Erectile dysfunction, which causes difficulty or inability with achieving or maintaining an erection for satisfying sex, affects about 30 million men in the United States. While erectile dysfunction (ED) is typically more common among older men (primarily due to aging-related diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases), many younger men also experience it.
Young men with ED may experience trouble with erections due to an underlying health condition, certain lifestyle factors, or mental health conditions.
Any type of sexual dysfunction can be difficult and discouraging, causing anxiety, depression, and strain on relationships. Fortunately, there are a number of effective ED treatments, from simple lifestyle changes to medications and medical procedures. Every ED treatment has different side effects, but your medical provider or a K doctor can help you determine which option is best for you.
Can Young People Get Erectile Dysfunction?
In order to have sexual intercourse, a man needs to have an erection, which involves multiple bodily systems working together to fill the penis with blood so it becomes rigid.
Erectile dysfunction happens when a penis doesn’t have enough blood to create an erection for sex. While occasional difficulty with erections is normal among men, someone might have erectile dysfunction if:
- They can achieve an erection sometimes but not every time they want to have sex
- They can achieve an erection but it doesn’t last long enough to have satisfactory sex
- They aren’t able to achieve an erection at all
ED is more common among older men, however, younger men can still get it for a variety of reasons. Some data suggests around 8% of men between 20 and 29 years old and 11% of men between 30 and 39 experience erectile dysfunction.
How Are Age and ED Related?
Although age doesn’t necessarily cause ED, it’s one of the most important risk factors for erectile dysfunction. Men have around a 40% chance of developing some form of ED by their 40s; from there, the risk increases about 10% each decade.
Some of this is due to age-related medical conditions such as:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Atherosclerosis, or an accumulation of plaque in a person’s arteries
- Hypogonadism, or low testosterone levels
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
Erectile dysfunction can also occur due to certain prescription medications to treat blood pressure issues, ulcers, and depression. Tranquilizers, which may be used to treat anxiety, are also known to affect erectile function.
What Are the Causes of ED in Younger Men?
Erectile dysfunction causes vary from person to person. While age-related diseases aren’t limited to older individuals, they’re less common in younger men. Therefore, younger men may be more likely to experience erectile dysfunction due to lifestyle or emotional factors such as:
- Anxiety and depression
- Feelings of shame or embarrassment about sexual activity
- Significant or chronic stress
- Using recreational drugs
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Being overweight or obese
- Being too sedentary
Common causes of ED can also include medical issues such as:
- Sleep apnea
- Heart disease or blood vessel disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Peyronie’s disease (which causes the penis to curve) or other penile abnormalities
- Injury to the penis, prostate, spinal cord, or pelvis
Symptoms of ED in Younger Men
ED symptoms don’t typically differ by age group. Someone with erectile dysfunction may experience:
- Difficulty achieving an erection
- Trouble keeping an erection
- Reduced sexual desire
If left untreated, ED can interfere with someone’s sexual function and overall well-being, especially in the case of younger men. Sexual dysfunction can cause:
- Relationship strain
- An unsatisfactory sex life
- Low self-esteem
- Depression or anxiety
- Difficulty achieving pregnancy with a partner
In general, ED may be easier to treat in young men because it’s less often associated with the complicated diseases older men face.
Although erectile dysfunction can be discouraging, a number of effective treatments can help address it. In some cases, treating the underlying cause can help improve erectile function. For example, lifestyle changes such as losing weight, reducing alcohol intake, or quitting smoking may improve erectile function. Medical treatment to manage any conditions linked to ED, such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure, may in turn help with ED.
Another option is medication for erectile dysfunction. Oral medications known as PDE5 inhibitors work by stimulating blood flow to the penis, and they’re just as effective in younger men as in older ones. Common ED drugs include:
Another type of medication, alprostadil (Caverject and Edex), can be injected into the base of a man’s penis before sex to cause an erection in about 5-20 minutes.
Each ED medication comes with side effects, which commonly include headache, upset stomach, dizziness, flushing, and vision changes. Erectile dysfunction drugs can also interact with other medications. If you have ED, your physician or a K doctor can help you determine with ED medication is best for you.
As an alternative to medication, some doctors may suggest vacuum devices (mechanical pumps that create erections) or ED rings (bands that go around the base of the penis to keep blood in it so you can stay erect).
Lastly, for erectile dysfunction related to mental conditions like anxiety or depression—or if ED is causing mental or relational strain—psychotherapy may help.
When to See a Doctor
While ED is unlikely to cause major or life-threatening health problems, since it can interfere with many areas of your life, it’s a good idea to talk with a medical professional about any sexual dysfunction. They can help you pinpoint the best course of action.
Reach out to a health care provider if:
- You’re struggling to have satisfactory sex
- Your difficulty with erections is getting worse or you have severe ED
- ED is interfering with your self-esteem, mental health, or relationship
- You’re on an ED medication and it’s not working
- You’re on an ED medication and it’s causing unwanted side effects
How K Health Can Help
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K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.