Erectile dysfunction

If you cannot get an erection, or cannot keep an erection long enough to have sex, this is called erectile dysfunction or impotence.

Most of the time, it’s nothing to worry about. But if it keeps happening, you should talk to your GP or visit your sexual health clinic.

Why does it happen?

Erectile dysfunction is very common. If you have a penis, it’s likely you’ll occasionally have trouble with erections. It can happen because you’re tired, stressed or you’ve drunk too much alcohol. It can also be a side effect of some medications.

Sometimes it’s a sign of a more serious health problem. This could be a physical condition, like heart disease, or a mental health condition, like depression.

There can be many different reasons for erection problems. When you talk to a clinician they will ask you about your health and lifestyle to identify the cause.

Common reasons for erectile dysfunction are:

  • high blood pressure (hypertension)

  • high cholesterol

  • diabetes

  • hormonal problems, such as an overactive thyroid

  • anxiety or depression

  • relationship problems

I cannot get or keep an erection, what should I do?

If this is a new problem then you should wait for a few weeks as it may settle on its own. If it continues beyond a few weeks then you should contact your sexual health clinic or GP.

They will ask you about your lifestyle, sexual history and general health. This is so they can understand what might be causing erectile dysfunction.

The clinician might also want to examine your genitals, check your blood pressure and take a blood sample.

Treatment for erectile dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction can be treated by tackling the cause of the problem. Depending on what the cause is, your treatment might include:

  • lifestyle changes – your clinician might suggest eating more healthily, exercising more or giving up smoking

  • medication – you might be given medication that lowers your blood pressure. Or recommended a medication containing sildenafil (like Viagra), that you can take before having sex

  • therapy – if there’s a mental health or psychological reason for the erectile dysfunction, you could be offered cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help, or you could be referred to a specialist therapist

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