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Can Belly Fat Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Reviewed by Kelly Brown, MD

Written by Geoffrey C. Whittaker

Published 05/12/2022

Updated 03/05/2024

Look, fellas… We get it. It’s easy to pack on a few extra pounds — for a million different reasons. Your calendar is packed and fast food is your only option. Things are stressful and a snack helps take your mind off things. Your partner picked up baking and keeps stuffing you with every obscure dessert known to man.

It happens.

But, aside from making your t-shirts a little tighter, what other ways can a little extra weight mean for your body? Namely, can belly fat cause erectile dysfunction (ED)?

Below, we’ll discuss how abdominal fat, cholesterol, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome can weigh on the health of your erections. We’ll also explain why visceral fat might be the deadweight you want to lose for better penile health.

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Belly fat and your sex life don’t exactly have a great relationship. But medically speaking, the correlation may not be as direct as you might assume.

While a beer gut or a dad bod (whatever we’re calling it these days) might feel like a hindrance to frequent and satisfying sex, it’s not technically a risk factor for ED on its own.

Erectile dysfunction is a common sexual performance problem affecting some 30 million men in the United States.

A variety of factors can bring an increased risk of ED, and belly fat isn’t exactly on the list. From having obesity to physical health problems and psychological disorders, many things can affect sex drive — but they only present an increased risk.

How weight affects erectile function has to do with whether that extra weight brings with it additional problems, like:

Research shows the connection. One study linked high body mass index (BMI) values to erectile dysfunction. Being overweight — having a BMI in the 25 to 30 range — was associated with a 150 percent increased risk of developing ED.

But even if some post-college weight gain isn’t the direct cause of ED, it can bring unexpected consequences. Psychological issues that contribute to ED include anxiety, depression and low self-esteem, all of which can result from poor body image.

The health risks associated with substantial weight gain can affect your hormones, nerve function and circulation, which can each indirectly affect your erectile health.

  • Hormones. Your endocrine system is responsible for testosterone production, which regulates sexual desire. Excessive body fat is a known risk factor for low testosterone levels, and while the link between low testosterone and ED isn’t precise, it could make you feel less interested in having sex.

  • Nerves. Your nervous system processes information and stimuli, including stimulation of the penis and other erogenous zones. There’s a well-established link between obesity and an elevated risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a common cause of erectile dysfunction.

  • Circulation. Your circulatory system (or vascular system) regulates the blood vessels that supply the nutrient-rich blood essential for erections. Obesity is also one of the leading causes of cardiovascular health issues like hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart disease. Research shows that abdominal obesity (fat around the waist) is a particularly concerning heart health issue.

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Body weight can be easy for some to lose and hard for others to manage.

But if a high weight or BMI is edging you toward cardiovascular disease or potentially creating a health issue like erectile dysfunction, consider the treatment options below.

Habits and Lifestyle Changes

Look, if you maintain a healthy weight, there’s no guarantee you’ll avoid ED — pretty much every man will struggle to become erect at some age, even if it’s ninety-nine.

Still, there’s a good chance you can improve your overall sexual health (and maybe stave off erectile dysfunction) with healthy habits.

You can take control, lose body weight and potentially improve your sexual health by:

  • Limiting salt intake. Foods containing large amounts of sodium can contribute to high blood pressure. Reducing your sodium intake may help improve cardiovascular function.

  • Cutting back on alcohol. Alcohol not only affects sexual health, but it’s also a major source of low-quality calories. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), men should limit their alcohol intake to two servings a day — for example, two 12-ounce beers or modestly sized glasses of wine.

  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet. A balanced diet contains lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, some lean protein sources and a moderate load of healthy carbohydrates. Limit simple sugars, which can elevate your blood sugar levels and increase diabetes risk.

  • Increasing physical activity. Exercise can help with weight loss, strengthen your cardiovascular system and improve blood flow to your penis. Just 30 minutes a day can give your heart and erectile health a boost.

  • Quitting smoking. Smoking cigarettes can reduce blood flow, damage blood vessels and increase your risk of heart failure, heart attack or stroke.
    Our full guide to smoking and erectile dysfunction goes into detail about the numerous links between cigarettes, ED and other sexual health issues.

  • Avoiding illicit drugs. We know life comes with risks, but some recreational drugs may pin that risk squarely on erectile performance. If you’re struggling with ED, lay off the drugs.

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ED Medication

Medications for ED can increase blood flow to the penis. These prescription meds belong to a class of drugs called PDE5 inhibitors, which work by increasing the ability for blood to flow into the penis.

PDE5 inhibitors come in tablet form. They can be taken before sex or (in the case of some formulations) on a daily basis.

Currently, the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) has approved four medications for treating erectile dysfunction: sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®), vardenafil (Levitra®) and avanafil (Stendra®).

We offer several erectile dysfunction medications online, following a consultation with a licensed healthcare provider who can determine if a prescription is appropriate.

