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Sudden Erectile Dysfunction: Causes & When to Worry

Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Reviewed by Kelly Brown MD, MBA

Written by Geoffrey Whittaker

Published 01/27/2021

Updated 04/15/2024

Sudden erectile dysfunction (ED) can be frustrating and downright scary regardless of when it happens, but if you’re a college guy googling “sudden erectile dysfunction at 21 years old,” we can see why you might initially panic.

ED is sometimes a canary in the coal mine — a red flag that can signal issues caused by underlying health conditions. That’s not always the case though. Sudden loss of erection also can happen when you’re feeling particularly stressed or anxious, exhausted after a long day or simply not in the mood. 

In many cases, the problem is a one-time thing. But if you’re seeing sudden ED become a recurring trend, you’ll want to check out the information on causes and treatments (and when to worry) that we’ve assembled below.

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Sudden erectile dysfunction is a condition in which a man loses his erection during sex, or is spontaneously unable to become aroused after previously having no problems. 

Sudden ED isn’t really a medical term though. Although it is differentiated in some medical research to refer to spontaneous loss of erection or losing an erection in the middle of sex, the truth is that while you may feel the onset of ED symptoms is sudden, the problems may have been building for some time. 

In that case, you might simply have erectile dysfunction — one of the most common sexual health issues reported by men. Though ED may not be immediately life-threatening, it can be frustrating and, in some cases, a symptom of an underlying health problem. 

ED affects as many as 30 million men in the U.S. And it becomes more common for older men, too — it affects roughly 10 percent of men for each decade of life after age forty.

Any man can develop erectile dysfunction at any time, but you’re more likely to develop ED if you have an underlying physical or mental health issue, take certain medications, have certain health-related factors (like smoking or obesity) or are over a certain age. 

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What causes an erection to suddenly go away or stop appearing altogether? There are actually many potential causes. When ED happens without warning, it may stem from psychological issues like stress or health conditions associated with lifestyle, or it may be the result of a medication or other chemical, like alcohol.

While erectile dysfunction typically develops over time, it can occur suddenly and unexpectedly as well. These two types of ED may have different underlying causes.

In ED that develops gradually, the underlying cause is often tied to health issues related to the circulatory or nervous system. For instance, this might include vascular issues that impact the blood vessels like atherosclerosis or high blood pressure, or an injury to the penis, prostate or bladder. Prostate cancer treatment can also have an impact on erectile health.

Cases of sudden sexual dysfunction, however, are more likely related to a side effect of medication, some kind of psychological issue or lifestyle factors. 

For instance, issues like sexual performance anxiety or low self-esteem can take you out of the moment or keep you from getting hard. 

Meanwhile, medications that can cause ED include sedatives, appetite suppressants and antidepressants. Similarly, drug use or excessive alcohol consumption could also cause erectile dysfunction that happens all of a sudden.

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Untreated ED can exacerbate feelings of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. It can also have a negative impact on your sex life and your intimate relationships. So if you’re experiencing sudden ED, don’t delay in speaking to your physician. 

Every man is different and so is every case of erectile dysfunction. In talking to your healthcare provider about your concerns, you may even find that your ED is linked to more than one underlying cause. In many cases, it takes a combination of multiple erectile dysfunction treatment options to find a consistent and satisfactory solution. 

Here are some of the things you might try to overcome your erectile dysfunction.

Eat a Healthier Diet 

There isn’t a specific diet suggested for the treatment of ED, but focusing on foods designed to support cardiovascular health may help. Research has shown that a diet rich in foods like lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of erectile dysfunction. (As a bonus, it helps your cholesterol as well.)

Get More Exercise

Regular exercise has been shown to have positive effects for men with erectile dysfunction. In a 2018 review, researchers explored the benefits of physical activity for vascular erectile dysfunction and concluded that 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise four times a week could decrease erectile problems in men.

Exercise could also help with weight loss, which may prove beneficial as well, since obesity is a risk factor for erectile dysfunction. Being overweight or obese puts a great deal of stress on the body, and it can contribute to circulatory problems, which may exacerbate issues with ED. 

Aside from vascular issues related to obesity, having a high waist circumference has been linked to a higher risk of erectile dysfunction. Excess body fat can also interfere with hormone levels, which could affect your sexual function.

Treat Underlying Conditions

Erectile dysfunction is a condition that often develops slowly over time due to underlying medical conditions affecting the nervous system, circulatory system or other systems in the body. Chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and Peyronie’s disease can all contribute to erectile dysfunction. 

