Physical factors include drugs (alcohol, nicotine, narcotics, stimulants, antihypertensives, antihistamines, and some psychotherapeutic drugs); injuries to the back, problems with an enlarged prostate gland, problems with blood supply, nerve damage (as in spinal cord injuries); or disease (diabetic neuropathy, multiple sclerosis, tumors, and, rarely, tertiary syphilis); failure of various organ systems (such as the heart and lungs); endocrine disorders (thyroid, pituitary, or adrenal gland problems); hormonal deficiencies (low testosterone, estrogen, or androgens); and some birth defects.
Sexual dysfunction disorders are generally classified into four categories: sexual desire disorders, sexual arousal disorders, orgasm disorders, and sexual pain disorders.
Sexual arousal disorders were previously known as frigidity in women and impotence in men, though these have now been replaced with less judgmental terms. Impotence is now known as erectile dysfunction, and frigidity has been replaced with a number of terms describing specific problems with, for example, desire or arousal.
There may be medical causes to these disorders, such as decreased blood flow or lack of vaginal lubrication. Chronic disease can also contribute, as well as the nature of the relationship between the partners. As the success of sildenafil (Viagra) attests, most erectile disorders in men are primarily physical, not psychological conditions.
Sexual pain disorders affect women almost exclusively and are known as dyspareunia (painful intercourse) and vaginismus (an involuntary spasm of the muscles of the vaginal wall that interferes with intercourse). Dyspareunia may be caused by insufficient lubrication (vaginal dryness) in women.
It is unclear exactly what causes vaginismus, but it is thought that past sexual trauma (such as rape or abuse) may play a role. Another female sexual pain disorder is called vulvodynia or vulvar vestibulitis. In this condition, women experience burning pain during sex which seems to be related to problems with the skin in the vulvar and vaginal areas. The cause is unknown.
The problem of an inadequate erection is probably one of the biggest issues a man confronts. Most men experience erectile problems on occasion, but impotence, also called erectile dysfunction, is defined as "the persistent failure to develop and maintain erections of sufficient rigidity for penetrative sexual intercourse." Of course, men have other kinds of sexual problems including lack of desire and problems with ejaculation, yet impotence is the most common and troubling.
The best way for men to begin solving erectile problems is by reading about men's sexual system - anatomy, physiology, diseases, drugs, diagnosis and treatments. Some problems may be solved simply and others may require a visit to your family doctor or a urologist. In either case, we encourage you to become an educated health care consumer, which should help you regardless of the cause or cure for your problem.
An erection occurs when the nervous system activates a rapid increase in blood flow. The vascular muscle in the spongy area becomes engorged with blood and the outflow of blood is cut off. An erection can occur as a reflex as we see in spinal cord patients, or can be caused by psychogenic (originating in the mind) stimulation. Numerous sexual stimuli are processed by the brain and transmitted to the penis via the nervous system.
Psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, guilt or fear can sometimes cause sexual problems. At one time, these factors were thought to be the major cause of erectile dysfunction. Doctors now know that physical factors are present in most men with erectile dysfunction. However, embarrassment or "performance anxiety" can make a physical problem worse. Erectile dysfunction caused only by psychological causes is found most commonly in young men.
Many medications cause problems with sexual function, including drugs for high blood pressure, depression, heart disease and prostate cancer.
A man with erectile dysfunction has either a problem getting an erection or difficulty maintaining one. This usually interferes with sexual activity by preventing penetration during intercourse.
There are many effective treatments for erectile dysfunction. The most popular option is a class of drugs called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors, which includes sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra) and tadalafil (Cialis). These drugs, taken in pill form from zero to 60 minutes before sexual activity, work in approximately 70 percent of men, though they are less effective in men with neurological causes of erectile dysfunction such as nerve damage from prostate surgery, diabetes or spinal cord injury.
If Sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra) and tadalafil (Cialis) drugs don't work or cannot be used because of potential side effects, your doctor can recommend other therapies. The drug alprostadil (Caverject, Edex, Muse) causes blood vessels to widen. This can allow blood to flow more freely in the penis, leading to an erection. The drug can be injected with a tiny needle, or a small pellet (suppository) can be inserted into the opening of the penis. Suppositories like this are effective in approximately two-thirds of men. Injections are effective about 80 percent of the time.
Men who do not benefit from medical or psychological treatment often have success with mechanical or prosthetic devices. External products, known as vacuum erection devices, are safe and highly effective, but many men and their partners find them unappealing. Another option is a surgically placed penile implant. However, because implants require surgery (with the risk of surgical complications), only 10 percent of men with erectile dysfunction choose this option. Vascular (blood vessel) surgery sometimes is recommended for young, healthy men who develop impotence after trauma to the groin.
Definitions used on this page
- A state of uneasiness and apprehension, as about future uncertainties.
- Worry or tension in response to real or imagined stress, danger, or dreaded situations. Physical reactions such as fast pulse, sweating, trembling, fatigue, and weakness may accompany anxiety.
- The inability to achieve and sustain penile erections.
- A gland in the throat that produces hormones that regulate growth and metabolism.
- A large gland in the neck that functions in the endocrine system. The thyroid secretes hormones that regulate growth and metabolism.
- A drug used to counteract the physiological effects of histamine production in allergic reactions and colds.
- Reducing or controlling high blood pressure.
- In psychiatry, a symptom of mood disorder characterized by intense feelings of loss, sadness, hopelessness, failure, and rejection.
- The expulsion of seminal fluid from the urethra of the penis during orgasm.
- The process of ejecting semen from the penis, and is usually accompanied by orgasm as a result of sexual stimulation.
- The firm and enlarged condition of a body organ or part when the erectile tissue surrounding it becomes filled with blood, especially such a condition of the penis or clitoris.
- Any of several steroid hormones produced chiefly by the ovaries and responsible for promoting estrus and the development and maintenance of female secondary sex characteristics.
- Any one of a group of hormones synthesized by the reproductive organs and adrenal glands in females and, in lesser quantities, in males.
- The state of marked or abnormal sexual indifference.
- Sexual unresponsiveness (especially of women) and inability to achieve orgasm during intercourse.
- A substance, usually a peptide or steroid, produced by one tissue and conveyed by the bloodstream to another to effect physiological activity, such as growth or metabolism.
- The peak of sexual excitement, characterized by strong feelings of pleasure and by a series of involuntary contractions of the muscles of the genitals, usually accompanied by the ejaculation of semen by the male.
- The highest point of sexual excitement, marked by strong feelings of pleasure and marked normally by ejaculation of semen by the male and by vaginal contractions within the female.
- Complete paralysis of the lower half of the body including both legs, usually caused by damage to the spinal cord.
- The male organ of copulation in higher vertebrates, homologous with the clitoris. In mammals, it also serves as the male organ of urinary excretion.
- The organ of the male reproductive system through which semen passes out of the body during sexual intercourse. The penis is also an organ of urination.
- Gland in males that surrounds the urine tube (urethra) at the base of the bladder.
- A firm partly muscular chestnut sized gland in males at the neck of the urethra; produces a viscid secretion that is the fluid part of semen.
- A state of extreme difficulty, pressure, or strain.
- A physical and psychological response that results from being exposed to a demand or pressure.
- A white crystalline steroid hormone, C19H28O2, produced primarily in the testes and responsible for the development and maintenance of male secondary sex characteristics. It is also produced synthetically for use in medical treatment.