Words by Gavin Newsham.
It may be the subject of many a cruel joke, but erectile dysfunction is no laughing matter for those men experiencing it, not least because it’s one of the most difficult subjects to broach, even with those that are closest to you.
In a recent survey conducted by Well Pharmacy, 66 per cent of the men polled admitted they had never spoken to their partner about the problem while 82 per cent said they had never discussed with close friends or family either.
This week, another poll, carried out by Joe.co.uk, found that 72 per cent of their users would be scared of their partner’s reaction if they couldn’t get an erection while 49 per cent of their audience said that they have, at times, struggled to get an erection.
Compounding matters, inevitably, is men’s general inability to talk about their sexual wellbeing.
“It’s a sensitive subject and can be difficult to talk about,” explains Gillian Stone, deputy pharmacy superintendent at Well Pharmacy.
“And the thought of talking about it can feel overwhelming. This, along with feeling embarrassed or judged, can all play a part in why some people find it hard to seek help.”
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Seeking help isn’t the only issue confronting men when it comes to erectile dysfunction. Some 43 per cent of respondents to the Well survey also maintained that it had stopped them forging new relationships while 55 per cent admitted to feelings of inadequacy when it came to their sexual performance.
While erectile dysfunction typically occurs in men over the age of 40, it can occur at any age and you’ll be particularly prone to it if you’re overweight or obese and if you’re suffering from fatigue too. Drinking alcohol excessively or smoking cigarettes can also have a negative impact.
But there are also a range of health conditions that can leave men more susceptible to erectile dysfunction, all of which can make achieving and sustaining an erection more difficult.
Diabetes, for example, can affect the blood supply and the nerve endings in the penis while hypertension can also damage the arteries that feed the penis.
Atherosclerosis, meanwhile, will cause your arteries to narrow and harden, restricting the amount of blood that can reach your penis and making erections more difficult.
Conditions such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease as well as hormonal issues like hyperthyroidism can also present problems.
“The fact is that the process of getting an erection is complicated because it relies on the vascular, endocrine and central nervous systems and many health conditions can impede this process,” adds Stone.
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But it’s not just physical concerns that can provoke the problem. Often, it’s psychological issues that are at the root of the problem with stress, anxiety and depression, as well as the medication typically prescribed to tackle them, often leading to a man’s inability to get an erection.
Troubles in your relationship and ‘performance anxiety’ can also hinder things in the bedroom.
But help is at hand.
Many of the problems associated with erectile dysfunction can be helped simply by changing some of the less healthy lifestyle habits you may have picked up.
Try eating a healthier diet and, if you’re overweight, shedding a few pounds. Cut down on the booze and up the amount of exercise you do. And, if possible, try and eliminate any unnecessary stress in your life too.
If that doesn’t work then you may need some extra assistance. “The most common type of medication for erectile dysfunction are phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (PDE5) such as sildenafil [sold as Viagra],” says Stone. While it used to be available by prescription only, Viagra is now available over the counter at pharmacies – just be sure to talk through any concerns with the pharmacist beforehand.
It’s not the only route you can explore. Other common treatments include Prostaglandin injections or pellets inserted in the urethra, while some men might also benefit from using vacuum pumps, although all these are markedly less popular than taking a readily available product in tablet form like Viagra.
“These products tend to less accepted by men as they see them as being inhibitors to spontaneous sex,” says Stone. Remember, though, that you may have to try more than one treatment to find the one that works for you as each person’s response will be different.
What is key, however, is that you don’t suffer in silence. Taking that all-important first step in sharing, discussing and addressing the problem, be that with a partner or a health professional, might be difficult and uncomfortable but it’s imperative if you want your sex life to get back on track.
And the good news? Well, evidence shows that couples who have actually tackled the issue together report being closer as a result of it.
More help's available in Well Pharmacy’s guide to dealing with erectile dysfunction.