A quick fix for erectile dysfunction (ED) has been on the wish list of millions of men for decades — maybe even centuries. If the internet is any indication (and it is), guys will waste a surprising amount of time, money and common sense in the pursuit of something to make their penis perform like it’s headlining a Vegas show.
ED affects an estimated 30 million men in the United States alone, though it’s a widespread problem. What is erectile dysfunction? When you have ED, you’re unable to achieve or sustain an erection during sex — in other words, nobody’s getting down to business.
Cock-blocking couples everywhere, erectile dysfunction is a frustrating obstacle. Unfortunately, there’s no simple cure for ED. It’s a multifaceted men’s health problem that requires a multifaceted approach to treatment.
The good news is that there are effective treatment options. Ahead, we’ll go over some evidence-based approaches and explain why there’s no magic fix for ED.
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To better understand why there simply can’t be a natural fix for ED, we have to hone in on what’s going on mechanically. In order to have an erection, the following things need to happen:
Sexual arousal triggers the release of neurotransmitters and nitric oxide from the nervous system.
Nitric oxide stimulates the production of cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP), which relaxes smooth muscles in the arteries of the penis and allows blood to flow there more easily.
Increased blood flow into erectile tissues is crucial for creating and maintaining an erection during sexual intercourse.
When this process is disrupted for any reason, you’ve got problems. So to treat ED, you have to identify the underlying factors involved.
We’ll outline some potential causes of erectile dysfunction next.
Erectile dysfunction may result from a combination of physical factors. Men who have certain existing health conditions are more likely to experience sexual dysfunction.
For example, the following are related to a higher risk of ED:
Type 2 diabetes
High cholesterol or atherosclerosis
Penile injuries or deformities like Peyronie’s disease
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder
But it’s not just physical. Keep scrolling to learn about how mental and emotional health can impact erectile function.
ED isn’t always solely caused by physical reasons — psychological ED is also very real. Many men struggle with sexual performance anxiety, in which nervousness about performing gets in the way of being able to perform in the bedroom.
Medications are widely prescribed as a first line of treatment for numerous health conditions. Many of us are on medication of some sort and may also be using supplements or natural remedies.
While this isn’t inherently bad, the problem lies when things interact or have side effects. Several prescription drugs specifically have ED as a potential side effect, such as:
Opioid pain medications
Isotretinoin, a sebum suppressive medication for acne
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other antidepressants
Blood pressure-lowering medications
If you’re seeking treatment for ED, always let your healthcare provider know if you’re taking any other medications.
Sexual health isn’t independent of overall health. In other words, the way you live your life influences the way you’re able to perform.
Everyday factors that can contribute to the development of ED include:
Poor sleep habits, diagnosed insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea
A sedentary lifestyle and general lack of physical activity
Obesity or an unhealthy diet pattern
Alcohol consumption, the use of recreational drugs and smoking cigarettes
Improving these habits might give your erectile function a boost.
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Far too many potential factors are involved in ED for there to be one single erectile dysfunction treatment for everyone.
That doesn’t prevent targeted marketing from trying to convince you of the opposite, though. There’s no lack of gimmicky advertisements for penis pills or influencers who swear a magical potion took their sexual experiences from zero to 60.
Let’s look at a few things that have been touted as natural ways to cure ED. Keep in mind that while some of them may help improve arousal or the ability for men to penetrate during sex, they’re not actually addressing the problem.
Supplements are a multibillion-dollar industry. Whatever condition you’re living with, there’s supposedly a supplement for it, including ED.
Some have considered using menthol (think Vicks VapoRub®) as a possible medicine-cabinet tool for ED. Why? Beyond its tingly feeling, menthol has been seen in limited studies to be a “vasodilator” — something that promotes vascular dilation (widening blood vessels).
One study focused on a small group of men and saw positive results, but the research was flawed. Menthol works on skin-level blood vessels, so it wouldn’t affect blood flow deeper inside your penis. Plus, the trial was performed on an arm, not a penis.
