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Dopamine & Erectile Dysfunction: What’s The Connection?

Kristin Hall, FNP

Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Rachel Sacks

Published 03/14/2023

Wondering about the relationship between dopamine and erectile dysfunction? Here’s everything you need to know.

Erectile dysfunction: two words that can make any man nervous. We know this condition is a common one affecting guys of all ages, not just older men — 18 million men over the age of 20 in the U.S. struggle with the condition.

The cause is not unknown either. Erectile dysfunction (ED) can happen for several reasons, from certain medications to psychological causes like depression and anxiety.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in reward-seeking behavior, as well as processes such as achieving orgasm. This chemical is also believed to play a role in depression.

But what is the connection between dopamine and erectile dysfunction? Below, we’ll explore dopamine impotence and if there’s a relationship between erectile function and dopamine levels.

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Erectile dysfunction — sometimes referred to as impotence — is a common sexual health condition. If you’re unable to get a firm-enough erection or maintain an erection long enough for sexual activity, you might have ED.

ED can vary in severity, either being an occasional annoyance that gets in the way of sexual activity or a severe, long-term issue impacting your sexual performance.

As mentioned above, there are numerous causes of ED, and certain factors may increase the risk of sexual dysfunction.

You might be more prone to ED if you’re older, have been diagnosed with a medical condition, are overweight, take prescription medication or have certain habits, such as smoking or using addictive drugs.

You could also be experiencing ED due to a psychological cause, such as anxiety, fear of poor sexual performance, stress, excessive internet pornography consumption, performance anxiety, depression or another mood disorder.

So, could you experience so-called dopamine impotence or a dopamine erection? Keep reading to learn more about the connection between dopamine and erectile dysfunction.

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Nicknamed the “feel-good” chemical, dopamine is involved with your brain’s reward processes and pleasure center (also known as the reward center).

When you do something that feels good — eat delicious food or engage in sexual behavior, for instance — it triggers a release of dopamine in the reward center. As a result, you want to repeat the action to feel that rush in your dopamine receptors again.

Dopamine can also play a role in your mood, as well as a small part in your “fight-or-flight” response to stress. When you’re in a stressful or scary situation, your central dopamine can relax or constrict your blood vessels.

This “feel-good” chemical also contributes to addiction, encouraging you to repeat patterns or behaviors that aren’t only necessary for survival but result in pleasure, like problematic pornography consumption or other addictive behaviors.

Low levels of dopamine can also lead to a reduced libido or a low sex drive. And although depression is more often associated with low serotonin levels, studies find that low levels of dopamine can also contribute to a mood disorder.

One symptom of depression is a lack of motivation and concentration — both of which dopamine is responsible for.

Dopamine is produced in the reward center in a two-step process. First, an amino acid called tyrosine is converted into another amino acid, L-dopa. Then enzymes change L-dopa into dopamine.

Now that we know dopamine is the “feel-good” pleasure chemical, how does it explain a dopamine erection exactly? To answer that, we should quickly explain how erections work and why you get erections.

While genital arousal might seem simple, there’s actually a whole process involving the nerves around your penis, the network of blood vessels and your brain — which is where dopamine comes into play.

Penile erections are a natural process that occurs when you feel sexual arousal, either from physical or mental stimulation.

Nerves located inside your penis release neurotransmitters that cause the smooth muscle of your blood vessels to relax, widening the diameter of your blood vessels and increasing blood flow to the erectile tissue inside your penis.

This increased blood flow is what gives your erection its size and firmness, allowing you to engage in a satisfying performance and achieve sexual satisfaction.

Dopamine is believed to be one of the key neurotransmitters involved with sexual functioning and erections. Experimental studies of male rats found that not only was dopamine involved with sexual motivation, but it also triggered erections.

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To recap, dopamine plays a role in sexual arousal, erections and the brain’s reward center, among other functions. So there could be a connection between dopamine and erectile dysfunction.

