Blog Understanding and overcoming erectile dysfunction
If you or your partner have ever struggled to get or maintain an erection, it might be a source of embarrassment, shame or worry.

But the truth is, erectile dysfunction (also known as ED or impotence) is very common, affecting about half of men between the ages of 40 and 70. And it’s not just older men who can experience this problem. Even young men can have trouble getting or keeping an erection occasionally.

At Access Doctor, we’re committed to breaking the stigma around this common health problem. That’s why, we’ve put together an infographic full of expert information and advice to help get the conversation started.

What is erectile dysfunction?

Our attitudes towards sex and sexual health problems have come a long way over the years but unfortunately, in 21st century Britain, there’s still a stigma around ED. Some of this may be down to a simple lack of knowledge and understanding. 

According to the European Association of Urology (EAU), awareness of the condition is still shockingly low. A survey conducted by the EAU in 2020 of 3,032 men and women between 20 and 70 years old in Spain, France, Germany, and the UK revealed that the majority of respondents don’t know what ED entails. When faced with the question of what ED is, 34% of people gave incorrect answers and 17% admitted that they don’t know. 

So what exactly is ED then? It’s defined by the NHS as ‘inability to get and maintain an erection that is sufficient for satisfactory sexual intercourse’.

  • This can include:
  • * being unable to get an erection sometimes
  • * being able to get an erection but not being able to sustain it long enough for sex
  • * being unable to get an erection at all.

Why erectile dysfunction happens

There are all sorts of reasons why men can struggle to get or keep an erection from time to time. Simple things like being tired or feeling a bit stressed or anxious can have an impact. Drinking too much alcohol can also affect a man’s ability to get or stay hard.

Emotional or psychological reasons

Sometimes, the causes are deeper-seated. If a man has experienced psychological trauma, is having relationship problems or is going through another type of emotional distress, these issues may be to blame for ED.

According to clinical psychologist and author, Dr. Marianne Trent, “incidents in life that were traumatic or caused grief, shame or embarrassment” can play a part. She goes on to say that “complicated feelings about a partner’s or their own infidelity, having been sexually assaulted, being stressed [or] being depressed” can also be at the root of the problems.

Depending on the exact cause, men may find it beneficial to open up to their partner, a close friend or family member, or to seek professional help by consulting a doctor or therapist.

Physical health problems

It’s important to realise that impotence can be triggered by physical problems too, such as underlying health problems and medicines. Dr. Trent advises that “before assuming it is purely psychological it is important to rule these out by discussing it with your GP”.

If ED is persistent, it could be a sign of health problems, such as:
* diabetes
* heart disease
* high blood pressure.

Of course, just because you have erectile problems doesn’t necessarily mean you have an underlying condition so you shouldn’t panic. It is advisable to rule out physical causes just in case though.

As a side effect of certain medicines

Impotence can also be caused by certain medicines, such as:
* antidepressants
* blood pressure medication
* tranquilisers
* appetite suppressants
* chemotherapy treatment. 

If you’ve suddenly started to have issues in the bedroom, you should think about whether you’ve recently started any new medications. If you have, you might want to discuss the potential side effects with your doctor. 

Recreational drugs, such as marijuana, amphetamines, and cocaine, can also cause impotence. If you are finding it difficult to stop taking drugs like these, you can get help from your GP or local drug treatment services.

Opening up about ED

If you’re daunted by the prospect of opening up about ED, you’re not alone. The 2020 survey by the EAU revealed that of the 17% of respondents who have or have a partner who has ever experienced ED, 26% said they didn’t talk about it with anyone. According to the study, of the people in a relationship, an average of just 29% talk to each other about ED.

If you want to resolve the ED, talking about it is an important first step, according to Dr. Trent. She suggests that when bringing it up with a partner, “it might be helpful to have the conversation away from the bedroom and when you’re both feeling relatively relaxed and calm”. 

Psychologist and sex and relationship adviser at, Barbara Santini says that you should “be honest on your opening up on what leads to your ED, such as performance anxiety, boring sex, mental problems, etc.” And of course, you shouldn’t ignore your partner’s feelings about the situation either. She suggests asking “how they are impacted or feel about your condition”. If you are shy about telling your other half directly, she says visiting a therapist might be a better way. 

Click on the questions on the below image to see answers.

Help is available

If you’re suffering from ED right now, you should rest assured that help is available. According to Ms Santini, “couples can still enjoy sex and sexually satisfy each other even if the man suffers from ED. She notes that “erectile dysfunction is a treatable and reversible condition; hence, lovers can remedy it”.

ED medicines

It seems there’s still a significant lack of awareness around ED medicines. According to the EAU survey, almost one in three (31%) people aged between 20 and 70 in the UK have never heard of any of the most common ED treatments

Indeed, there’s a choice of effective medicines available that can help men to overcome erectile problems, including Cialis, Viagra, Levitra, Spedra and more.

Sex therapy

If there’s a psychological competent to your ED or you don’t know why you’re experiencing this problem, you might choose to use sex therapy alongside ED medicines. A GP can refer you to a sex therapist if they think you might benefit from their help. 

Sex therapy can help you to get a better understanding of what is happening and why. The therapist will listen to your problems and may provide you with tasks to do in your own time with the aim of helping you to identify and overcome your problems.

Focus on pleasure

At the end of day, sex should be pleasurable so it’s a good idea to try to recognise what makes you feel good. Ms. Santini suggests “giving attention to  the simple acts that derive wild and intense sensations or stimulation. This makes it easier for both partners to get satisfaction and boost performance with added sexual arousal and happiness”. She provides a variety of tips for improving ED, including trying new positions and experimenting with sex toys. She also recommends that if you’re struggling with ED, you should ‘shift your focus on what excites you, not the sexual performance”.

Stop the silence

Whether you’re a man suffering with ED or your partner has this condition, staying silent usually just leads to a cycle of shame, worry and loneliness. By starting the conversation, you can make the first steps towards overcoming the problem and getting on the road to enjoying a fulfilling sex life. 

Want to help break the silence around ED? Join in the conversation online using #UnderstandingED.

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