There’s also “herbal Viagra” — the stuff you buy in gas stations. This and other herbal remedies peddle the same effects as prescription erectile dysfunction medications, but they’re made with “natural” compounds.
There’s some vague medical support behind a few of them. But there’s a reason buying them makes you feel like you just made a deal with a greasy used-car salesman.
Overall, these “natural” solutions for ED have limited efficacy, plus they’re far from safe, with a high risk of potential side effects and contraindications. In fact, the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) warns against these “gas station” supplements.
Many herbs have been studied for potential aphrodisiac qualities, like Panax ginseng, maca and saffron. Results are mixed, but even if they enhance arousal, they’re best used in conjunction with effective ED treatments to ensure long-term benefits.
Finally, some studies have suggested a link between sexual dysfunction and certain vitamin deficiencies. For instance, if you’re lacking in vitamins D, B9 (folate) or B3 (niacin), correcting the deficiency may help improve ED.
Still, vitamins aren’t substitutes for FDA-approved prescription medications.
While some devices may be promising, they don’t always work. Plus, they can pose potential risks and don’t address the underlying cause (or causes) of erectile dysfunction.
Also called a vacuum erection device, a penis pump is a non-invasive option. It consists of a plastic tube that fits over the penis and a pump that creates a vacuum inside the tube.
When the pump is activated, it draws blood into the penis and causes it to become erect. Once an erection is achieved, a tension ring or constriction band may be placed at the base of the penis to prevent blood from flowing back out.
This comes with possible complications if used incorrectly. For example, it’s very important to remember to take the tension ring off in a reasonable amount of time (typically within 30 minutes) to prevent damage to the penis.
A cock ring (aka a constriction ring or erection ring) is placed around the base of the penis. Though it won’t treat the underlying causes of ED, it can be used to help maintain an erection by restricting the flow of blood out of the penis.
While cock rings keep the blood in, the problem is that they don’t do anything about getting the blood in there in the first place. Not to mention, if you’ve ever left a rubber band around your wrist too long, well…you don’t want to recreate that here.
Like female vibrators, male vibrators are designed to provide sexual stimulation — only to the penis. Most are shaped to fit around or over the penis and vibrate or provide other sensations.
Vibrators can help men with spinal cord injuries ejaculate and may be an enjoyable add-on to your sex life.
It’s easy to get pulled into anything that sounds too good to be true (because it usually is). If you ask us, it’s best to stick with the tried-and-true solutions for health problems like erectile dysfunction.
Fortunately, there are plenty of ED treatments with more scientific backing.
They were accidentally discovered while researchers were studying sildenafil citrate for its effects on chest pain. Three decades later, millions of men are grateful to the unsuspecting participants who experienced untimely erections during early trials.
Vardenafil (generic for Levitra® or Staxyn®)
Avanafil (generic for Stendra®)
Another option is our hard mints. These chewable ED meds contain the same active ingredients in Cialis, Levitra and Staxyn but at personalized dosages.
Surgery is the last resort in most ED cases. A urologist can perform a procedure to implant a device (prosthetic) to make the penis erect. Penile implants can be inflatable, with a pump in the scrotum, or involve adjustable rods to manually position the penis.
Alternatively, a surgeon can reconstruct the arteries to increase blood flow to the penis.
In addition to the PDE5 inhibitors, there are other medical options for treating ED. Alprostadil is an injectable medication that’s FDA-approved for ED and works in a different way than the PDE5 inhibitors. And the FDA also recently authorized a non-medicated topical gel for the treatment of ED that’s available without a prescription, called Eroxon.
ED isn’t always just a sexual health concern — it might be related to a mental health issue. Many guys also suffer from low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, which could be contributing to their ED.
Making matters worse, men with sexual performance anxiety can experience a negative feedback loop, as anxiety about sex turns into anxiety about not being able to get an erection.
Unfortunately, society tells men to internalize mental and emotional health issues, preventing many from seeking the support they need.
