So age is a risk factor for ED. But ED is not a natural part of aging that older men just have to accept and learn to live with. It’s always worth addressing with a healthcare provider—ED can be a sign that something larger is going on with your health.
If you’re wondering about the age when a man stops getting hard, well, read on. First, know that erectile dysfunction (ED) affects about 30 million men in the U.S. So if you’re having a tough time getting primed for sexual activity: You’re not alone.
ED, which is also known as impotence, occurs when one is unable to get or keep an erection that allows for sex. And while it can happen for younger men, it is estimated that by the time a man is in his 40s, there is a 40 percent chance he will experience some form of ED — and this factor grows by 10 percent each decade thereafter. You don’t have to suffer from ED, however, and there are ways to still have sex be part of your healthy lifestyle.
Here’s what to know about erectile dysfunction in terms of age, and what you can do about it to still feel spry between the sheets.
Age and ED
As mentioned above, if you experience some form of erectile dysfunction, you’re not alone. What’s more, ED can show up in different ways.
There’s no specific age when men tend to get ED, but it becomes more likely after age 50. But even younger men in their 20s and earlier experience ED.
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Age-related health conditions may also increase your risk of ED, including:
- Heart disease: The most common cause of ED in men over 50 is atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries (Cleveland Clinic, n.d.). As men age, the linings of arteries become less flexible. That means they don’t expand as easily to let blood flow to where it needs to go (like to the penis to produce an erection). Plaque, caused by high cholesterol, can also build up in the arteries, restricting blood flow to the penis (Nunes, 2012).
- Hypertension: Also known as high blood pressure, hypertension means that blood pumps through blood vessels more forcefully than it should, potentially damaging and narrowing the blood vessel walls. This condition can lead to heart disease and stroke (American Heart Association, n.d.).
- Diabetes: High blood sugar associated with diabetes also can damage the walls of blood vessels, impeding blood flow (American Diabetes Association, n.d.).
- Stroke: A stroke can create neurological damage that can contribute to ED (Koehn, 2019).
- Cancer: A variety of physical and psychological issues related to cancer symptoms, surgery, and treatment can contribute to ED (American Cancer Society, n.d.).
- Anxiety and depression: ED isn’t necessarily “all in your head,” but depression, anxiety disorders, and issues like relationship problems and performance anxiety can all cause ED
For example, some men may get an erection only sometimes when they want to have sex, while others can regularly get hard but their erection doesn’t last long enough for sex. Others are never able to get hard.
There are many factors that can contribute to ED in general, including conditions like anxiety or depression, medications such as appetite suppressants, antidepressants, ulcer drugs and prescription sedatives, and lifestyle choices like smoking, excessive drinking or being sedentary.
And when it comes to (specifically) age-related sexual dysfunction, there are also several potential culprits.
One is peripheral arterial disease (PAD) which typically affects men over age 50.
Caused by atherosclerosis, it occurs when there is a narrowing of the blood vessels outside of your heart.
This is due to plaque buildup on the walls of the arteries that send blood to the arms and legs, and can result in reduced or fully stopped blood flow, usually to the legs.
ED is a symptom of PAD, which can be diagnosed with a physical exam and heart and imaging tests.
Diabetes can also cause ED, affecting 25 percent of adults over age 60. Men with diabetes are three times more likely to have ED.
That’s in part because diabetes impacts blood flow, which could have an effect on blood reaching the penis.
Diabetes also plays a part in nerve health. People with high levels of glucose can have damaged nerves — which in turn might result in decreased sexual sensation or even painful intercourse.
Low testosterone levels may also cause ED in some men. Testosterone levels generally decline with age.
In fact, about 40 percent of men over 45, and 50 percent of men in their 80s are hypogonadal, which is when the sex glands produce little testosterone.
How to Improve Sexual Function
While the inability to achieve or maintain an erection can be distressing, there are several ways — including certain medications, and other therapies — men who experience ED can treat their condition.
There are several ED drugs that can help you get and maintain an erection.
They do so by relaxing the smooth muscles of the penis and by increasing the blood flow in the penis during sex or sexual stimulation.
These drugs include:
It’s important to note that you shouldn’t take these drugs if you have a heart condition and are taking nitrates to treat it. That’s because nitrates widen and relax the blood vessels.
Combining nitrates and these ED medications can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure. This can make you feel faint or dizzy, or fall.
Alpha blockers taken as part of prostate cancer treatment can also cause a sudden drop in blood pressure if taken with ED medicines.
Injectable Medication and Suppositories
Some men choose alprostadil, a medicine that is injected into the penis, which allows it to more easily fill with blood, triggering an automatic erection.
Others use alprostadil in suppository form. This is a solid piece of medicine inserted about an inch into the urethra. Your healthcare provider can prescribe a pre-filled applicator.
Once inserted, you should experience an erection within eight to 10 minutes, which may last a half-hour to an hour.
If psychological or emotional factors are at the root of your ED — which can happen no matter your age, it may be helpful to speak with a mental health professional.
A counsellor can help you tackle sex-related anxiety or stress around achieving or keeping an erection.
After you’ve gotten a handle on the psychological causes of your ED, your healthcare provider can focus on treating any physical causes you may be experiencing.
Other lifestyle risk factors for Erectile dysfunction
For some men with lifestyle habits causing or contributing to their ED, making certain changes might improve their chances of getting and keeping an erection.
- quitting smoking
- curtailing alcohol consumption
- becoming more physically active
- maintaining a healthy weight
- stopping recreational drug use
- Tackling ED Issues at Any Age
If you’re experiencing erectile dysfunction, a healthcare provider can properly diagnose you and talk you through treatment options.
You might also want to check out this guide to the causes of erectile dysfunction. It explains how and why ED occurs, and walks you through how you can take action to improve your sexual performance.