- Pandemic-related stress, anxiety, depression, and sedentary lifestyles have led to more cases of erectile dysfunction.
- Stress causes the body to release adrenaline, which can inhibit blood flow to the penis.
- Lack of exercise can contribute to heart issues and weight gain, which also mess with blood flow.
- Mental tricks that boost confidence, medications, and penile implants are all solutions for erectile dysfunction.
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Extra time spent on the couch during the pandemic isn't just hurting your back and neck. It could also be bad news for your penis, according to sexual health experts.
"When conditions like erectile dysfunction are so closely linked to a sedentary lifestyle, I can imagine rates of that would go up," Premal Patel, a Miami-based urologist, told Insider.
The more inactive a person is, the more likely they are to gain weight and develop heart problems. Since erections require increased blood flow to the penis, heart and weight-related conditions that mess with blood pressure can negatively impact sexual function.
According to California urologist Aaron Spitz, increased stress has led more patients to seek help for their newfound erection issues.
"I'm seeing more guys come in with erectile dysfunction related to stress. The pandemic is an incredibly stressful situation and stress affects our ability to perform sexually," Spitz said during a December 12 episode of "The Doctors."
How stress contributes to erection problems
The body releases adrenaline to cope with stress.
That adrenaline "shuts blood off" from less important body parts like the penis, ears, and fingers so more blood can flow into the heart, lungs, and brain, said Spitz, because those organs were responsible for keeping ancient humans alive in physically dangerous situations.
Even though we're coping with pandemic stress, and not a Sabre tooth tiger attack, the body has the same response, according to Spitz.
Since adrenaline release is a mind-body response, it can cause a cycle of erection problems after a one-time occurrence. If a stressed-out person loses their erection during sex, the next time they gear up for fun with their partner they might feel concerned about it happening again.
"That thought, that simple thought, causes your body to release adrenaline again," Spitz said.
Upticks in anxiety and depression could also play a role
Patel said increased anxiety and depression, two mental health diagnoses that have been on the rise since March 2020, also contribute to erectile dysfunction risk, especially for men in their 20s and 30s.
Previous research has shown people with anxiety and depression are more likely to develop erectile dysfunction than those without mental health problems.
Though researcher have yet to uncover why mental health has an impact on erections, it's clear that a person's psychological state is a major factor in sexual satisfaction.
That's why Patel suggested people who are experiencing erectile dysfunction for the first time have open and honest conversations about how it's impacting their lives.
"I think number one, if you have a primary care physician or someone that you can talk to, the first step is just acknowledging that this is an issue, how it's impacting you, and then knowing that there's a lot of good treatment options, whether it be the young guy with erectile dysfunction or the older guy," Patel said.
Medications like Viagra are an option, as well as penile implants for those who don't respond to medication. For those who find their erectile dysfunction is due to mental distress, talking with a therapist or doing confidence-boosting exercises can also help.