Talk to your healthcare provider if you’ve been diagnosed with one of these conditions or if you suspect an underlying health problem could be at play. They may review your medical history and perform a check-in on your overall health to see if anything is up.

Smoking and heavy drinking are also top contributors to erectile dysfunction, so one underlying condition you need to treat may be dependence. Lifestyle changes like reducing your tobacco and alcohol use while making healthy improvements to your diet and activity level may help your erectile function improve. 

Seek Mental Health Treatment

Many cases of erectile dysfunction are, at least in part, linked to psychological and emotional issues, a phenomenon known as psychological ED.

If you struggle with anxiety or depression, or if you experience stress related to sex, it may help to speak to a licensed therapist. Your therapist can help you identify and work through mental and emotional issues that may be contributing to your ED.

It may also help to bring your partner into some of your counseling sessions, so the two of you can learn how to work through issues together. 

Counseling is often recommended for patients who are also undergoing treatment for physical or medical causes of ED. And if one type of therapy isn’t working, there are a number of different types of therapy that you can try. 

Consult a Healthcare Provider About ED Medication

Sometimes, the medication you're taking is the cause of sudden ED. Certain medications — particularly those for diabetes or heart conditions — can increase your risk of erectile dysfunction.

If you suspect your medications are contributing to your ED, talk to your healthcare provider about adjusting your dosage or making a switch. 

You may also want to consider adding medications for treating ED to your life. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several medications for the treatment of ED. 

PDE5-inhibitors like sildenafil (the generic for Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®), and vardenafil (Levitra®) work by relaxing the smooth muscles in the penis and increasing blood flow during sexual stimulation. 

If a pill is not your thing, we also offer convenient chewable ED med mints for guys on the go who want fresh breath with their hard erections.

Testosterone replacement therapy could also help if you have low testosterone. 

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It’s not at all out of the ordinary to experience ED from time to time. Maybe it’s because of a hard night of drinking, or maybe your mind is still back at the office. When it happens once, the best advice we can give you is to relax, give yourself a break, rest up and offer your partner some attention in the meantime. 

After the first time, however, the issue is on its way to becoming a pattern. Sudden loss of erection can indicate a serious problem if it’s a repeat occurrence.

Luckily, it’s also seriously treatable. Keep the following in mind as you navigate this phase of penile performance problems:

  • Erectile dysfunction and other sexual health concerns are often treatable, but the first step is diagnosing the underlying cause.

  • Once you have a better understanding of the factors contributing to your ED, you can work with your physician to find the right ED treatment option for you. 

  • To learn more about the causes of ED, including the psychological causes of ED like sexual performance anxiety, check out or blogs. We also offer online therapy for people struggling with double trouble like depression and ED .

Whatever treatment method you choose, you should also communicate with your partner about your ED. While it can feel difficult to talk about sex — especially when it involves a potentially embarrassing subject like ED — you may find that the simple act of opening up to your partner helps relieve some of the stress and anxiety you’ve been feeling.

8 Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.-f). 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.
  2. Baxter, R. (2014, September 22). How might Peyronie’s disease cause erectile dysfunction? ISSM. https://www.issm.info/sexual-health-qa/how-might-peyronie-s-disease-cause-erectile-dysfunction/.
  3. Pizzol, D., Smith, L., Fontana, L. et al. Associations between body mass index, waist circumference and erectile dysfunction: a systematic review and META-analysis. Rev Endocr Metab Disord 21, 657–666 (2020). https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11154-020-09541-0.
  4. Gerbild, H., Larsen, C. M., Graugaard, C., & Areskoug Josefsson, K. (2018). Physical Activity to Improve Erectile Function: A Systematic Review of Intervention Studies. Sexual medicine, 6(2), 75–89. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esxm.2018.02.001.
  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.-a). Definition & Facts for erectile dysfunction - NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/definition-facts.
  6. 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.
  7. Nunes, K. P., Labazi, H., & Webb, R. C. (2012). New insights into hypertension-associated erectile dysfunction. Current opinion in nephrology and hypertension, 21(2), 163–170. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4004343/.
  8. Dean, R. C., & Lue, T. F. (2005). Physiology of penile erection and pathophysiology of erectile dysfunction. The Urologic clinics of North America, 32(4), 379–v. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ucl.2005.08.007https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1351051/.
Editorial Standards

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, MBA

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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