Erectile Dysfunction and Age: Separating Fact from Fiction

Age makes ED more likely, but it’s not inevitable.
Age makes ED more likely, but it’s not inevitable.

The older a man is, the more likely he is to experience erectile dysfunction (ED).

A large survey of erectile function in men was conducted in 2003, and the numbers clearly indicated that ED is more prevalent the older men get. The occasional inability to achieve or maintain an erection (especially in the presence of aggravating factors like excessive alcohol consumption) is not the same thing as ED, which is a chronic problem with having and maintaining erections sufficiently for sexual intercourse.

In the 2003 survey, nearly three-quarters of the youngest men reported good sexual function, with only 12% reporting moderate to severe problems with erections. Of those reporting poor or very poor sexual functioning, which is indicative of ED, only 2% reported the problem before age 40. For men in their 40s, the prevalence was 4%, compared to 26% of men in their 50s and 40% of men in their 60s.

A Physical Reason Can Almost Always Be Identified with ED

One of the most important changes wrought by the development of drugs known as PDE-5 inhibitors (which include popular ED medications Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis) has been the refutation of the notion that ED is “all in your mind” or due to psychological problems. While there are indeed ways in which psychological problems can affect erection quality (particularly for men who take certain antidepressants), in the vast majority of men, ED can be traced to the physical problem of insufficient blood flow to the penis.

The popular prescription medications for ED address this exact problem, by creating conditions that allow increased blood flow. The drugs themselves don’t cause erections, but they allow sufficient blood flow for erections in the presence of sexual stimulation.

Health Conditions That Predispose Men to ED Increase With Age

One of the main reasons that the incidence of ED increases with age is that the very health problems that can compromise blood flow to the penis (and elsewhere in the body) become more common with increasing age. Heart disease is often due to narrowing or clogged blood vessels, and is increasingly common as men get older. Diabetes and high blood pressure are other chronic health conditions that are more common in older men and that can profoundly affect the condition of blood vessels throughout the body.

Older men also must cope with the cumulative effects of lifestyle choices they have made long term. For example, the longer you smoke, the more likely you are to have ED, and chronic alcoholism also affects erection function. The longer these patterns are repeated, the more likely they are to cause problems with erections.

Use of Medications That Can Lead to ED Increases with Age

Medications can affect the quality of erections, and these include legitimately prescribed drugs as well as drugs used recreationally. For example, opiates can negatively affect the quality of erections, whether they’re used recreationally or prescribed for pain relief. Other types of drugs that can affect erection quality or lead to ED include:

  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Medications for high blood pressure
  • Hormone therapies (like prednisone)
  • Antihistamines
  • Antidepressants

These medications don’t always cause ED in every man who takes them, so if your doctor recommends one of them, don’t assume you’ll have problems with erections. It is wise, however to ask if any new medication is likely to affect your sex life. If your doctor knows you are concerned, he or she can make suggestions for avoiding problems or schedule a follow-up to check that the new meds are working and to find out if they are causing erection problems.

Younger Men Are Not Immune to ED

Just as advanced age is no guarantee you will have erection problems, being young doesn’t magically prevent you from having ED. A 2013 study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that one-quarter of men at an outpatient clinic seeking help for ED was under age 40. In addition, nearly half of these younger men had severe ED.

Compared to older men, younger men with ED were more likely to smoke and use drugs recreationally, and were more likely to also experience premature ejaculation. They’re also more likely to be diagnosed with chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes. In fact, men under 40 who report ED to their doctors may be evaluated for these conditions, which may not show overt symptoms until much later. The good news is, the earlier chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes are diagnosed, the more treatment options are available.

Lifestyle Choices Matter at Any Age

A healthy lifestyle matters for improved erectile functioning regardless of a man’s age. Whatever the age group, men who don’t have chronic diseases and who engage in a healthy lifestyle have the lowest risk for ED. These healthy lifestyle factors include things like not smoking, not consuming too much alcohol, exercising regularly, and having a healthy, balanced diet. Obesity, smoking, and even excessive television watching are associated with increased risk of ED whatever a man’s age. You may be able to get away with these life choices a little easier when you’re young, but that doesn’t mean they’re not harmful.

Medications for ED

Effective medical relief for ED is a possibility for most men with the condition.
Effective medical relief for ED is a possibility for most men with the condition.


Drugs in the PDE-5 class are usually a first choice for men with ED. By directly addressing the issue of blood flow, they can successfully treat ED, and the drugs can be taken on an as-needed basis, usually with minimal side effects. There’s no mystery why Viagra and other ED drugs are top sellers: they work for millions of men, and any side effects are minor enough not to offset the benefits.

Men who take medications called nitrates because of heart disease risk major side effects if they take PDE-5 inhibitors, so they’re usually not prescribed for these men. Also, if you take any medications for heart disease, it’s critical to tell your doctor if you want him or her to prescribe a drug like Viagra.

Getting the Most from Your ED Medications

Positive lifestyle changes don’t just help if you want to avoid taking ED medications. They help even if you do take these medications. In fact, giving up unhealthy habits, exercising regularly, and eating a balanced diet can help ensure that you get the maximum benefit from your ED medications. And since these meds can be pricey, you definitely want to do what you can to enjoy the maximum benefit from them.

Conclusion works with US-licensed pharmacists do deliver prescription medications for ED to men at competitive prices, with maximum convenience. We’re committed to helping adults enjoy a healthy, active lifestyle that includes a healthy sex life.

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