Penile erection is managed by two mechanisms: the reflex erection, which is achieved by directly touching the penile shaft, and the psychogenic erection, which is achieved by erotic or emotional stimuli. The former uses the peripheral nerves and the lower parts of the spinal cord, whereas the latter uses the limbic system of the brain. In both cases, an intact neural system is required for a successful and complete erection. Stimulation of the penile shaft by the nervous system leads to the secretion of nitric oxide (NO), which causes the relaxation of smooth muscles of corpora cavernosa (the main erectile tissue of penis), and subsequently penile erection. Additionally, adequate levels of testosterone (produced by the testes) and an intact pituitary gland are required for the development of a healthy erectile system. As can be understood from the mechanisms of a normal erection, impotence may develop due to hormonal deficiency, disorders of the neural system, lack of adequate penile blood supply or psychological problems.[18] Spinal cord injury causes sexual dysfunction including ED. Restriction of blood flow can arise from impaired endothelial function due to the usual causes associated with coronary artery disease, but can also be caused by prolonged exposure to bright light.
One study by Palmer and colleagues evaluated sildenafil use in SB males with thoracic lesions (76). A prospective, blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled, dose-escalation, crossover study in 17 patients with SB and ED was performed. All study participates took sets of tablet in groups, two sets of placebo, one of 25 mg, and the last 50 mg. Overall response to the tablet sets was measured by IIEF response and self-report of erectile rigidity. Patients reported that taking 50 mg of sildenafil led to improved erections, duration of erections, frequency of erections and level of confidence compared to sildenafil 25 mg and more significantly compared to placebo. Of the five patients who reported side effects, two experienced mild hematological changes that reverted to baseline after study completion.
Aging: There are two reasons why older men are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction than younger men. First, older men are more likely to develop diseases (such as heart attacks, angina, cardiovascular disease, strokes, diabetes mellitus, and high blood pressure) that are associated with erectile dysfunction. Second, the aging process alone can cause erectile dysfunction in some men by causing changes in the muscle and tissue within the penis.
Prior to starting with treatment of erectile dysfunction, it is important to make sure that it is safe from a medical standpoint to participate in sexual activity. Sexual activity is physical exertion, and in some men with significant heart disease, this increase in physical exertion can increase the risk of a heart attack. Thus, it is very important to discuss your cardiovascular risks with your doctor prior to trying any medication or treatment for erectile dysfunction.
Choosing the treatment that is best for you comes down to preference and efficacy. Montague cites a study that surveyed three groups of men, all of whom were successfully using an ED treatment. One group was on oral medications, one was using injections and a third had surgically implanted pumps. The most satisfied users were those with the implanted prostheses.
Think of erectile dysfunction as your body’s “check engine light.” The blood vessels in the penis are smaller than other parts of the body, so underlying conditions like blocked arteries, heart disease, or high blood pressure usually show up as ED before something more serious like a heart attack or stroke. ED is your body’s way of saying, “Something is wrong.” And the list of things that cause erectile dysfunction can include:
In comparison, 37% of men who had received external radiotherapy as their primary therapy reported the ability to attain functional erections suitable for intercourse, along with 43% of men who had received brachytherapy as primary treatment. Pretreatment sexual health-related quality of life score, age, serum prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level, race or ethnicity, body mass index, and intended treatment details were associated with functional erections 2 years after treatment. [45]
Injections are most likely to restore testosterone levels, but this therapy requires periodic injections, usually every two to four weeks, to sustain an effective level. As such, it is less ideal for patients to depend on frequent medical visits for long-duration therapy. Coupled with injection-related pain, hematoma formation, and inconvenience, the serum blood levels of testosterone are also variable. Injection therapy should not be used in men who wish to father children due to the abnormally high levels of testosterone that occur initially after the injection.
A variety of personal habits and lifestyle choices have been linked to ED. In some ways, this is a good thing, since habits can be broken and choices reconsidered. What's more, many of the lifestyle factors that contribute to sexual problems are ones that affect overall health and well-being, both physical and mental. Addressing these factors, therefore, can have benefits beyond improving erectile dysfunction.
Certain feelings can interfere with normal sexual function, including feeling nervous about or self-conscious about sex, feeling stressed either at home or at work, or feeling troubled in your current sexual relationship. In these cases, treatment incorporating psychological counseling with you and your sexual partner may be successful. One episode of failure, regardless of cause, may propagate further psychological distress, leading to further erectile failure.
When other treatments haven’t helped, a penile implant may be the right solution. A penile implant is a medical device that is surgically placed into a penis to mimic the look and performance of a natural erection9. Implants are custom-fitted to your anatomy. Sensitivity and the ability to ejaculate aren’t typically affected either, so you’ll be able to have an orgasm normally (unless you have a medical condition that prevents this)7.
Peyronie's disease is a condition that is thought to occur due to minor trauma to the penis that results in injury to the tunica albuginea and scarring; Peyronie's may cause erectile dysfunction due to lack of compression of the veins by the scarred tunica. The penile curvature that develops due to this scarring may make penetration difficult or impossible.
Research has even found possible links to frequent ejaculation and a lower risk of prostate cancer. In one study of 32,000 men published in 2016 in the journal European Urology, for example, men who ejaculated at least 21 times per month while in their 20s were less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than those who ejaculated four to seven times per month. And men who ejaculated more often in their 40s were 22 percent less likely to get a prostate cancer diagnosis.