Therapy for Psychological ED

Talk therapy (aka psychotherapy) involves talking to a licensed mental health provider about your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. If your ED is related to self-esteem, body image, past trauma or another mental health condition, your provider can help you work through these issues and come up with a solution.

We offer a range of mental health services online, including telehealth counseling, allowing you to get the support you need from the comfort of your home.

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Poor diet, excess body fat and a sedentary lifestyle may be killing your libido, bud. So if you’re overweight or obese, fight back.

Here’s what to keep in mind about body weight and ED:

  • Sexual function is about more than your penis — it involves the cardiovascular, nervous and endocrine systems, among other bodily processes.

  • When medical conditions like diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure weigh on your body, ED can be one of many symptoms.

  • Losing weight and generally living a healthier lifestyle could save your erections. These changes can also lead to other benefits, including a reduced risk for diabetes, heart disease and other potentially serious health problems.

Interested in learning more about treating ED? Our guide to the most common treatments and drugs for erectile dysfunction discusses how prescription drugs like sildenafil can prevent ED and improve sexual performance.

You can also explore the common signs of ED in our guide to knowing if you have erectile dysfunction.

15 Sources

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  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, April 28). Heart disease and stroke. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/health_effects/heart_disease/index.htm.
  3. Dhaliwal A, Gupta M. PDE5 Inhibitors. [Updated 2023 Apr 10]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK549843/.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015, November 6). Products - data briefs - number 110 - November 2012. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db110.htm.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, April 19). Facts about moderate drinking. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/moderate-drinking.htm.
  6. Grillo, A., Salvi, L., Coruzzi, P., Salvi, P., & Parati, G. (2019). Sodium Intake and Hypertension. Nutrients, 11(9), 1970. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6770596/.
  7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.-d). Treatment for erectile dysfunction - NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/treatment.
  8. Akil, L., & Ahmad, H. A. (2011). Relationships between obesity and cardiovascular diseases in four southern states and Colorado. Journal of health care for the poor and underserved, 22(4 Suppl), 61–72. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3250069/.
  9. Skrypnik, D., Bogdański, P., & Musialik, K. (2014). Otyłość--istotny czynnik ryzyka zaburzeń potencji u mezczyzn [Obesity--significant risk factor for erectile dysfunction in men]. Polski merkuriusz lekarski : organ Polskiego Towarzystwa Lekarskiego, 36(212), 137–141. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24720114/.
  10. Nassar GN, Leslie SW. Physiology, Testosterone. [Updated 2023 Jan 2]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK526128/.
  11. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (n.d.). Could you have low testosterone?: Medlineplus medical encyclopedia. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000722.htm.
  12. InformedHealth.org [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. How does the nervous system work? 2009 Oct 28 [Updated 2016 Aug 19]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279390/.
  13. Panchatsharam PK, Durland J, Zito PM. Physiology, Erection. [Updated 2023 May 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513278/.
  14. Barnes A. S. (2011). The epidemic of obesity and diabetes: trends and treatments. Texas Heart Institute journal, 38(2), 142–144. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3066828/.
  15. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.-c). Symptoms & causes of erectile dysfunction - NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/symptoms-causes.
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Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Kelly Brown MD, MBA
Kelly Brown, MD

Dr. Kelly Brown is a board certified Urologist and fellowship trained in Andrology. She is an accomplished men’s health expert with a robust background in healthcare innovation, clinical medicine, and academic research. Dr. Brown is a founding member of Posterity Health where she is Medical Director and leads strategy and design of their Digital Health Platform, an innovative education and telehealth model for delivering expert male fertility care.

She completed her undergraduate studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (go Heels!) with a Bachelor of Science in Radiologic Science and a Minor in Chemistry. She took a position at University of California Los Angeles as a radiologic technologist in the department of Interventional Cardiology, further solidifying her passion for medicine. She also pursued the unique opportunity to lead departmental design and operational development at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, sparking her passion for the business of healthcare.

Dr. Brown then went on to obtain her doctorate in medicine from the prestigious Northwestern University - Feinberg School of Medicine and Masters in Business Administration from Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management, with a concentration in Healthcare Management. During her surgical residency in Urology at University of California San Francisco, she utilized her research year to focus on innovations in telemedicine and then served as chief resident with significant contributions to clinical quality improvement. Dr. Brown then completed her Andrology Fellowship at Medical College of Wisconsin, furthering her expertise in male fertility, microsurgery, and sexual function.

Her dedication to caring for patients with compassion, understanding, as well as a unique ability to make guys instantly comfortable discussing anything from sex to sperm makes her a renowned clinician. In addition, her passion for innovation in healthcare combined with her business acumen makes her a formidable leader in the field of men’s health.

Dr. Brown is an avid adventurer; summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (twice!) and hiking the incredible Torres del Paine Trek in Patagonia, Chile. She deeply appreciates new challenges and diverse cultures on her travels. She lives in Denver with her husband, two children, and beloved Bernese Mountain Dog. You can find Dr. Brown on LinkedIn for more information.

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