K Health’s Men’s Health Lead Physician breaks down the myths surrounding erectile dysfunction.
I am a board certified, full-time practicing urologist, yet I have never met a guy who openly wanted to talk about erectile issues. For most men it is an embarrassing problem that they do not want to admit they have. Because men suffer alone, they may also feel depressed and deprived, or let ED affect their current or future relationship. This uncomfortable aspect of ED also gives rise to many myths. Here are the 5 most common misnomers I hear from my patients.
Myth #1: It is all in my head
This is perhaps the most common statement I hear from patients who finally decide to discuss ED with a doctor. It is shocking that there is a large portion of men that think that ED is purely a mental thing. I believe this idea comes from 40 or 50 years ago when doctors would frequently consider erection issues to be strictly psychological, possibly because they had no means to treat them. Truth is that while stress and psychological factors may contribute to erections issues, more often than not, it is a physiological problem related to poor blood flow to the penis. The good news is that we have medications that can help! Well-known drugs like sildenafil (Viagra) or tadalafil (Cialis) work by increasing blood flow to men’s penis and improving erections.
Myth #2: ED is an old guy thing
While age is one of the main risk factors for ED (think of wear and tear your joints sustain overtime, well, it’s the same with a penis), there are many young men who will experience difficulty in the sexual department. Specifically, up to 25% of men under the age of 40 will have erectile issues. This percentage increases with age, but it does not mean it should be accepted as part of aging and ignored. There are ways to deal with ED in all ages.
Myth #3: I have ED because my testosterone is low
I frequently see patients in my office who come in complaining of low testosterone. Low testosterone is a real issue for some men and can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, lack of interest in doing things including sex, worsening erections, and weight gain. However, when I inquire about the reason they think they have low T, most of my patients say that it is because their erections are not what they used to be. A lot, and I mean A LOT, of men think that their poor erections are mostly due to the lack of testosterone. In reality it is much more complex, and the vast majority of men with ED actually have normal testosterone levels. Erectile dysfunction can be due to vascular problems, nerve issues, diabetes, prior surgeries, and the list goes on. In fact, even patients with ED and low testosterone benefit much more from treatments specifically for the erections, rather than testosterone replacement. So while low T can give you a worse erection, in many men ED and low T are separate issues and should be treated as such.
Myth #4: I can fix my ED with supplements I get online/over the counter
In the current age of TV/internet/social media there is no lack of advertisement for pretty much everything. So it’s unsurprising that many men with ED turn to advertised mineral and herbal supplements which promise to give you amazing erections and performance.
There are two issues with this:
- There are no herbal or mineral supplements that are FDA approved for ED treatment. Also, supplements sold over the counter are very loosely regulated in terms of what is actually in them.
- ED may be an isolated problem in some men, but sometimes it could be a sign of other health problems, such as vascular disease. Bottom line, it is fine to take a multivitamin daily to optimize your health, but if you have medical issues, please don’t rely on over the counter supplements in place of a real evaluation.
Myth #5: If I try Viagra, I will get addicted to it
I hear this quite often as well. It mostly comes from patients who have ED, but have never tried sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), or other ED medications. The thought is that if you try it once, you will never be able to have erections on your own again. It is not completely true. Viagra, Cialis and other medications from this class have never been described as causing addition nor do they make a natural erection worse. The only reason that a man may need them on the regular basis is because his erections dysfunction and medications such as Viagra treat it.
I hope this helps clear up some common confusions—and remember, if you have any sexual or ED related issues, there’s no shame. It’s quite common, so don’t delay getting evaluated and improving your quality of life.