Erectile Dysfunction and Diabetes: Frequently Asked Questions

Diabetes and erectile dysfunction are two conditions that often go together. Here are the answers to several common questions about diabetes and how it affects sexual function in men.


How prevalent is ED in men with diabetes?

Anywhere from 35% to 75% of men with diabetes will experience erectile dysfunction (ED) during their lifetime. Men who have diabetes tend to develop ED about a decade sooner than non-diabetic men.

After age 50, approximately 50 to 60% of men with diabetes experience ED. After age 70, up to 95% of diabetic men experience some degree of ED. Overall, men who are diabetic are two to three times more likely to experience ED than non-diabetic men.

How does diabetic nerve damage contribute to ED?

Progressive nerve damage is common in diabetics.  Some nerves can be controlled consciously: for example, when a person wants to raise their arm, the brain transmits nerve impulses to the affected muscles. But nerve signals also control bodily processes that a person does not have conscious control over, such as the process of digestion. The nerves that control internal organs are called autonomic nerves, and these nerves may gradually become damaged due to diabetes. A man’s response to sexual stimuli is governed by autonomic nerve signals to the sexual organs, and when these nerves are damaged by diabetes, ED can result. The name for this type of nerve damage is autonomic neuropathy.

How does diabetic blood vessel damage contribute to ED?

Normal erections require adequate blood flow to the sex organs. In a normal erection, the pressure within what is called the intracavernosal space within the penis increases, choking off outflow of blood. With more blood flowing into the penis than out, the result is an erection. Adequate levels of nitric oxide within the sexual organs are necessary for an erection, but low levels are common in men with diabetes. Low levels of nitric oxide synthesis can result in disruption of the high-inflow, low-outflow process that results in an erection. Poor circulation in general is common in diabetics, particularly in diabetics who do not control blood glucose levels well, and this contributes to the development of ED.

How does diabetic smooth muscle damage contribute to ED?

Vascular smooth muscle is a type of smooth muscle that makes up much of the walls of blood vessels. It contracts or relaxes to change how much blood flows through blood vessels and is responsible for redistribution of blood flow in the body. Erectile function requires relaxation of smooth muscle. Normally, the vascular smooth muscle receives nerve signals and a supply of nitric oxide to adjust blood flow, including flow to the sexual organs. In diabetics, vascular smooth muscle cells can die due to autonomic neuropathy which results from continued high blood sugar levels, and this also contributes to ED in diabetics.

Can diabetic men take drugs like Viagra?

Many men with diabetes can take oral medications like Viagra, Levitra, or Cialis to improve sexual functioning. However, they should consult with a physician before considering taking these drugs. Many diabetics also have problems with their heart, and ED drugs can interact dangerously with certain heart medications, so it is vital for diabetic men to rule out possible drug interactions before trying Viagra or similar medications. These ED drugs can be purchased online, and many men find this option to be particularly discreet and convenient.

Can tighter blood glucose control help with ED?

While tight blood glucose control won’t reverse nerve or smooth muscle damage that has already occurred due to diabetes, it can help slow or prevent further nerve and smooth muscle damage and contribute to overall improved health. Diabetic men with ED should strive to keep their blood glucose within recommended levels, to help prevent worsening of ED and to help them maintain better overall health, which is important to enjoyable sexual relations.

Could other prescription drugs I’m taking worsen ED?

Many commonly-prescribed drugs, including many antidepressants, can aggravate ED.


Common drugs used to control blood sugar won’t worsen ED, but many diabetic men take other drugs that can interfere with sexual functioning. Specifically, the following types of drugs can contribute to ED:

  • Drugs for treating high blood pressure
  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety drugs
  • Antiepileptic drugs
  • Antiarrythmia drugs (for certain types of heart problems)

Your physician can advise you as to whether you can safely take medications for ED along with the medications you take regularly.

What lifestyle changes can diabetic men with ED take to improve their sexual health?

The lifestyle changes that diabetic men with ED can take for better sexual functioning are changes that can benefit anyone. Specifically,

  • Quitting smoking
  • Limiting alcohol intake to two drinks a day or less
  • Learning stress control techniques
  • Exercising regularly
  • Getting adequate sleep

All of these techniques can do wonders for any man who wants more satisfying sexual function. Smoking not only narrows blood vessels, but it also decreases nitric oxide levels, which control blood flow to the penis. Excess alcohol consumption can lead to blood vessel damage, and stress can add to psychological factors that affect sexual function. Exercise and adequate sleep improve blood flow, mood, and energy levels.

I’m under 40 and have ED. Why does my doctor want to test me for diabetes?

Many physicians consider ED in younger men to be a warning sign for diabetes. Millions of people are diabetic and don’t even realize it. If you’re under 40 and have ED, your doctor may want to either rule out diabetes, or, if it turns out you do have diabetes, start a treatment program right away to help prevent the many health complications that result from diabetes. Some doctors consider ED in younger men to be a marker for heart disease as well, so if you’re a younger man with ED, your doctor may well want to run tests of your cardiac function as well as your blood glucose levels.

How well do popular ED drugs like Viagra, Cialis, and Levitra work in diabetics?

These drugs can work very well in men with diabetes. A 2007 study reviewed earlier studies on erectile dysfunction drugs in 1,700 men, 80% of whom had diabetes. The men who took drugs like Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis showed significant improvement in several measures of sex life quality compared to men who took placebos. In general, diabetic men who don’t take cardiac drugs known to cause harmful interactions with ED drugs had good results when they used Viagra, Levitra, or Cialis, all of which can be purchased conveniently and discreetly online through

Don Amerman has spent more than three decades in the business of writing and editing. During the last 15 years, his focus has been on freelance writing. For almost all of his writing, He has done all of his own research, both online and off, including telephone and face-to-face interviews where possible. Don Amerman on Google+