Alprostadil injections, which produce an erection in five to 20 minutes that lasts for about an hour. Patients use a fine needle to inject alprostadil (commonly known by the brand names Caverject Impulse and Edex) into the base or side of the penis. Side effects can include bleeding or fibrous tissue formation at the injection site as well as prolonged erection, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Oral PDE5i remains the first line treatment for NED from SCI. Three of the four PDE5i currently available in the U.S., avanafil excluded, have been investigated in the SCI, and all of the more recent studies have shown improvements in erectile function based on IIEF score compared to placebo when included (59-63). Other studies have also shown significant improvements in the IIEF score when compared to baseline (64-69). Furthermore, treatment efficacy when compared to placebo occurs despite LOI or American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) score characterizing impairment related to the injury (59,61).
ED is a common occurrence after SCI, occurring in up to 80% of men, and results from disruption of the nerve pathways essential for erection (24,25). Different degrees of ED may occur depending on the spinal cord level of injury (LOI), extent of lesion and timing from injury. Reflexogenic erections can occur with lesions above L3 or L4 when the erectile spinal reflex arc remains intact. Psychogenic erections can occur with low lesions in the sacral and lumbar spinal cord but may not occur in complete lesions above T9 that can damage sympathetic outflow. Additionally, reflexogenic erections are not likely to occur in the spinal shock period that occurs after the initial cord trauma. Conversely, their occurrence may signal that the period of shock is over (26). Typically SCI affects younger men in their “sexual prime” and ED is associated with decreased quality of life (27).
Neurogenic erectile dysfunction (NED) is a traditional classification of erectile dysfunction (ED) encompassing disorders impairing erections via neurologic compromise or dysfunction. The disorders compromising erections may act centrally, peripherally or both. The prevalence of neurogenic ED has been suspected to be between 10% and 19% of all causes of ED (1,2). However, several classically defined neurogenic processes may affect several components of the normal pathway to achieve erection e.g., multiple sclerosis (MS), diabetes mellitus, iatrogenic surgical and spinal cord injury. Each disease state has its own unique characteristics that require acknowledgement to fully understand their effect on ED.
Male erectile problems often produce a significant emotional reaction based on the impact of erectile dysfunction on confidence, self-esteem, and morale in most men. This is described as a pattern of anxiety and stress that can further interfere with normal sexual function. Such "performance anxiety" needs to be recognized and addressed by a doctor.

Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects 50% of men older than 40 years, [4] exerting substantial effects on quality of life. [5] This common problem is complex and involves multiple pathways. Penile erections are produced by an integration of physiologic processes involving the central nervous, peripheral nervous, hormonal, and vascular systems. Any abnormality in these systems, whether from medication or disease, has a significant impact on the ability to develop and sustain an erection, ejaculate, and experience orgasm.
If laboratory tests are performed, they would normally start with an evaluation of your hormone status (testosterone or male hormone), particularly if one of your symptoms is low sexual desire (low libido). Blood tests for testosterone should ideally be taken early in the morning because that's when levels are usually at their highest. It is recommended that if the first testosterone level is low to repeat it as testosterone levels can vary. If the testosterone level is low, other blood tests, such a luteinizing hormone and prolactin, can help determine if there is a problem with the pituitary gland.

