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Erectile dysfunction in teenagers is not a common occurrence when compared with middle-aged men, but for some young men, it can nevertheless be a reality — and a scary one.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) isn’t supposed to be a problem for young guys, with their normal testosterone levels that don’t require replacement therapy, their general absence of age-related sexual dysfunction, and their youthful blood vessels.
For men who are supposedly entering their prime, it seems like it would be the least likely (and most shameful) time for dysfunction to happen.
What you probably don’t know is that younger men have been struggling with ED for a long time, too, but it’s often a little different from the ED experienced by their fathers.
Whether you’re navigating these waters yourself or supporting someone as they seek answers, we can assure you there’s good news ahead. But before we get there, let’s talk about the problem itself.
Is the average high school boy really dealing with the same problems as their relatively more tired, aging father? Is there a case to be made for father-son bonding over shared ED prescriptions? Not necessarily.
The idea of how common ED is in teenagers is a little hard to define. Substantial research has been done on sexual function and erectile difficulties, but there’s significantly less data reflecting young men under 20.
Take this study from 2021, for instance. Researchers looked at data from more than 2,000 young men and found that 11.3 percent of sexually active men reported mild erectile dysfunction, and nearly 3 percent reported moderate to severe issues.
However, the study qualified “young adult men” as those aged 18 to 31 — including men more than ten years out of their teens.
Data for the specific pre-20 age range is relatively hard to track down. But a multi-year study from 2008 found 40 males between the ages of 14 and 19 with some form of ED. Most of them had some sort of surgical cause or form of trauma to the penis or genitals that was correlated with their erectile difficulties.
That 2008 study pointed out an important point. For the most part, doctors tend to default to psychological causes when confronted with a young patient with ED, yet not all young, healthy ED patients are necessarily struggling with psychological ED triggers.
In fact, ED can be caused by a range of factors in your life.
There are a substantial number of ways that a teenager might get ED, and while it’s certainly not the most talked about phenomenon in sexual health, teenagers actually do have plenty of risks for ED.
Stress at school, undiagnosed mental health issues or even some extra weight can raise your risk. Here are the causes to watch out for, especially if you’re a teen:
People make jokes about men thinking with one head or the other, but it’s crazy how much one can affect the other.
Antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), tranquilizers, prescription sedatives, antiandrogens and blood pressure medications can all create the side effect of erectile dysfunction.
In fact, that 2021 study of young men found that even after you adjust for a history of depression, antidepressant users were three times more likely to have moderate to severe ED.
If you’re taking any of these prescription drugs, discuss whether it might be the root cause of your erectile function problems.
Risk factors like a medical condition can increase your individual chances of developing ED. So if you’re a teen and have any of the following conditions, your risk might be elevated:
Type 2 diabetes
High blood pressure
Chronic kidney disease
Multiple sclerosis or Peyronie’s disease
Prostate, spinal cord or penis injuries
OK, maybe it’s a bit of a stretch to say being single is an ED risk, but hear us out.
That 2021 study of 2,000 men also found that those with a long-term partner saw their odds of ED reduced by 65 percent when compared to single men. So it might be the case that a more stable or healthy intimate relationship could reduce your absolute risk of sexual function issues.
If nothing else, men in relationships are statistically happier and at a lower risk of suicide, according to Psychology Today.
We’re not trying to make this uncomfortable, but your parents may have been looking out for your sex life when they policed your behavior.
Excessive drinking, smoking cigarettes and using recreational drugs aren’t just a parent’s list of terrible no-nos — they’re also your penis’s least favorite things. Along with being overweight or sedentary, those vices can have an undesirable impact on your ability to get it up.
There’s good news, though. You can quit smoking, you can address the other issues, and if you take your health seriously, you can potentially make ED go away.
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Erectile dysfunction can become a lifelong problem if left untreated, but most men see the benefits of one or more forms of treatment when they seek help. Assuming you have no major injuries, traumas or other permanent damage to your reproductive organs, there’s a good chance you can fight ED — and even win.
If you’re a teen and think you might have ED, one of the simplest ways to reduce the chances of having it forever is to simply seek professional help from someone who specializes in sexual medicine.
That 2021 study we mentioned had another interesting statistic: less than 2 percent of the 2,000 men reported using medication or supplements, and a third of those who said they were using medications were misusing them.
Medication isn’t the only solution, but if that group of young men was seeking treatment, we’d likely see a higher number using medication — and a substantially smaller ratio of self-reporting as misusing the medication.
Education and treatment are the best ways to combat ED. And now that we’ve gotten some education handled, it’s time for the latter part of that two-prong strategy.
Thankfully, treatments for ED in your teens aren’t terribly different from treatments at any other age. With the exception of looking at psychological causes first, your treatment will still follow one or more of three primary options: therapy, medication and lifestyle changes.
Medications for ED typically come from a popular category known as PDE-5 inhibitors. These medications (which include the generic sildenafil or Viagra and tadalafil or Cialis) help to increase blood flow to your penis in a way that can help you better achieve and support erections.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), in particular, can be an excellent tool for learning to reject negative thoughts and patterns of thinking that might lead you to imagine worst-case scenarios and instead be present and optimistic about the great time you’re about to have in bed.
You know how we mentioned lifestyle issues as one of the potential causes of ED? Well, they can affect you at any age, and they can get worse as you get older.
It’s best to cut back on (or outright abandon) habits like smoking or drug use while you’re young. The same goes for things like exercise and eating a healthy diet, which can prevent the types of heart disease and cardiovascular diseases associated with ED later in life.
If you’re a teenager with ED, you have your whole sexual life ahead of you. Letting fear or anxiety about what might be wrong keep you from seeking help is the surest way to make the problem worse.
The sooner you get help for ED, the sooner you can get it under control. If you’re not sure where to look for help, we can connect you to someone who will listen and provide answers.
Our sexual health resources include medication and other treatments for erectile dysfunction. And should you suspect your ED might be psychologically induced, our online therapy platform is a convenient, secure, discreet and quick way to talk about those problems with a therapy professional who can actually help you make some changes.
Your teens will come and go before you know it, but ED doesn’t leave without action. Don’t let another year pass without you rising to meet the challenge. Get help today.
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.