Erection Protection: The Science Behind Getting It Up

Guides ● December 2018

In 30 Seconds

  • Erectile dysfunction (ED) is common. Statistics show that approximately 40% of men are affected by ED at age 40 and nearly 70% of men at age 70.*
  • Don’t ignore ED symptoms as they could be signs of a more serious health condition, such as hypertension or diabetes. Seek advice from your GP.
  • A myriad of physical and/or emotional conditions can contribute to an ED diagnosis, so don’t worry and just be honest with your GP.

Your Erection: The Mechanics

Seriously. You’d think something we can do in our sleep would be easy, right? But when it comes to getting an erection, it really is hard work (no pun intended!) for your body.

Unsurprisingly then, erectile dysfunction (ED) is common, regardless of age – although we’re more likely to suffer from it the older we get. Statistics show that approximately 40% of men are affected by ED at age 40 and nearly 70% of men at age 70.1

For years no-one discussed this with their doctors. And stats show that us men are still reluctant to talk about it. Fair enough. But believe us, your doc has seen it all before. Probably numerous times. The good news is it’s treatable and more men are taking steps to fix the problem.

We spoke to the doctors who know their stuff when it comes to ED. Here’s our simple scientific overview so you have all the facts to hand.

Your Erection: The Mechanics

Did you know that the penis is not a muscle? Nor is it a bone. It’s actually a sponge. Or at least, erectile tissue has a sponge-like quality.2

“To achieve and sustain an erection, there are a number of things that need to happen,” explains Dr Earim Chaudry. “First, arousal. The arousal signals are passed from the brain along the nerves, which cause hormone levels to fluctuate. This helps to control the blood flow.” The blood then has to be directed to the correct vessels and muscles in a timely manner.3 “Just one hiccup in the process, either at nerve level or blood flow, can result in erectile dysfunction,” says Dr Chaudry.

Carefully does it. Did you know that an erect penis can break? The tubes that fill with blood during an erection can burst if the penis is violently twisted when erect. This is rare. But it’s also thought that it may be more common than you think – as many men are too embarrassed to go to A&E if this happens.

Signs & Symptoms of ED

Don’t ignore ED symptoms as they could be signs of a more serious health condition, such as hypertension or diabetes. Seek advice from your GP.

ED symptoms include:4

  • The ability to get an erection sometimes but not every time.
  • Getting an erection but one that doesn’t last long enough for satisfactory sex.
  • The inability to get an erection.

What Will Happen at Your GP's

During your GP consultation, a “detailed description of the problem, including the duration of symptoms and original precipitants, should be obtained”, according to the British Society For Sexual Medicine.5 In other words – talk it out.

Be prepared to chat about your medical, psychiatric and surgical history. Your GP will ask you about your current relationship status. Plus your sexual and relationship history. Be prepared for questions about alcohol consumption, smoking and recreational drug use – and any medication you may be taking –  to find out the root causes.

And don’t worry. There are many treatment options.

In order to map out a proper course of treatment, your doctor will want to establish the underlying cause of your ED. A myriad of physical and/or emotional conditions can contribute to an ED diagnosis, so don’t worry and just be honest with your GP.

Possible causes of ED include:6

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Hyperlipidemia
  • Residual damage from cancer treatments
  • Post-surgical damage
  • Injury
  • Trauma
  • Obesity
  • Increased age
  • High cholesterol or high blood pressure
  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Alcohol
  • Drug use
  • Smoking
  • Problems within a relationship
In order to map out a proper course of treatment, your doctor will want to establish the underlying cause of your ED. A myriad of physical and/or emotional conditions can contribute to an ED diagnosis, so don’t worry and just be honest with your GP.

Your GP may suggest some investigational tests. These are to rule out more serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes.7

A blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, testosterone, prolactin and thyroid blood tests should all be measured in patients,” suggests Dr Chaudry. “A prostate assessment is also advised”. Your GP will also test for hypogonadism, which is a treatable cause of ED according to the BSSM.8 They suggest having serum testosterone measured on a blood fasting sample taken in the morning between 8am and 11am. There may be additional testing too, depending on your GP’s assessment.

“Hypogonadism is a treatable cause of ED that may also make men less responsive, or even non-responsive to treatment, phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors, therefore, all men with ED should have serum testosterone measured on a blood fasting sample taken in the morning between 8:00am and 11:00am”. Additional testing will be ordered, as necessary, dependent upon the physician’s initial assessment.

Your GP may suggest some investigational tests. These are to rule out more serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

What You Can Do Now

The BSSM has identified several risk factors for ED, that are also risk factors for other more serious cardiovascular issues, and should not be taken lightly.9 First up, clean up your lifestyle. Here’s some things to avoid:

  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Drugs
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Obesity
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Stress

Other factors at play:

  • Age.
  • Genetics. Although this is still under debate in the medical community.10
  • Mental Health.11
  • There’s also some research around a relatively new phenomena: Porn-induced ED.12

First of all don’t panic. Clean up your lifestyle. Go and see your GP. Then get ready to get your yes yes yesss back on track. Result.

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