Acupuncture needles in a mans back.

Can acupuncture work for ED?

Acupuncture has been a treatment option for centuries.

Acupuncture has long been considered a medical treatment for many ailments, including erectile dysfunction (ED), for centuries. Here’s what you should know about acupuncture and what science says about its effectiveness in treating ED.

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is the insertion of thin needles into certain points on the skin, sometimes called pressure points, located along channels in the body called meridians, through which a “vital energy” called qi flows. The belief is that blocked meridians result in a host of negative health outcomes, including ED. It is thought that, by stimulating certain points, blockages can be removed and health restored. The procedure may also be paired with a low-level electrical current that runs through the needle.

Acupuncture is a fundamental piece of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), and has been practiced for thousands of years. TCM is a broad set of knowledge that incorporates several lifestyle practices, from exercise and diet to herbal medicine and practices such as cupping. Other types of TCM you may be familiar with include tai chi practice and the use of medicinal herbs like ginseng.

Is Acupuncture Dangerous?

Done properly, acupuncture is safe. The skin is sterilized and the needles are single-use. Generally, only ten to twenty needles are used in a given session, and the needles are not placed deep into the body. Anyone seeking acupuncture should check that the practitioner holds a license to practice in their state and is certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). If you’re considering acupuncture as a treatment, you should first speak with your doctor to see if you need a referral.

Acupuncture does have some contraindications, or situations it should not be used in. Acupuncture is sometimes paired with Chinese herbal medicine, although the contraindications between herbal medicine and modern pharmaceuticals are still being researched. You should speak with both your doctor and your acupuncturist before using any herbal treatment, and be ready to discontinue that treatment if there are adverse effects.

Acupuncture needles on a hand.
Acupuncture points are located all over the body.

How Does Acupuncture Allegedly Treat Erectile Dysfunction?

In TCM, the genitals are affected by qi flow in the liver and kidneys. To simplify somewhat, the liver governs the tendons, and the genitals are seen as the ancestral tendon in TCM. If, due to “emotional conditions” such as anxiety or depression, qi becomes blocked in the liver, the reproductive organs are affected. Similarly, a lack of qi flowing into the kidney, can block qi from flowing to sexual organs.

In practical terms, this means needles will be places at points along the hip, torso, and outer and inner leg to promote the flow of qi.

Does Acupuncture Work?

Whether or not acupuncture works as a treatment in general, or a treatment for ED, is something of an open question. It is tangled in the question of whether acupuncture works at all.

Meta-studies of the theory behind acupuncture have been inconclusive, with studies reporting inconsistent evidence of its benefits. This means that any benefits:

  • are either independent of the treatment itself
  • working as a placebo,
  • or, if the treatment is effective, its mechanism is not properly understood

One systematic review on the electrical properties of acupuncture points and meridians published in 2008 reported that study issues, such as small sample size, limited researchers’ ability to expand understanding of acupuncture.

Acupuncture needles.
Acupuncture’s efficacy in the West is an open question.

Another difficulty, as noted by scientists at the University of California Berkeley, is that many of the medical concerns acupuncture is used to address, such as pain, are subjective. If a person is in pain, and acupuncture relieves that pain, acupuncture “works” by the patient’s definition, but there’s no scientific measure.

Adding to the issue is the cultural divide. Acupuncture is well-accepted as medicine in China, seen as a long-standing tradition similar to Western herbal medicine. However, it is less accepted in the West, raising the question of whether acupuncture has a placebo effect and how its effectiveness may differ from culture to culture.

Acupuncture and Erectile Dysfunction

Most scientists note that ED is caused by a complicated mix of psychological and medical factors. Western drugs such as sildenafil, for example, do not cause an erection in the absence of sexual stimulation. Rather, as vasodilators, they open blood vessels in the smooth tissue to allow blood flow.

With this in mind, most research findings on acupuncture and ED are conservative at best. A 2016 analysis of research found that any evidence presented was inconclusive in regard to specific effects on ED.

However, Chinese studies, which can be difficult for Westerners to access and read, have shown different results, with some studies showing a degree of effectiveness ranging from 39% to 50%. However, these studies are also plagued by limitations like small sample sizes. Further, there has been no explanation for a possible mechanism through which acupuncture works in these studies.

Acupuncture needles in a heel.
Sometimes acupuncture is paired with a low-level electrical current.

Should I Try Acupuncture to Treat My Erectile Dysfunction?

If you’re thinking about acupuncture as a treatment for ED, first speak with your doctor, and remember that few acupuncturists will tell you that their treatment is a “silver bullet” for any condition. Just like a Western doctor, acupuncturists will likely combine therapies to treat ED, such as:

  • Herbal medicine
  • Diet
  • Exercise

Fortunately, acupuncture, done properly by an accredited professional, is a low-risk procedure. Hopefully research into TCM will continue, and definitive answers will be forthcoming. To learn more about your pharmacological options to address erectile dysfunction, visit  

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