Men's Health Friday May 20, 2016

ED is Common, But Exactly How Common for Which Age Ranges?

Erectile dysfunction is common. It's estimated 1 in 5 men are likely to experience problems from it at some point in their lives, but at which point does it become more likely?

The answer is that erectile dysfunction affects all ages ranges, and although it's true that erectile dysfunction is more common in older men, it's not just older men that deal with the problem. Erectile dysfunction can strike any age group.

There have been several studies into the prevalence of age related impotence, but the Massachusetts Male Ageing Study found the prevalence of erectile dysfunction was 5% to 15% as men's age increased from 40 to 70 years.

Twenties and Thirties

There is conflicting research as to the prevalence of erectile dysfunction in younger men. 2% of men first reporting symptoms before the age of 40 according to a survey of 31,000 health professionals, but another study published in Journal of Sexual Medicine found a quarter of men seeking help were younger than 40.

In younger men it's more likely to be caused by psychological issues such as performance stress. They may be concerned about their lack of experience or worry that their partner may not enjoy themselves. This can become a problem if the man continues to remain anxious, as this causes a vicious cycle of worrying and lack of performance.

Drinking excess alcohol and recreational drug use can also lead to temporary erectile dysfunction and this again can lead to long term problems as stress, anxiety and worry creep in and undermine his confidence.

Other reasons for psychological erectile dysfunction in younger men are condom worries; the stress of putting on a condom has caused 25% of 234 young men to lose their erection, and pregnancy concerns.

Any younger man experiencing erection difficulties should get a physical check-up because a study has shown it may be linked to a higher risk of heart disease.

Forties and fifties

The Massachusetts Male Ageing Study found a prevalence of 40% in men aged 40. Other studies have found men first reporting erectile dysfunction between the ages of 50-59 numbered 26%.

At this stage of life reasons for 'failure to launch' are more likely to include stress, guilt, and the pressures of sex with a new partner after divorce. Ill health may also begin to affect a sex life with diabetes and heart disease symptoms coming to the forefront.

At this point men may also find they have contracted a sexually transmitted infection. Middle age is the fastest rising group for STI transmission including HIV. Any man who has, or thinks he has, an STI should seek a check-up from his doctor or local clinic.

Sixties and above

The Massachusetts Male Ageing Study found 40% of men reported erectile dysfunction between the age of 60-69 years and this leapt to 70% in men over 70 years of age.

This is likely due to deterioration of the penile blood vessels and escalating health problems. Interestingly, the study found men with a healthy lifestyle and no chronic disease had the lowest risk in this age group. Men who exercised for three hours a week had a 30% lower prevalence.

ED age

What causes erectile dysfunction?

Age is a variable strongly associated with erectile dysfunction but ill health, such as diabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure) and psychological issues also raise the risk across all age groups.

Physical reasons for erectile dysfunction may include:

  • Being overweight
  • Being unfit
  • Diabetes
  • Thyroid problems
  • Heart disease
  • Medication side effects, such as antidepressants
  • Recreational drug use
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Lowering testosterone levels (which may occur with age)

Psychological reasons for erectile dysfunction may include:

  • Guilt about sexual performance or affairs
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Anxiety including performance anxiety
  • Boredom or anger with a current relationship
  • Worries about pregnancy

Another reason which straddles both the physical and psychological is excess use of pornography. Some studies have shown that excess usage requires 'harder' and more extreme stimulation to gain an erection. In this case pornographic habits should be ceased. After a few months normal erectile function should resume.

How To Improve Erectile Dysfunction

The good news is that erectile dysfunction can be reversed at any age unless there is permanent nerve damage. Men first need to identify whether the reason is physical or emotional. If a man can gain an erection at some point, perhaps during the night, by watching porn, or through masturbation the reason is likely psychological in which case a doctor can help him through the issues with counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy and sometimes medication to break through the 'I'll lose my erection' worries.


Medication that opens up blood vessels and allows blood to freely enter the penile chamber is widely available on prescription. The most famous is Viagra, but there are other options, such as Cialis, Spedra and Levitra.

Other ways to improve erectile health include:

  • Getting fit
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Losing excess weight
  • Managing illnesses such as diabetes
  • Quitting smoking
  • Improving a relationship with their partner

Although it may seem that erectile dysfunction is an inevitable part of ageing it isn't true that men are destined to lose their sex lives. At any age men can experience problems and at any age they can be supported through medication, treatments and lifestyle changes. It's never too early or late to improve sexual health.

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