Erections are initiated and maintained via integration of afferent inputs in the supra sacral regions of the central nervous system. Regions of the brain cited to have key roles in the integration of signals include the medial amygdala, MPOA, periaqueductal gray matter, paraventricular nucleus (PVN), and ventral tegmentum among others (16). Studies in animal models, particularly in rats, have been paramount in identifying these key areas of signal integration and control. Electrostimulation of the MPOA, PVN and hippocampus lead to erection and lesions in these areas may prevent erection (17). Marson et al. injected labeled pseudorabies virus into rat corpora cavernosa and traced them to neurons in the spinal cord, brain stem and hypothalamus (18). Stimulation of the rat dorsal nerve led to increased firing in the MPOA not found elsewhere (19). Axonal tracing in animals have shows direct projections from the hypothalamus to the lumbosacral autonomic erection centers. Oxytocin and vasopressin have been identified as central neurotransmitters within the hypothalamic nuclei and may have a role in penile erection (17). These signaling studies identifying key areas of erectile response integration may explain how ED is associated with cerebrovascular accident (CVA), Parkinson’s, epilepsy and MS.
Can’t or don’t want to take ED drugs? The vacuum pump method is the next most common choice among men with erectile dysfunction who pass on pills, says Dr. Bennett. To create an erection, you place a plastic cylinder over the penis and pump the air out of the cylinder to force blood to flow into the penis. An elastic ring that you slide onto the base of your penis holds the erection. This ED treatment device is effective for about 75 percent of men. Side effects include numbness, bruising, and weak ejaculation — and the ring must be removed after 30 minutes.
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The vacuum device creates a vacuum to pull blood into the penis. Unlike a normal erection, the inflow of blood does not continue once the individual removes the vacuum device. The rubber band placed at the base of the penis constricts the penis to prevent the blood from leaving the penis. As there is no inflow or outflow of blood when the rubber band is in place, it is uncommon for the tip of the penis (the glans) to appear a little blue and the penis to be cooler. Once intercourse is completed, the individual removes the rubber band and the blood drains out of the penis.
"Medications that create blood flow to the penis can't help when an erection is blocked by the fear or anxiety of the fight-or-flight response,” says Feloney. “This type of erectile dysfunction probably has a lot to do with evolution — men didn't need an erection when a dinosaur was chasing them." The best way to treat erectile dysfunction caused by performance anxiety, depression, a poor relationship, or stress may be with a combination of ED drug treatment and sex therapy, individual therapy, or couples therapy from sexual health professionals.
Since the advent of PDE5i, many other selective and non-selective peripheral acting compounds have been developed or are in development. Avanafil has shown promising results in treating ED in post-prostatectomy patients with suspected cavernous nerve injury (111). Other PDE5i marked in Asia such as udenafil, and mirodenafil also effective at treating ED may minimize side effects due to shorter half-lives (112-114). Soluable guanylate-cyclase inhibitors and potassium channel activators are compounds that have induced erections in animal models but remain experimental requiring further investigation (115-117).
Finally, gene therapy and stem cell research has widened the frontier of ED treatment proposed as possibility to even reverse ED. Specifically, gene therapy pertains to repairing the cause of ED by restoring defective gene function and/or altering the expression of the mutant gene (32). Most of the available data on gene therapy are in the animal model. However, a phase I clinical trial in men with ED undergoing intracavernous injection with a DNA plasmid carrying the alpha-subunit of the corporal smooth muscle Maxi-K channel showed promise in increased erectile function based on IIEF assessment sustained throughout the 3-month study period (122).
The availability of phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors—sildenafil, vardenafil, tadalafil, and avanafil—has fundamentally altered the medical management of ED. In addition, direct-to-consumer marketing of these agents over the last 15 years has increased the general public’s awareness of ED as a medical condition with underlying causes and effective treatments.
Treatments include psychotherapy, adopting a healthy lifestyle, oral phosphodiesterase type V (PDE5) inhibitors (Viagra, Levitra, Cialis, Stendra, and Staxyn), intraurethral prostaglandin E1 (MUSE), intracavernosal injections (prostaglandin E1 [Caverject, Edex], Bimix and Trimix), vacuum devices, penile prosthesis and vascular surgery, and (in some cases) changes in medications when appropriate.
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Arterial vascular diseases account for nearly half of all cases of ED in men older than 50 years of age. Arterial vascular disease includes atherosclerosis (fatty deposits on the walls of arteries, also called hardening of the arteries), which may affect the heart (history of heart attacks, angina, coronary artery disease, myocardial infarct) or blood vessels in the legs, peripheral vascular disease (problems with blood circulation to the legs), as well as other areas of the body including blood vessels supplying blood to the penis and high blood pressure. Prolonged tobacco use (smoking) is considered an important risk factor for ED because it is associated with poor circulation and reduced blood flow in the penis. This is related to microvascular damage (stiffening of the artery as well as smaller caliber vessel size secondary to endovascular atherosclerotic plaques).
Nerves originating in the spinal cord and peripheral ganglia innervate the penis. There are autonomic (parasympathetic and sympathetic), and somatic separate and integrated pathways. The autonomic pathways neurons originate in the spinal cord and peripheral ganglia from the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, respectively. They merge to form the cavernous nerves that travel alongside the prostate, enter the corpora cavernosa and corpus spongiosum to affect the neurovascular events required for tumescence and detumescence. The somatic nerves send sensory information from the penile skin, glans, and urethra via the dorsal penile nerve and pudendal nerve to the spinal cord. The somatic nerves also initiate contraction of the ischio- and bulbocavernosus muscles.
Something else to consider is your porn use. If you are masturbating to very stimulating porn on a regular basis then it might be difficult to get as aroused in the bedroom with your partner. Watching video pornography is very stimulating and often men have difficulty creating that same level of arousal or stimulation with their partners. Consider masturbating without technology as visual images in your head are less stimulating then watching something live. Try this for two weeks and see if your erection quality improves.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Herbal supplements such as ginkgo biloba, saw palmetto, and yohimbe have been touted as sexual enhancers, and some men have been tempted to try them to treat erectile dysfunction. Bennett warns, however, that none has been approved by the FDA or even shown by any reliable studies to prevent, treat, or improve erectile dysfunction. Moreover, supplements are unregulated and can have many side effects or interfere with prescribed medications you’re already taking. Don’t jeopardize your health by taking a supplement to treat erectile dysfunction without first talking with your doctor.
Diabetes is a well-recognized risk factor for ED. A systematic review and meta-analysis found that the prevalence of ED was 37.5% in type 1 diabetes, 66.3% in type 2 diabetes, and 52.5% in diabetes overall—a rate approximately 3.5 times higher than that in controls.  The etiology of ED in diabetic men probably involves both vascular and neurogenic mechanisms. Evidence indicates that establishing good glycemic control can minimize this risk.
Conditions that may be associated with ED include diabetes, [25, 26, 27] hypertension,  , and CAD, as well as neurologic disorders, endocrinopathies, benign prostatic hyperplasia,  , sleep apnea  , COPD,  and depression (see Table 1 below). [32, 33, 34, 35] In fact, almost any disease may affect erectile function by altering the nervous, vascular, or hormonal systems. Various diseases may produce changes in the smooth muscle tissue of the corpora cavernosa or influence the patient’s psychological mood and behavior.
These are not currently approved by the FDA for ED management, but they may be offered through research studies (clinical trials). Patients who are interested should discuss the risks and benefits (informed consent) of each, as well as costs before starting any clinical trials. Most therapies not approved by the FDA are not covered by government or private insurance benefits.