If your brain chemistry isn’t producing enough dopamine — whether from depression or other mood disorders — you could be experiencing less frequent sexual arousal and having trouble getting or maintaining an erection.

Another common cause of erectile dysfunction, as well as premature ejaculation (PE), is frequent pornography consumption, which may also be related to dopamine levels and sexual reward processes.

Watching internet pornography frequently, as well as the novelty and amount of hardcore internet pornography available, affects your brain's reward system, triggering dopamine bursts.

The more internet pornography you watch, the more your brain associates it with sexual arousal. So when real-life sexual stimulation doesn’t match up with the video pornography you see online, you might experience so-called dopamine impotence.

Whether your ED is due to watching frequent pornography, depression or something else, there are ways to treat your condition.

Research has found that dopamine agonists — drugs that mimic dopamine function — can help with the treatment of erectile dysfunction. One example of a dopamine agonist for treating low sex drive is pramipexole (Mirapex).

A 2015 study also found that L-tyrosine — the amino acid that turns into dopamine — seemed to reverse the effect of neurological ED in mice, though the data is extremely limited. Further research is needed before labeling L-tyrosine as a treatment for erectile dysfunction.

Getting more tyrosine from certain foods — such as chicken, dairy products, avocados, bananas and pumpkin seeds — could boost your dopamine levels.

Dopamine reuptake inhibitor medications like bupropion are also often used to treat depression by preventing the brain from reabsorbing the chemical.

That said, there are several other erectile dysfunction medications that might serve you better. You should consult with your healthcare provider first to try and identify the cause of your erectile dysfunction.

They can recommend a treatment plan that’s right for your symptoms and health condition.

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While some things are uncertain about the process of male sexual arousal, research seems to indicate a connection between dopamine and erectile dysfunction.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (or naturally occurring chemical) your body produces when you do something that feels good. This chemical communicates messages between nerve cells in your brain and the rest of your body and is associated with pleasurable reward and motivation.

The dopamine rush encourages you to repeat behaviors that triggered the chemical, creating an association with actions that made you feel good. When you engage in sexual behavior that feels good, for example, you experience a dopamine rush.

Dopamine has also been found to be a part of the process of getting an erection as well as sexual motivation and arousal. If you’re struggling with erectile dysfunction or a low sex drive, it could be because of low dopamine levels.

Watching internet pornography is one cause of low dopamine levels and ED, due to porn being readily available and not matching real-world sexual encounters.

If you’re dealing with ED, you should talk to a healthcare provider to figure out what’s causing your condition and the best treatment for you. Connect with a sexual health provider online at Hims today.

8 Sources

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  3. Dopamine: What It Is, Function & Symptoms. (2022, March 23). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22581-dopamine
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  5. Argiolas, A., & Rosaria Melis, M. (1995). Neuromodulation of penile erection: an overview of the role of neurotransmitters and neuropeptides. Progress in neurobiology, 47(4-5), 235–255. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26445737/
  6. Giuliano, F., & Allard, J. (2001). Dopamine and male sexual function. European urology, 40(6), 601–608. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11805404/
  7. Park, B. Y., Wilson, G., Berger, J., Christman, M., Reina, B., Bishop, F., Klam, W. P., & Doan, A. P. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral Sciences, 6(3). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5039517/
  8. Lin, G., Li, H., Zhang, X., Wang, J., Zaid, U., Sanford, M. T., Tu, V., Wu, A., Wang, L., Tian, F., Kotanides, H., Krishnan, V., Wang, G., Ning, H., Banie, L., Lin, C. S., Deng, G. G., & Lue, T. F. (2015). Novel therapeutic approach for neurogenic erectile dysfunction: effect of neurotrophic tyrosine kinase receptor type 1 monoclonal antibody. European urology, 67(4), 716–726. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25847857/
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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.

Kristin Hall, FNP

Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership. 

She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH

Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare. 

Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.

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