Reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Have you been having a hard time getting an erection? Or perhaps you’ve arrived here because you’re curious about the relationship between age and sexual function in men.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is one of the most common forms of sexual dysfunction that develops in men. In fact, an estimated 30 million men in the United States of all backgrounds are affected by some degree of ED.
So if you’re having a tough time getting primed for sexual activity or maintaining your erection in bed, you’re definitely not alone.
ED, which is also known as impotence, occurs when a man is unable to get or keep an erection that allows for penetrative sex.
Although erectile dysfunction can and does affect men of all ages, there’s a clear link between a person’s age and their risk of experiencing difficulties getting or maintaining an erection.
For example, it’s estimated that by the time a man is in his 40s, there’s a 40 percent chance that he’ll have some form of erectile dysfunction, with this risk increasing by a further 10 percent with each additional decade.
However, you don’t have to suffer from erectile dysfunction as you get older, and there are still a lot of ways to keep sex as part of your healthy lifestyle.
Below, we’ve explained everything you need to know about the relationship between aging and erectile dysfunction, from how getting older affects your risk to the average at which many men start to develop problems getting or maintaining an erection.
We’ve also shared several simple but effective techniques that you can use to treat ED as you get older, from maintaining healthy habits to using ED medication such as sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®) to improve blood flow and promote healthier erections.
Erectile dysfunction can occur at any age. However, like many other medical conditions, it tends to become more common as men get older. This is because many physical conditions that affect your ability to get an erection tend to develop in your 40s, 50s and 60s.
If you’ve recently started to notice signs of erectile dysfunction, keep the following information in mind:
ED can affect men of all ages, including younger men in their 20s and 30s. A range of factors can play a part in erectile dysfunction in younger men, including mental health issues such as sexual performance anxiety.
Your risk of developing ED increases as you get older. Erectile dysfunction becomes a particularly common issue after age 70, with a prevalence rate of between 50 and 100 percent in this age group.
Many chronic diseases and healthy problems can contribute to ED, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Your risk of developing these conditions increases as you get older.
Healthy habits, such as exercising regularly and maintaining a Body Mass Index that’s in the normal range, can go a long way towards improving your general health and limiting your risk of experiencing erectile dysfunction.
Regardless of your age, ED is usually treatable. Almost all cases of erectile dysfunction can be treated with medications such as PDE5 inhibitors, which increase blood flow and make it easier to get and maintain an erection.
Research shows that age is one of the factors most closely linked to ED. Put simply, the older you are, the more at risk you are of developing erectile dysfunction.
One of the most thorough, comprehensive studies of erectile dysfunction, the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, looked at the sexual health of more than 1,700 men aged from 40 to 70 in Massachusetts during the late 1980s.
The study found that the combined prevalence rate for minimal, moderate or complete erectile dysfunction was 52 percent, with a man’s age the factor most strongly associated with ED.
Interestingly, complete erectile dysfunction was present in three times the number of men aged 70 compared to the men aged forty.
Other research has produced similar results. For example, a scientific review from 2017 noted that a man in his 40s has a 40 percent chance of developing some form of erectile dysfunction, with this risk increasing by 10 percent with each additional decade.
Finally, a study published in the American Journal of Medicine found that 5.1 percent of men in their 20s and 30s suffer from erectile dysfunction, compared to 70.2 percent of men aged 70 or older.
In short, science very much supports the common perception that erectile dysfunction becomes more common as you get older.
Now, it’s important to put this research in context. Age isn’t the only factor that affects your risk of developing erectile dysfunction, nor does getting older guarantee that you’ll eventually need to deal with difficulty getting or maintaining an erection.
However, age is very closely associated with other health issues that can increase your risk of erectile dysfunction.
For example, it’s common for your vascular system to gradually change as you age. Partly as a result of this age-related change, conditions like high blood pressure, a known cause of erectile dysfunction, become more common.
In fact, findings from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) show that 70 percent of adults 65 years of age or older have high blood pressure.
Similarly, other health issues related to ED often become more common with age. Diabetes, a disease that’s closely linked to ED, is more than twice as common in adults aged 45 and older than it is in people aged 18 to 44.
As you get older, it’s important to stay aware of these diseases and medical conditions, as well as the risks they may have for both your general health and your sexual performance.
By being aware of these risks and living a healthy lifestyle (a topic we’ve covered in more detail below), you can reduce your risk of developing erectile dysfunction.
As mentioned above, if you start to develop some form of erectile dysfunction as you get older, you’re not alone. What’s more, ED can show up in different ways.
For example, some men are only occasionally able to get an erection when they want to have sex, while others can get hard without difficulties but find it challenging to maintain an erection for long enough to enjoy satisfying sexual activity.
For men with severe erectile dysfunction, just getting an erection at any time can be difficult or impossible.
There are many health-related factors that may contribute to erectile dysfunction, from mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression to medications such as antidepressants, ulcer drugs and prescription sedatives.
Some lifestyle choices, such as being sedentary, smoking or drinking an excessive amount of alcohol, can also contribute to ED as you get older.
However, most age-related sexual dysfunction is caused by physical health problems, most of which become more common with age.
Erections are all about healthy nerve function and blood flow. When you feel sexually aroused, nerve messages promote relaxation of the muscles located inside your penis. This stimulates blood flow, allowing the erectile tissue inside your penis to expand and become firmer.
Without proper nerve function and healthy blood vessels, getting and maintaining an erection is much more difficult.