The other 5 percent of prostheses are either pump devices in which the saline is permanently in the prosthesis, not in a separate reservoir (urologists may recommend this for men who have had multiple surgeries); or a pair of semi-rigid, malleable rods implanted in the penis, which render it hard at all times. The patient manually shifts the penis into an erect position for sex.
The somatosensory pathways for erections originate in the penile skin, glans and urethra. Glans afferent sensory free nerve endings are 10-fold more than their corpuscular receptors, and are derived from Aδ and unmyelinated C fibers. The nerve endings coalesce to form the dorsal penile nerve along with other sensory nerve fibers. Through the pudendal nerve they enter the S2-4 nerve roots to terminate on spinal neurons and interneurons. The dorsal nerve is not purely somatic, however. Nerve bundles within the dorsal nerve contain nitric oxide (NO) synthase, found typically in autonomic nerves, and stimulation of the sympathetic chain can leak to evoked potentials from the dorsal nerve and vice versa (10-12).
When aroused, stimulated nerves supplying the penis release chemicals that cause the muscle that surrounds blood vessels in the penis to relax. As the blood vessels relax, there is an increase in blood coming into the penis. This blood fills the spaces in the corpora cavernosa, allowing each of the corpora to expand. As the corpora expand, the veins that drain blood out of the penis are compressed against the tunica albuginea. Compression of the veins prevents blood from leaving the penis and results in a fully rigid penis. When the stimulation/arousal subsides, there is a decrease in the chemicals from the nerves, the muscle around the arteries tightens, decreasing inflow of blood, resulting in a lack of compression of the veins and the drainage of blood out of the penis.
A CVA can occur anywhere through the brain, midbrain, brainstem and spinal cord leading to varying degrees of SD depending on location. A decline in libido, erection and ejaculation are frequent in men who have had a CVA, with a reported prevalence of ED that varies from 17% to 48% (28,29). Right hemispheric infarcts seem to affect erections more so than left-sided ones. The exact effects of CVA on sexual function are complex and multifactorial, as disability, psychological and emotional status can affect sexual function aside from the location of the CVA.
L-arginine, an amino acid that is naturally present in the body and helps make nitric oxide, supports a successful erection. Nitric oxide is responsible for making the blood vessels relax, which helps sustain an erection for men. A 1999 study, observed the effects of six weeks of high-dose (5 grams/day) orally administered nitric oxide (NO) donor L-arginine on men with organic ED. Thirty-one percent of those who took 5 grams/day of L-arginine experienced significant improvements in sexual function. Burns told Medical Daily, “l-arginine and deer antler velvet” have been the most popular go-to natural treatments for men.

In a prospective study from the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial database, Thompson et al reported that men presenting with ED had a significantly higher chance of developing a cardiovascular event over a 7-year follow-up period. [55] The hazard ratio was 1.45, which is in the range of risk associated with current smoking or a family history of MI.

Under normal circumstances, when a man is sexually stimulated, his brain sends a message down the spinal cord and into the nerves of the penis. The nerve endings in the penis release chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, that signal the corpora cavernosa (the two spongy rods of tissue that span the length of the penis) to relax and fill with blood. As they expand, the corpora cavernosa close off other veins that would normally drain blood from the penis. As the penis becomes engorged with blood, it enlarges and stiffens, causing an erection. Problems with blood vessels, nerves, or tissues of the penis can interfere with an erection.


Positron emission tomorgraphy (PET), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have led to a greater understanding to which center are activated during arousal. These imaging studies measure increases in cerebral blood flow or changes in cerebral activity on a real-time basis. Studies are performed when male subject are aroused by visual cues (usually sexual explicit photos or videos) and compared to images obtained during exposure to sexually neutral cues differences can be measured. Several studies have identified that the inferior frontal lobes, inferior temporal lobes and insular gyrus, and occipital lobes are involved with processing arousal cues, although each are likely to process different stimuli (20-23).
Men who do not respond or tolerate oral medications are best treated with an internal penile pump (IPP) commonly known as an inflatable implant. The Internal Penile Pump is an inflatable, water-filled device. During the course of a 45-minute outpatient procedure, the pump is inserted through a one-inch opening in the scrotal sac. By squeezing the pump, (which is contained completely within the scrotum), for approximately a minute, fluid is pumped into the penis, resulting in a long lasting erection. To return the penis to its flaccid state, simply press and hold down the pump. Once inserted, there is no maintenance required for the pump, which can remain in place for a lifetime. Couples are once again able to have spontaneous sex. Normal sensation including orgasm and ejaculation are not affected.
Apomorphine is a non-selective D1/D2 receptor agonist with moderate efficacy and good tolerability in the treatment of mild ED (80). Apomorphine can be administered via subcutaneous injection or sublingually. However, studies have shows a lower efficacy for apomorphine compared to oral sildenafil (81,82). Apomorphine has a set role in the management of PD for non-motor symptoms, and has been reported to cause spontaneous erections and possible hypersexuality in PD men (83,84). Its role in the management of ED has been postulated for men with PD but should be considered as an alternative to sildenafil.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) affects 50% of men older than 40 years, [4] exerting substantial effects on quality of life. [5] This common problem is complex and involves multiple pathways. Penile erections are produced by an integration of physiologic processes involving the central nervous, peripheral nervous, hormonal, and vascular systems. Any abnormality in these systems, whether from medication or disease, has a significant impact on the ability to develop and sustain an erection, ejaculate, and experience orgasm.

