Erectile Dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction is commonly known as 'impotence', and is a condition whereby a man is unable to get or keep an erection of the penis. Erectile dysfunction can be caused by an underlying medical condition, stress or any psychological or emotional concern. Heavy alcohol intake is also known to increase the likelihood of suffering erectile dysfunction, hence colloquial expressions such as “brewer's droop”.

An assessment of erectile dysfunction will usually begin with an attempt to ascertain whether the condition is a psychological or physical one. This can be easily determined as physical conditions which prevent successful erections will nearly always prevent erections being developed at all; therefore, a man who is able to develop an erection during sleep, for example, but not the rest of the time, will usually be suffering from erectile dysfunction with a psychological root.

There are some prescription medications which cite erectile dysfunction as a side-effect, and these include some of the SSRIs. In extreme cases, erectile dysfunction brought on by long-term use of SSRIs can be long-lasting or even permanent. Fortunately, this is quite rare. Erections are developed when the penile shaft is massaged or manipulated, and this can be done manually (by hand) or psychogenically, when the man is exposed to erotic stimuli. This results in the release of nitric oxide, which causes the arterial muscles of the penis to relax, and an erection is developed. For a 'manual' erection, the peripheral nerves and spinal cord must be working; and for a 'mental' erection, the limbic system of the brain is utilized.

Whether the erection occurs as the result of physical or mental stimuli, a working neural system, adequate testosterone and healthy pituitary glands are necessary. Where erectile dysfunction is not a result of a treatable medical condition, such as diabetes, treatment has traditionally been difficult. Psychological impotence can be treated in a variety of ways, specific to the affected man, but the process can be lengthy. In severe cases, surgery and implants are available. But in the 1990s, Viagra was developed and treatment for erectile dysfunction became much simpler and much less distressing – and changed the lives of many men and their partners around the world.