Erectile dysfunction, or impotence, means not being able to get or keep an erection that is sufficient for sexual intercourse. Many men have erectile dysfunction at some time in their lives. It can come and go.
It is estimated erectile dysfunction affects about 1 million men in Australia. It is more common in older men.
Erectile dysfunction can have a range of causes, both physical and psychological.
Physical factors that can cause erectile dysfunction include:
- general ageing
- health problems that affect your nerves, like spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis (MS), diabetes, surgery that affects the pelvic area or spinal cord (prostate or bowel surgery), Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease
- reduced blood flow to the penis, caused by atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries)
- conditions like prostate disease, high blood pressure, underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism), cardiovascular disease, obesity or sleep disorders
- alcohol, some medicines, smoking or substance abuse
- Peyronie's disease (scar tissue inside the penis)
- treatments for prostate cancer or an enlarged prostate
Psychological factors that can cause erectile dysfunction include:
- unresolved problems, conflicts or issues within a sexual and emotional relationship
- anxiety about sexual performance (this is most common at the start of a new relationship, especially if a man has had previous problems with sexual performance)
- problems with mental health such as depression
It is common for a man who is impotent to be affect by a combination of physical and psychological causes.
Erectile dysfunction treatments
Your doctor will first treat any health conditions that may be causing your erectile dysfunction.
You may need treatment for both physical and psychological causes of erectile dysfunction. Although it usually can’t be completely cured, there are treatments that will allow you to get an erection so you can have sex.
For physical causes, your doctor will usually suggest medicine. Other treatment options include a penis pump, implants, injections or surgery.
Treating erectile dysfunction that is caused by psychological factors could involve counselling, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, or sex therapy undertaken with your partner.
Buying medicines for erectile dysfunction
Medicines for erection problems should be obtained only from an authorised Australian prescriber, such as your doctor, specialist nurse or erectile specialist.
Medicines bought on the internet may be of poor quality and may contain ingredients that are not safe when taken in combination with other medicines you are on. They may also be unsafe due to other health problems you have.
If you are worried that you might have been sold counterfeit (fake) medicines, then report it to the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about your erectile dysfunction, check your symptoms with healthdirect's online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it's self-care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
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Last reviewed: November 2018