One of the first steps is to distinguish between physiological and psychological ED. Determining whether involuntary erections are present is important in eliminating the possibility of psychogenic causes for ED.[2] Obtaining full erections occasionally, such as nocturnal penile tumescence when asleep (that is, when the mind and psychological issues, if any, are less present), tends to suggest that the physical structures are functionally working.[19][20] Similarly, performance with manual stimulation, as well as any performance anxiety or acute situational ED, may indicate a psychogenic component to ED.[2]


The physical side effects of chemotherapy are usually temporary and resolve within one to two weeks after stopping the chemotherapy. However, chemotherapy agents, such as Ciplatin or Vincristine, may interfere with the nerves that control erection leading to possible impotence. Make sure you discuss potential side effects of cancer chemotherapy with your doctor or healthcare provider.


In comparison, 37% of men who had received external radiotherapy as their primary therapy reported the ability to attain functional erections suitable for intercourse, along with 43% of men who had received brachytherapy as primary treatment. Pretreatment sexual health-related quality of life score, age, serum prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level, race or ethnicity, body mass index, and intended treatment details were associated with functional erections 2 years after treatment. [45]

However, studies have shown that fewer then 50% of men with ED and Diabetes respond to oral medicines. Also,fewer than 35% of men with ED after prostate cancer surgery respond to oral medicines. For these men the Internal Penile Implant is currently the best option. The Penile Implant is an approved medical option that has been used for over 30 years. During the course of a 45-minute outpatient procedure, the pump is inserted through a small one-inch opening in the scrotal sac. By squeezing the pump, fluid is pumped, resulting in a long lasting erection. Once inserted, there is no maintenance required for the pump and can remain in place for a lifetime. 


Before pursuing ED treatments, though, bear in mind that improving heart health by losing weight, eating a healthier diet, exercising more and quitting smoking typically enhances erectile performance as well as one’s overall health. In addition, sex therapy counseling sessions can often ease or eradicate ED symptoms, if the underlying cause is psychological in nature, says Drogo Montague, M.D., director of the Center for Genitourinary Reconstruction at the Cleveland Clinic. 
Much of the emphasis on erectile pathophysiology has been placed on penile smooth muscle function and cavernosal hemodynamics. The neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of erection can be characterized but its full extent is poorly understood. Neurologic disease does not always reproducibly affect erections in a uniform manner compared to other types of sexual dysfunction (SD). This offers many obstacles to understanding the role the nervous systems plays in SD and consequently obscures what treatment options readily optimize erections specific to the neurologic insult.
The most common inflatable prosthesis is the three-piece penile prosthesis. It is composed of a pair of cylinders that are surgically placed into the corpora cavernosa, a reservoir containing sterile fluid that is placed in the abdomen and a pump that is placed in the scrotum. Tubing connects the cylinders, reservoir, and the cylinders. By pressing the pump several times, fluid is transferred from the reservoir into the cylinders. As the cylinders fill with fluid, they increase in width and this causes the erection. When one is finished with sexual activity, pressing the release valve on the pump allows the fluid to drain out of the cylinders back into the reservoir. Given the mechanical nature of the three-piece prosthesis, it has a greater risk of mechanical malfunction; however, modifications have been made such as lock out valves to prevent the prosthesis from automatically inflating as well as improving the tubing to prevent tubing leaks.
One study examined the role of testosterone supplementation in hypogonadal men with ED. These men were considered nonresponders to sildenafil, and their erections were monitored by assessing nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT). After these men were given testosterone transdermally for 6 months, the number of NPTs increased, as did the maximum rigidity with sildenafil. [18] This study suggests that a certain level of testosterone may be necessary for PDE5 inhibitors to function properly.
Sexual dysfunction and ED become more common as men age. The percentage of complete ED increases from 5% to 15% as age increases from 40 to 70 years. But this does not mean growing older is the end of your sex life. ED can be treated at any age. Also, ED may be more common in Hispanic men and in those with a history of diabetes, obesity, smoking, and hypertension. Research shows that African-American men sought medical care for ED twice the rate of other racial groups.
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