounding the urethra.

When the time comes to get busy, the blood vessels expand and fill up the corpus cavernosum with blood. This makes the penis grow in size and helps to make an erection. Pretty nifty, eh? The head of the penis is called the glans penis, but the decision for getting an erection is not made there. It has to come from top management. The Brain.

The ultimate fire switch of the human body, the central nervous system, is responsible for all the aspects of getting an erection.

Becoming sexually aroused is a three-step process. First off, you must receive a stimulus. This can be physical or mental. Next, your sensory organs – eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin – have to pick up the signal and transmit it via the nerves to your brain. Then your brain unpacks the data, makes a decision, and sends an instruction via the nerves to your penis to become erect. This mechanism is enabled by triggering a hormonal response that allows the blood vessels at the root and throughout the corpus cavernosum to open completely.

Once the arteries allow more blood to enter, the blood can enter faster than it can leave through the veins and as the veins get compressed, they trap the blood in your penis. This chain reaction is responsible for making and maintaining an erection.

How erectile dysfunction occurs

Erectile dysfunction happens when something disrupts the body’s natural process of getting and sustaining an erection. There are different reasons for this, and they can generally be categorized as physical and psychological causes.

The most common physical causes are related to blood circulation and blood pressure. The way these contribute to ED is by affecting the amount of blood flowing to the penis. Psychological factors, on the other hand, are mainly caused by stress and anxiety. When ED results from stress, it disrupts the hormonal balance and the interactions that lead to normal erectile function.

In such a scenario, your brain isn’t sending the right signals to your penis, or the message can’t be delivered.

Why is stress a contributing factor to ED?

What human organ plays a central role in sparking off arousal that leads to erection? By all means, the brain. So stress and anxiety could get in the way of having healthy blood vessels that let blood flow to the penis. Around 10% to 20% of men experience the problem of psychological impotence during their life. 

Regarding erection, stress and anxiety could disrupt the way the brain sends messages to the penis to enable additional blood flow. Even though stress and anxiety are not the same, they are linked in connection with erectile dysfunction.

Stress and anxiety could influence self-esteem and feelings of desire, but also decrease the level of testosterone. Certain nerve-racking life events, such as relationship issues, financial problems, problems at work, or fears might lead to erectile issues. 

Different age groups might have erectile dysfunction triggered by distinct sorts of stress.

Men under 30 would most probably feel erectile dysfunction because of worry and anxiety. Luckily, this type of erectile dysfunction, in general, doesn’t last long.

Men over 30 are more likely to cope with personal and professional types of stress which could trigger ED.

Men over 50 would most probably face erectile dysfunction due to aging-related stress. Some life events, such as losing a partner or adapting to retirement, could increase the level of stress and anxiety and lead to ED.

Most Common Causes of Stress for Men That Can Lead to ED

Social status and social position 

Some recent studies point out that stress caused by loss of job and financial problems can lead to problems with erectile dysfunction. Loss of socioeconomic status stimulates stress and triggers erectile dysfunction. Also, men who are burned out from work have weaker erections, as shown by another study

Anxiety-related to sexual performance 

As noted in Sigmund Freud’s Sexuality and The Psychology of Love (1963) “the behavior of a human being in sexual matters is often a prototype for the whole of his other modes of reaction in life”. Men are often feeling stressed about their sexual performance and meeting their partner’s expectations. Poor self-image and lack of self-confidence can reflect problems with erectile dysfunction. If a man feels incapable of lighting his partner’s fire, he may often be stressed out that he is undeserving. Men might also lack self-confidence because of the size of their penises. Previous episodes of ED or other problems related to sexual performance could also make someone feel performance anxiety.

Stress-related to relationship problems 

Growing and sustaining a healthy relationship is not a simple task. When you have fights with your partner every day, and when there’s a lack of emotional intimacy and sexual desire, it could also affect your sex life.

Stress-related to aging 

Many would say that the biggest fear of men is getting old. The stress related to fear of aging and having their libido and vitality going down could make men stressed out and not be able to maintain an erection.

