Skinny nerd behind a silhouette of a muscular man to symbolize male impotence

Impotence, also know as erectile dysfunction, is a sexual disorder that many men experience. There are a range of factors that can cause this problem and there are several signs and symptoms that can alert men to this issue. [1]

Today, we will be discussing what exactly impotence is, what causes it, how to tell if you have the disorder and what you can do about it.

What is Impotence?

Some men experience difficulty in achieving an erection or maintaining their erections long enough to engage in sexual intercourse.

This happens in nearly all men from time to time but if it becomes a recurring problem for a man then he is likely experiencing erectile dysfunction.

There are two different classifications of impotence in men – primary impotence and secondary impotence.

Men who have never had the ability to get or maintain a satisfactory erection are suffering from primary impotence. This is rare and it usually stems from psychological problems.

Secondary impotence comes when men *lose their ability to get or keep an erection after never having had a problem before. This form of impotence generally stems from something physical and comes on gradually rather than happening overnight.

Let’s take a look now at some of the things that cause impotence…

What Causes Impotence?

Erectile dysfunction is the most commonly diagnosed sexual disorder in men today.

There are many things that can result in a man’s inability to get an erection or sustain his erection. These causes can be from psychological issues (primary impotence), physical issues (secondary impotence) or as a result of lifestyle choices.

Erectile dysfunction is far more common in older men than it is in younger men but age is not necessarily the root cause of the problem. Rather, the health problems that come with aging are underlying factors that lead to the prevalence of impotence in older men. [2]

In order to fully comprehend why these factors can affect a man’s ability to get an erection, it is first important to understand how an erection occurs…

A man must first be stimulated somehow and become sexually aroused. When the man becomes aroused, the brain releases chemicals and hormones (like testosterone) signal the body to stimulate the sexual organ. This tells the muscles in the sexual organ to relax, allowing blood to rush into the arteries and spongy tissue of the penis. This blood flow causes the sexual organ to lengthen and harden, resulting in an erection. [3]

As you can see, everything from the brain through to hormones and the vascular system are involved in the processes that help a man get an erection. If anything in this process is affected, the man may have difficulty in achieving an erection or keeping the erection long enough to participate in intercourse.

Some of the most common physical indicators of erectile dysfunction are:

  • Weight problems like obesity
  • Endocrine disorders such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or thyroid disease
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure and other vascular diseases
  • Hormonal imbalances

The physical problems can all work together to result in erectile dysfunction but having just one of them can *increase your chances of experiencing impotence.

Men who have diabetes are 3 times as likely to experience impotence as men without diabetes. Diabetic men also develop erectile dysfunction up to 15 years earlier than men who are non-diabetic. [4] Diabetes causes problems in the endothelial system which in turn prevents blood from flowing properly.

35% of men living with vascular disease like high blood pressure are likely to have some degree of erectile dysfunction. [5] This is because high blood pressure restricts the flow of blood to the sexual organ thus preventing a man from getting an erection.

There are also psychological problems that can lead to erectile dysfunction. These causes can include anxiety and depression. To complicate this issue, the medications that are commonly prescribed to treat these issues can result in erectile dysfunction. [6] So not only can experiencing impotence lead to anxiety but that anxiety can lead to even more erectile dysfunction. Following on from this, the medication used to treat that anxiety can further complicate the matter by increasing the incidence of impotence. What a vicious cycle!

In addition, certain lifestyle choices can affect a man’s sexual function. Drinking too much alcohol can impair a man’s ability to get an erection or achieve orgasm, smoking can cause problems with the blood vessels resulting in reduced blood flow that will prevent an erection from being achieved, [7] and the use of illicit drugs can play a role in the processes that lead to an erection.

To add to this, many of these physical and psychological issues can also stack up and *increase the prevalence of impotence in men.

How Can I Know If I Have Impotence?

Many people mistakenly think that erectile dysfunction and a lowered libido are the same thing. This is not the case.

If you have lost interest in sexual intercourse and cannot become aroused then you are likely dealing with low libido and you need to speak with your doctor about blood testing.

However, if you are still interested in intercourse and become aroused but cannot get an erection, it is likely impotence.

If your sexual organ remains flaccid and you cannot get an erection, your erection is too soft to participate in intercourse or if you *lose your erection in the middle of intercourse and this happens more often than not, you are most likely experiencing erectile dysfunction.

What Do I Do If I Think I Have Impotence?

It is important to speak to your doctor if you think you are experiencing erectile dysfunction. This health problem can actually be a symptom of an underlying health disorder that could be much more serious. Impotence, for example, often points to unknown heart disease. [8]


Many men experience impotence but it’s crucial to know what the causes of the dysfunction are. Keep an eye on your sexual health so that you can better take care of your overall health.


[1] Shamloul R, Ghanem H (2013) Erectile Dysfunction. Lancet 381(9861): 153-65

[2] Johannes CB, Araujo AB, Feldman HA, Derby CA, Kleinman KP, McKinlay JB (2000) Incidence of Erectile Dysfunction in Men 40 to 69 Years Old: Longitudinal Results from the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. J Urol 163(2): 460-3

[3] Dean R, Lue T (2006) Physiology of penile Erection and Pathophysiology of Erectile Dysfunction. Urol Clin North Am 32(4): 379-v

[4] Maiorino M, Bellastella G, Esposito K (2014) Diabetes and Sexual Dysfunction: Current Perspectives. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes 7:95-105

[5] Nehra A (2009) Erectile Dysfunction and Cardiovascular Disease: Efficacy and Safety of Phosphodiesterase Type % Inhibitors in Men with Both Conditions. Mayo Clin Proc 84(2): 139-148

[6] Higgins A, Nash M, Lynch A (2010) Antidepressant-Associated Sexual Dysfunction: Impact, Effects and Treatment. Drug Healthc patient Saf 2:141-150

[7] McVary KT, Carrier S, Wessells H (2001) Smoking and Erectile Dysfunction: Evidence based Analysis. J Urol 166(5): 1624-32

[8] Pastuzak A, Hyman D, Yadav N, Godoy G, Lipshultz L, Araujo A, Khera M (2015) Erectile Dysfunction as a Marker for Cardiovascular Disease Diagnosis and Intervention: A Cost Analysis. J Sex Med 12(4): 975-984

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