Erectile Dysfunction Home > Erectile Dysfunction

It is estimated that erectile dysfunction (ED) affects between 15 million and 30 million American men. Sometimes called "impotence," ED is the repeated inability to get or keep an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse. There are a number of things that can cause it, such as injury or drug side effects. Erectile dysfunction is treatable at any age through treatments such as psychotherapy, drug therapy, vacuum devices, or surgery.

What Is Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction, sometimes called "impotence," is the repeated inability to get or keep an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse.
The word "impotence" may also be used to describe other problems that interfere with sexual intercourse and reproduction, such as:
  • Lack of sexual desire
  • Problems with ejaculation or orgasm.
Using the term "erectile dysfunction" makes it clear that those other problems are not involved.

The Penis, Erectile Dysfunction, and Erections

Hormones, blood vessels, nerves, and muscles must all work together to make an erection. The brain starts an erection by sending nerve signals to the penis when it senses sexual stimulation or arousal. Touching may cause this arousal. Another trigger may be something a person sees or hears. It may even be a sexual thought or dream.
The nerve signals sent from the brain cause the muscles within the penis to relax and let blood flow into the spongy tissue within the penis. Blood collects in this tissue like water filling a sponge. As a result, the penis becomes larger and firmer, like an inflated balloon. The veins in the area then become closed off to keep blood from flowing out.
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Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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