Stress caused by disruptions, such as Covid-19 

A great number of studies have shown that Covid-19 pandemic has had a deep impact on mental health and increased anxiety. Coping with the effects of the pandemic and lockdown could raise the level of stress which can play a big role in erectile dysfunction. 

Stress and ED: A Vicious Circle?

Stress and ED don’t mix well together. They are a bad combination of the likes of Hulk and Loki, or bathtubs and toasters… okay, it’s definitely not that bad. You can’t reverse electrocution! The point is that it can be a vicious circle. 

First, you get stressed out. Then you can’t get it up, which stresses you out even more. Soon enough you dread the thought of your next romantic encounter. You are afraid or ashamed to talk with your partner and then avoid intimacy.

This can become an episode of sexual performance anxiety and can progress in an endless negative feedback loop that can ruin your relationship or prevent you from starting one. The thought of being unable to please your partner can drive you mad.

Ways of Keeping Stress in Check to Ward off Erectile Dysfunction

Stress, chronic stress, in particular, is linked to erectile dysfunction and several leading causes of death. We know that juggling between your job and everyday life while pursuing your personal interests and taking care of your family and loved ones can be challenging and stressful.

This is why keeping stress in check is an absolute necessity for modern-day men. Luckily, there are many activities that you can add to your daily routine that can counterweigh said stress and bring about positive changes in your life.

We’ve come up with some ideas that can help you cope with stress better and which you can do in addition to getting guidance from a qualified mental health care provider. Here are some fool-proof methods to manage chronic stress:

Get out of the house more often

Staying in green environments (parks, forests, zoos) can lower cortisol levels, which is associated with stress. Just getting outside of your home and spending 5 minutes in the open can reduce stress levels, whereas turning this into a regular activity is much more beneficial for one’s long term mental health.

Limit and reduce your alcohol intake

In difficult moments, the idea of having one more drink may seem like a good way to eliminate stress. But, too much alcohol intake can disturb or even inhibit sleep, which acts as a depressant.

Eat a well-balanced and healthy diet

Has Covid-19 got you stuck at home? Use it to your advantage – it’s time to reinvent your eating habits and learn to cook more healthy. Ditch saturated fats and introduce more heart-healthy fats in your diet. Eating more salmon, avocados, and nuts is a good way to start. Stop eating processed foods packed with sugars and additives. Instead, put that apron on and start cooking healthy meals during weekdays while working from home.

Connect with people and get support from friends and family

Other people can help you cope with stress. In fact, friends and family help people to find healthier ways to deal with stress. People close to you can steer you to fun activities, events, and other pursuits that will take your mind off everyday troubles. Just talking with your family and friends is a great stress buffer that will prevent you from turning to negative coping mechanisms.

Travel

In the country. To the shore. Abroad. Change of scenery can have a dramatic influence on your mood. Learning about new cultures and visiting new places can give you a whole new perspective on things.

Try out calming breathing techniques.

Various breathing techniques can help you calm and reduce stress. And the best thing is that it takes just a few minutes out of your day and you can do them everywhere. For the maximum benefit, you should practice calming breathing regularly as part of your daily routine.

Key Takeaways

All men react differently to stress. Stress makes some men irritable and jumpy, but for others, stress can have negative effects on their sexual life and can contribute to erectile dysfunction.

If you are one of these men, there are three important points to take away from this article.

The essential takeaway is to remember that the brain plays a central role in sparking off arousal, which leads to an erection. Stress and anxiety can mess up the biological signaling responsible for launching an erection, and that 10% to 20% of men experience psychologically induced impotence during their life.

The second is to be aware of the trap that is the vicious circle of stress and erectile dysfunction. By any means, do not fall into it. This can quickly escalate into an episode of sexual performance anxiety and can progress into an endless negative feedback loop that can ruin your relationship or prevent you from starting one.

The final and equally important takeaway is to learn to recognize stress early on. Then make an effort to ease the impact of stress. You can try out some of our suggestions or reach out to professional psychological help. Quite often, that is all you’ll need to treat erectile dysfunction.

It won’t be long before you give your special someone a full salute!

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