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How erectile dysfunction impacts men's mental health, according to new research

Worried husband with erectile dysfunction in bed
Men who experience erectile dysfunction often feel awkward or embarrassed by the condition, even though it is common and often treatable. (Getty Images)

Despite how common erectile dysfunction (ED) is among men, the stigma surrounding the condition continues to impact those who experience it - causing damage to their mental health, new research has suggested.

Around half of British men over the age of 40 experience ED, and the condition also affects a further quarter (26%) of men under 40. But the issue often goes undetected, partly because many men are reluctant to discuss it out of fear they will be judged or mocked.

This has led to nearly half (41%) of patients feeling like they are a “failure”, according to research by over-the-counter ED therapy provider Eroxon. A similar proportion (40%) said they felt awkward and embarrassed by the condition, while nearly a third (30%) said they felt “guilty”.

Among single men, 63% said they felt anxious about starting a new sexual relationship because of ED. Eroxon, which produces the first over-the-counter topical ED therapy, released the research to mark Men’s Health Awareness Month in November (also known as Movember) and International Men’s Day on Sunday 19 November.

According to Dr Hilary Jones, who frequently appears on Good Morning Britain and Lorraine, ED occurs when men experience “the persistent inability to attain and maintain an erection sufficient to permit satisfactory sexual performance”.

“When ED sufferers and their partners were asked to describe their sex life, despite 52% being happy with their sex life, a staggering 48% said they were unhappy or simply didn’t have a sex life,” he added. “The state of a couple’s antics between the sheets can have a big impact on overall wellbeing so it’s important to deal with problems as soon as possible. Getting to the root cause of ED can really help.”

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Underlying health problems

The study, which surveyed more than 1,000 ED patients and their partners, also revealed the men suffered from at least one other health issue, including mental health problems. 30% of respondents with ED also had high blood pressure, while 22% also had diabetes.

According to the British Association of Urological Surgeons, other potential causes for ED include hormone problems, such as low testosterone problems, and certain medications like high blood pressure medicine (antihypertensives), antidepressants, and antihistamines.

Around 10% of men with ED have neurological disorders, while 3-5% of men who have had pelvic surgery or trauma are also affected. Being overweight or obese can also contribute to ED experiences, as it is linked to low levels of testosterone.

The NHS also adds that the inability to get or keep an erection can also be caused by stress, tiredness, or drinking too much alcohol.

Young blond guy is worried in his bed after unsuccessful night
Erectile dysfunction can be caused by stress or anxiety, but may also be caused by other health problems. (Getty Images)

The role of porn in ED

Easy access to porn also plays a role in the onset of ED, the research suggested. It found that 44% of respondents admitted that porn places higher pressure on both men and women to perform in the bedroom. For 67% of people with ED, stress and anxiety are high on the list of triggers that stops them from achieving an erection.

Dr Jeff Foster, men’s health specialist and member of Eroxon’s information panel, added: “Research shows that more than a third of men (36%) watch pornography at least once a week, and 13% view sexually explicit material most days.”

Treatments for ED

Sometimes, making lifestyle changes can help you overcome ED. The NHS recommends:

  • Losing weight if you’re overweight

  • Stopping smoking

  • Eating a healthy diet

  • Exercising daily

  • Reducing stress and anxiety if you can

If you continue to experience ED even after making positive changes to the way you live, you may need to see your GP or go to a sexual health clinic. They can both provide the same treatment, and many sexual health clinics offer a walk-in service and get test results quicker than GP practices.

You may be prescribed medicines for erectile dysfunction that increase the blood flow to your penis, which are called PDE-5 inhibitors. Eroxon, a topical gel, became available to buy over the counter and online on Boots in April, for the first time in 25 years.

Your doctor may also switch you to a different medicine if that’s the root cause of your ED. High blood pressure, high cholesterol and hormone problems may also be treated with medicine.

If your ED is linked to emotional or mental health problems, seeking counselling or therapy could help.

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