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The Difference Between Erectile Dysfunction and Erectile Dissatisfaction

Symptoms some men interpret as erectile dysfunction often turn out to be erectile dissatisfaction. The latter, while somewhat bothersome, is much easier to deal with than full-blown ED.

In just over two decades, public awareness of erectile dysfunction (a term rarely heard before 1998) increased significantly in the wake of the introduction of medications that can treat the problem more effectively than ever before. On balance, that’s probably a good thing. However, it also has a downside.

For some men, all this talk of ED has increased anxiety about the chances that they will develop erection problems, causing them to look for — and often find — signs they interpret as symptomatic of erectile dysfunction. Often, however, the signs they see could perhaps be better characterized as erectile dissatisfaction and not necessarily an indication of incipient impotence.

ED Is Not Inevitable

Fueling this anxiety about erection problems is the widely held but erroneous belief that erectile dysfunction is an inevitable part of the aging process. While it may be true that most men experience changes in the quality and character of their erections over time, that is not the same thing as erectile dysfunction.

WebMD.com defines erectile dysfunction as “the inability to achieve and sustain an erection suitable for sexual intercourse.” It also notes quite clearly that ED “is not necessarily considered normal at any age,” offering further reassurance to those who fear that advancing age is virtually certain to put an end to their active sex lives at some point.

Erectile Dissatisfaction

In contrast to full-blown erectile dysfunction, as defined by WebMD, erectile dissatisfaction is characterized by one or more of the following symptoms:

  • An inability to achieve an erection on the basis of fantasy alone, giving rise to a need for some degree of physical stimulation to become erect
  • No longer being able to take erections for granted
  • Erections that are noticeably less firm and reliable than those experienced in one’s youth
Cuddling, erotic massage, oral sex, and sex toys are all enjoyable alternatives to sexual intercourse.

Cuddling, erotic massage, oral sex, and sex toys are all enjoyable alternatives to sexual intercourse.

It is now widely accepted that the vast majority of erection problems arise from decreased blood flow to the penis. The longer you live, the more time you have to engage in unhealthy behaviors that may gradually impede blood flow throughout your body. However, knowing that certain behaviors cause blood flow problems, you can also change your ways to a more healthy overall lifestyle and thus keep vascular problems from getting any worse and even regain some lost ground.

Psychological Factors

Although most erection problems can be attributed to insufficient blood flow to the penis, roughly 10 to 20 percent of ED is said to be primarily psychological in origin. Men who obsess over any less than satisfactory erection fall victim to anxiety and even depression that can only exacerbate whatever problems of a physiological nature may be present.

While ED is not an inevitable consequence of aging, men should be prepared for certain changes in the quality and character of their erections, particularly after the age of 50. In men who smoke or have diabetes, the onset of these changes may come even earlier than age 50.

Differences Examined

In a fascinating article posted at PsychologyToday.com, Michael Castleman, who writes frequently about adult sexuality, examines the differences between erectile dysfunction and erection dissatisfaction. He points out that post-50 erectile changes include a tendency for erections to rise more slowly and become less firm than they did when the men were in their 30s and 40s. All too often, men who see these changes in themselves jump to the conclusion that they have ED.

Not so, writes Castleman. “If you can still raise erections during masturbation, you don’t [have ED]. What you have is erection dissatisfaction.” However, erection dissatisfaction can sometimes be reversed or lessened in intensity by certain lifestyle changes, such as getting in shape, falling in love, or making love early in the day when energy levels are relatively high.

Lifestyle Changes Can Help

In fact, such lifestyle changes and others can often help to prevent or at least postpone the development of erectile dysfunction if they are taken early enough to undo some of the vascular damage that unhealthy behaviors may have caused. If your diet is high in unhealthy saturated fats, refined sugars and starches, and empty calories, you can do yourself an enormous favor by trading in those lousy eating habits for a diet less likely to clog your arteries. In the process, you will benefit not only your erectile function but may also reduce your chances of a heart attack or stroke in the future.

While adopting a healthier lifestyle can help to preserve erectile function, certain behaviors have the opposite effect and can speed the onset of erection problems, whether they be erectile dissatisfaction or dysfunction. Such behaviors include smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, drinking too much alcohol, fatigue, and anxiety. And when it comes to anxiety, perhaps the most pernicious and self-defeating form of it is an obsession over some of life’s changes that you have no control over.

Sometime less than satisfactory erections encourage men to explore other ways of expressing their sexuality.

Sometime less than satisfactory erections encourage men to explore other ways of expressing their sexuality.

Accept What You Cannot Change

As for erections that are not nearly as rigid and long-lasting as they were when you were young, you will have to accept that some of life’s changes are inevitable. Live as healthy a life as you possibly can, and make the most of what you have.

Castleman suggests that in some ways “the dark cloud of erection changes has a silver lining.” Men who are older need more time to be aroused and brought to orgasm, putting their erotic pace in closer alignment with that of women. This is in sharp contrast to the disparity between the erotic pace of young men and young women, says Castleman. “Young men are often all finished before young women have even become aroused.”

Alternatives to Intercourse

The post-50 changes in males also provide an opportunity for men to discover that an erection is not a prerequisite for an orgasm, according to Castleman. “In an erotic context filled with kissing, cuddling, fondling, massage, oral, and sex toys, a man with a semi-erect or even flaccid penis can enjoy orgasms as intense as any he ever experienced during intercourse.”

Certified sex therapist Jeanne Shaw, Ph.D., echoes Castleman’s views about a man’s ability to be sexual and erotic without an erection. Shaw tells WebMD.com that the widely held view that good sex requires “an erect penis that stays hard through the entire sexual encounter” is a problem that needs to be addressed.

Shaw explains: “Having an erection does not mean you are being sexual. Being sexual comes from inside your sense of yourself. You can be sexual, you can feel sexual, you can behave sexually without an erection. A penis is not the only part of a man’s body that can be used sexually.”

If you decide that you’d like to give your erectile process a bit of a helping hand, eDrugstore.com has a full range of ED medications — both brand-name and generic — that should fit the bill. Click here to access eDrugstore’s Erection Problems page. If you don’t already have a prescription for one of these drugs, eDrugstore can arrange a complimentary online consultation with one of its team of licensed U.S. physicians.

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+