Does this sound like you? Take our word for it that women find men who are emotionally intelligent and go to therapy very attractive.
Mental health support can make a huge difference in your bedroom performance and overall quality of life — and there are many types of therapy to choose from.
Healthy lifestyle habits are instrumental to sexual wellness. With so many lifestyle-related factors that can play a role in the development of ED, it’s important to engage in habits like these:
Moving your body. Regular exercise benefits cardiovascular, respiratory and musculoskeletal health and helps support a healthy weight. If you have overweight or obesity, you have a higher risk of developing ED and other sexual health issues. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise at least five times a week.
Eating a healthy diet. Nutrition is one of the most impactful factors of your health. A diet full of minimally processed foods like fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes and lean proteins — with limited amounts of added sugars, sodium and processed meats — has been associated with better reproductive and overall health.
Managing stress. We’re all stressed, but how you handle it matters. Manage stress by journaling, exercising, spending time in nature, getting professional therapy or leaning on your support system.
Getting enough sleep. Sleep experts recommend adults get at least seven hours of sleep per night. To improve your odds of catching Zs, try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Prepare a sleep-promoting environment and only use your bed for sleep and sex. Avoid technology before falling asleep, and use white noise machines or blackout curtains if needed.
Can ED be cured? Not necessarily. But can it be managed? Yes. Can it be cured with natural solutions like gas station sex pills and cock rings? Not so much.
While there’s no lack of strategically marketed products for sexual health, most are (unfortunately) nothing more than a temporary cover-up of whatever’s going on underneath — or simply a placebo.
To save money and further frustration, we recommend telling your ego to take a back seat and going straight for evidence-based solutions.
The most effective approach to treating ED includes a combination of the following:
Speaking to a healthcare professional. Yeah, it’s awkward to talk to your provider about stuff like this, but you’re not telling them anything they haven’t heard before. A healthcare professional is also your best bet for sound medical advice and getting the treatment you need.
Getting an appropriate prescription medication. Your provider may recommend a PDE5 inhibitor or other medication, which requires a prescription. They can also help you recognize side effects or indications that you need another option.
Making healthy lifestyle changes. Exercise, improve your diet, practice stress management and get consistent sleep. These everyday habits translate to better overall health and a potential boost in sexual function.
Sharing with your partner. Don’t let ED become a long-term hindrance to your love life. Honesty and communication are key to a healthy relationship. The more you can share with your partner and come up with solutions together, the better the outcome will be.
Having ED is more than an annoyance. It can have lasting effects on your mental health, quality of life and relationships.
If you need support in this area, we can help you navigate the next steps to get your sex life back on track. Start your online consultation today.
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]!
Dr. Mike Bohl is a licensed physician and the Director of Scientific & Medical Content at a stealth biotech startup. Prior to joining Hims & Hers, Dr. Bohl spent several years in digital health focusing on patient education. He has also worked in medical journalism for The Dr. Oz Show and Sharecare and has served on the Medical Expert Board of Eat This, Not That!.
Dr. Bohl obtained his Bachelor of Arts and Doctor of Medicine from Brown University, his Master of Public Health from Columbia University, and his Master of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies—Journalism from Harvard University. He is currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration and Master of Science in Healthcare Leadership at Cornell University. Dr. Bohl trained in internal medicine with a focus on community health at NYU Langone Health.
Dr. Bohl is Certified in Public Health by the National Board of Public Health Examiners, Medical Writer Certified by the American Medical Writers Association, a certified Editor in the Life Sciences by the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences, a Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Nutrition Coach by the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and a Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialist by the Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs.
In addition to his written work, Dr. Bohl has experience creating medical segments for radio and producing patient education videos. You can find Dr. Bohl on LinkedIn for more information
Dr. Bohl lives in Manhattan and enjoys biking, resistance training, sailing, scuba diving, skiing, tennis, and traveling. You can find Dr. Bohl on LinkedIn for more information.
Bachelor of Arts, Egyptian and Ancient Western Asian Archaeology. Brown University |
Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialist. Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs
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