The Lamen

Why erectile dysfunction is becoming more common

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An increasing number of people are reporting experiencing erectile dysfunction, with different cases arising from varying circumstances.

Photo: Bing AI

Published on Nov 14, 2023

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a concern documented even in ancient records from Egypt and China. Blamed on spells, curses, or a lack of sperm, the inability to hold an erection has historically been of great cultural significance — a direct determinant of a man’s masculinity.

Research over the years reveals strong associations between erectile dysfunction and psychological conditions, lifestyle, and metabolic health. ED is now known as a non-lethal medical condition, defined as the inability to get and keep an erection firm enough for sex.

While not a life-threatening disorder by itself, erectile dysfunction can cause or exacerbate mental health issues — even leading to thoughts of suicide. Even with more widespread attention, it remains an often unattended condition among people.

Here’s why a growing portion of the population is experiencing it.

Why do men get erectile dysfunction as they age?

Sexuality is considered a direct determinant of a man’s age, one that sits divorced from their chronological age. This makes erectile dysfunction a multifaceted condition: seemingly an inevitable consequence of aging, yet one that makes growing older harder to deal with.

  • By their 40s, men have a 40 percent risk of experiencing some form of ED. The risk grows by 10 percent every decade thereafter.
  • By 2025, about 322 men worldwide are expected to grapple with some form of erectile dysfunction.
  • The estimated prevalence of severe ED triples from 5 percent at age 40 to 15 percent by age 70.
  • The risk and severity of ED can also grow with the presence of conditions like hypertension and diabetes — both growing more common with age.

Aging-related sexual dysfunction is believed to be caused by the loss and degradation of corporal smooth muscle cells — which play a role in penis contraction.

However, the condition is becoming more and more common in otherwise, fit, healthy men — drawing more attention to other psychological and physiological factors.

Can poor mental health cause ED?

While tough to diagnose, erectile dysfunction is prevalent among people with psychological issues, often associated with a low quality of life.

  • A review found about 20 percent of people with anxiety disorders also experience ED. Psychiatric disorders are typically the cause of ED in younger individuals.
  • These psychological causes include depression, anxiety, PTSD, worries about sexual performance, or other partner-related difficulties.

Another widely debated cause is pornography, a claim that currently lacks substantial evidence.

While masturbation can be weakly linked to erectile dysfunction, experts suggest the dependence on porn to be more serious. Some say that the incidence of ED in men under 40 rose after high-definition porn became easily accessible — a connection that is still being explored.

How COVID-19 caused penis problems for some.

Its cardiovascular system-related symptoms might just be the iceberg. Reports of a COVID-19 infection causing multi-organ dysfunction continue to emerge, including sexual dysfunction.

  • The COVID-19 pandemic led to a reduction in sexual relationships and increased pornography viewership, with reports of risky sexual behavior.
  • Initial reports of COVID-related ED were dismissed as a consequence of stress. However, the condition has since been reported as a short or long-term complication of COVID-19.
  • A study found men with a history of COVID-19 infection at a 20 percent higher risk of erectile dysfunction compared to those who did not experience the infection. Infections were also linked with low testosterone and sperm count.

Other possible causes of ED include:

  • metabolic syndrome
  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • injuries to the pelvic bones, penile fracture
  • certain medications (including antidepressants, antihistamines, and chemotherapy drugs)

While an occasional case of ED can go away on its own, you may want your condition diagnosed. This often requires a physical exam, something people can still be hesitant about.