Most men worry so much about sex and being perceived as great lovers and at the same time, millions around the world struggle with erectile dysfunction (ED). Even though this disorder is manageable and nothing to be ashamed of, men with ED often end up having a very hard time (pun intended), not just in the bedroom but also with their relationships and self-esteem. The question is: could excessive stress or worry about sexual performance be the real cause of erectile dysfunction, by forming a perfect ‘Murphy’s law’ scenario?
Read on to learn more about ED, some of the things that can cause it or make it trickier to control, and how to overcome it. But first things first:
When are erection issues considered to be ED?
Men who have ED struggle to get an erection or maintain it long enough to have sex. It’s normal to experience ED from time to time but it shouldn’t become a recurring issue. Let’s be honest: as men we’ve probably all struggled to get it up at some point in our lives – this is normal. But if your erection problems happen more than 50% of the time, then you might have ED.
Is ED only a problem for older men?
It is true that men over 75 are most at risk, but ED actually affects men of all ages. For example, if you’re an American man aged 20 or older, your chances of getting ED are nearly 1 in 5.
So, what might be causing this problem and what can you do about it?
4 Reasons why ED might all be in your head
You’re depressed or anxious
It’s totally normal to feel sad or worried from time to time. But if these feelings are extreme or overpowering enough, then you might suffer from clinical depression or an anxiety disorder. What does your mental health have to do with your penis?
Well, people with depression or anxiety often have lower levels of serotonin, which is a brain chemical that regulates our mood, helping us to feel happy and calm. But serotonin also affects our bodies – including our sexual functioning. It’s not surprising then that anxiety disorders often go hand-in-hand with sexual disorders; and people with depression are twice as likely to have ED.
What can you do? If depression or anxiety are messing with your sex life, there’s some good news: help is available. Some people use pills, others use talk therapy; and some use both together. Keep in mind though, that some antidepressant medications can also reduce your sex drive. Despite this, sorting out your mental health issues will still generally help your sex life. So, speak with your doctor, psychologist, or psychiatrist to find out more about getting some support.
You have performance anxiety
We all know how horrible it feels to mess up, whether it’s in public speaking, a musical performance, or the bedroom. You worry and keep telling yourself that it will never happen again, but you seem to keep messing up again and again. It’s like the elephant that you’re told not to think about. The harder you try, the more he becomes prominent in your mind. What’s going on?
Often, when we’re trying our best to stop something from happening, our minds will sabotage us by making that exact situation happen. People with performance anxiety are simply putting too much pressure on themselves, which makes it far too difficult to do what you need to do. No one can function at their best if their anxiety levels are too high.
What can you do? One thing that you can do is to learn more about performance anxiety and how your mind might be making things worse for you. Another strategy is to speak to your partner! Telling them how you feel can ease the tension, bringing about more intimacy and empathy in the relationship. This, along with a better understanding of how you put pressure on yourself, will help the blood to start flowing again!
If confessing your anxiety to your partner doesn’t do the trick, practicing mindfulness meditation might. Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation is very helpful in eliminating performance anxiety in general, and sexual performance anxiety specifically. In fact, a recent study about mindfulness meditation for erectile dysfunction from 2018 has shown that 9 out of 10 men who practiced mindfulness meditation daily for 4 weeks were able to overcome situational erectile dysfunction (aka sexual performance anxiety).
Meditating teaches us how to be ‘in the moment’ instead of being stuck in our heads. When you use mindful awareness during sex, you not only enjoy sex more, but you also eliminate the negative thoughts that are causing performance anxiety in the first place.
You have unhelpful thinking patterns
If you have ED, you may be unknowingly telling yourself that you’re not good enough (‘I’m a failure because I can’t get it up), that you’re not in control (“I’m never going to be able to have sex again), or that your ED is a bigger deal than it really is (‘She’s going to leave me because of this). Negative thoughts can often lead to ED. These thoughts can cause your ED or make it harder to control; and these ideas are usually inaccurate; psychologists call them cognitive distortions.
What can you do? When you’re in the bedroom and you realize that your penis is showing signs of not wanting to play game, try to notice what went through your mind beforehand. If you can, remember the thought and write it down (after, not during sex). Once you’ve learnt to spot these trouble-causing thoughts, you’re well on the way to changing them or shutting them down altogether. This is part of a popular therapy technique called CBT. If you want to learn more about taking control of your thought-patterns, speak to a psychologist near you.
You’re stressed out
Do me a favor and think long and hard about what worries you most. Now, how sexually aroused do you feel? Have you ever managed to maintain an erection whilst thoughts of your mortgage, overdue taxes, or overbearing mother-in-law are bouncing about in the back of your mind?
I’m sure you can see where this is going: stress makes it harder for you to get an erection and is closely linked to ED. Why? When you’re stressed, your body stops producing sex hormones and starts redirecting blood away from your penis. In other words, stress and erections go together like Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton (they don’t).
What can you do? Start doing daily exercise, learn to meditate, join a yoga class, watch a funny film, read a good book, or catch up with a friend over coffee. These are all simple and effective stress-busters. Ironically, sex is also a great way of de-stressing. So, if your sexual dysfunction is getting in the way, speak to a sex-therapist about getting your stress in check and your sex-life back.
Erectile Dysfunction affects men all around the world, making it harder for people to live their sex lives to the fullest. But, ED is nothing to be ashamed of and can often be managed with a little bit of effort and support. Maybe you just need to get some help for your depression, anxiety, or unhelpful thinking patterns. On the other hand, de-stressing might do the trick; or else learn how to overcome your performance anxiety. Whatever is causing your sexual problems, it’s never too late to bring your sex life back under your control.
Adam Mulligan did his degree in psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. He is interested in mental health and well-being.
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