It’s easy to think that getting an erection is a game of simple mechanics - but it is rarely quite so straightforward. Achieving an erection requires not only your penis being relaxed enough to blood to flow easily, but also for your brain to be in the right frame of mind. And no, we don’t simply mean to be aroused - there are many psychological and emotional barriers that can get in the way.
As younger men are less likely to experience erectile dysfunction (ED) caused by physical health problems, such as blocked arteries, emotional causes of the condition are more common among men under 40.
Common emotional causes of erectile dysfunction include:
Whether you’re experiencing stress at work or in your relationship, this can impact your sex life. Whilst your mind is preoccupied with worries, it’s difficult to get in the mood. To get an erection, your emotions and hormones need to be aligned with physical stimulation. Things won’t go to plan unless everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.
Anxiety and stress can be very intrinsically linked. “Performance anxiety” is one of the most common causes of erectile dysfunction among younger men. This is characterised by being worried about impressing your partner, and can often occur if you’ve previously experienced erectile dysfunction and are worried it might happen again. This most usually happens in new relationships.
Much like stress, feeling guilt or worries in a relationship can cause erectile dysfunction. The key to good sex is being totally comfortable with your partner, and anything which impinges on this, such as worries outside the bedroom, can compromise that connection. If there is tension in your relationship, having an honest conversation about your problems may go some way to easing the strain.
Porn induced erectile dysfunction, sometimes known as PIED, is a condition where ED is caused by watching too much porn. This causes you to become desensitised to sex, and it makes it harder to get an erection in a real life intimate situation.
Your doctor will be able to help you understand if your ED is caused by emotional or physical reasons. As a general rule of thumb, if you get erections at times other than sex, for example if you wake up with morning wood, it probably means your ED is caused by emotional factors.
Lifestyle changes, such as decreasing stress caused by work, or addressing any problems in your relationship, may be beneficial to managing your ED. However, your doctor may suggest that you seek professional help to tackle the underlying cause. This may be in the form of speaking to a sex therapist to help you talk about and manage your problem, or by attending CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) sessions to reexamine and realign your thought processes.