Many conditions that affect blood flow become more common as you grow older, particularly as you enter your 40s and 50s.
For example, peripheral arterial disease (PAD) -- a condition that’s caused by a gradual buildup of plaque inside your blood vessels -- is a common risk factor for erectile dysfunction that tends to become more common as you enter your 50s.
Other cardiovascular health conditions that can cause or contribute to erectile dysfunction, such as hypertension (high blood pressure) and heart disease, are also significantly more common in middle-aged and older men.
Another age-related health issue that can cause or contribute to erectile dysfunction is diabetes, which increases in prevalence with age. According to the National Institute on Aging, diabetes is most common in middle-aged and older adults.
Men with diabetes are three times more likely to develop erectile dysfunction, largely because of the negative effects that diabetes can have on blood flow throughout your body.
Diabetes also plays a key role in nerve health. People with higher-than-normal levels of glucose can develop damaged nerves, which in turn might result in decreased sexual sensation, or even cause pain during sexual intercourse.
In addition to cardiovascular health issues and diseases such as diabetes, age-related changes in your production of certain hormones might affect your sexual performance and make it harder to maintain a healthy sex life.
For example, it’s common to experience a gradual decline in your production of testosterone as you grow older, starting from the age of 30 to 40.
Low testosterone levels can negatively affect your sexual function in several ways, including by reducing your level of interest in sex and contributing to erectile dysfunction.
Testosterone deficiency can also affect your sleep, red blood cell count, energy levels, body fat and muscular strength, which may have an impact on your stamina in bed.
Another age-related factor that could cause or contribute to erectile dysfunction is injury to your penis, pelvis and surrounding area.
Certain surgical procedures and medical treatments, such as surgery for prostate cancer, have the potential to damage the nerves around your penis.
Since most cancers and prostate conditions become more common with age, these procedures are more frequently performed on middle-aged and older men.
In addition to physical health problems, some medications can affect your ability to develop and maintain an erection. These include:
Medications for high blood pressure
Medications for prostate cancer
Prescription sleeping pills
As you get older, it’s common to use more medications on a daily basis, including certain drugs that may affect your sex drive, erectile function and general sexual health.
Other issues that may cause erectile dysfunction include mental health disorders and lifestyle factors.
Psychological issues that can contribute to ED include depression, anxiety, feelings of anxiety about sex, low self-esteem and stress.
Lifestyle factors that may cause or contribute to ED include smoking, consuming an excessive amount of alcohol, using recreational drugs, having a sedentary daily life and being overweight or obese.
Our full guide to the causes of erectile dysfunction goes into more detail about the factors that can affect your erections and sexual function.
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Regardless of your age, erectile dysfunction is almost always treatable. For most men, erectile dysfunction can be treated by using medication and making certain changes to your lifestyle to improve your sexual health and function.
Currently, there are several evidence-based, FDA-approved medications available for erectile dysfunction. These medications work by increasing blood flow to your penis, which can make getting and maintaining an erection easier when you’re sexually aroused.
Currently, the following medications are available to treat ED:
Sildenafil. The active ingredient in Viagra, sildenafil(generic Viagra) can be taken one hour prior to sex and provides relief from erectile dysfunction for around four hours per dose.
Tadalafil. The active ingredient in Cialis®, vardenafil is a long-lasting ED medication that can provide relief from ED for up to 36 hours -- an effect that’s earned it the nickname of the “weekend” pill.
Vardenafil. The active ingredient in Levitra®, vardenafil starts working quickly and offers relief from ED for slightly longer than sildenafil.
Avanafil. Available as Stendra®, avanafil is a fast-acting, new ED medication that’s less likely to cause certain side effects than older ED medications.
We offer generic versions of several ED medications online, following a private consultation with a physician who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
Although ED medications are safe for most people, they can cause side effects and may interact with some medications used to treat hypertension and other conditions.
Because of this, it’s important to tell your healthcare provider about all medications you currently use or have recently used before using medication to treat ED.
In addition to the oral medications listed above, several other medications are also used to treat erectile dysfunction. These include the medication alprostadil, which is available as a cream and as an injectable ED treatment.
Our guide to the most common erectile dysfunction treatments explains your options for dealing with ED and provides more information about how each type of medication works.
If a psychological or emotional issue is at the root of your ED, which can happen no matter your age, it may be helpful to speak with a mental health professional.
Many mental health issues that can cause ED, such as anxiety and depression, can be treated with talk therapy. Your mental health provider may suggest taking part in therapy on its own, or participating in therapy while using medication to treat your symptoms.
If you have mild or moderate ED, making certain changes to your lifestyle may help you to get and keep an erection without the use of medication. Try to:
Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is a significant risk factor for ED, particularly due to its close association with health issues such as diabetes and heart disease.
If you’re overweight or obese, try to lose weight. Although BMI is far from perfect, aiming for a BMI in the normal range is generally a good way to reduce your risk of experiencing erectile dysfunction.
Exercise regularly. While there’s no need to train like an athlete, staying active is an important part of preventing erectile dysfunction. In fact, research has shown that men with ED due to blood flow issues often experience improvements after exercising.
If you have an inactive lifestyle, try to exercise more often. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and at least two sessions of resistance training per week for better physical health.
Drink alcohol responsibly. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a beer, glass of wine or cocktail every now and then, drinking excessively may increase your risk of ED and other closely related health issues.
Try to limit your alcohol intake to no more than two drinks per day -- the recommended consumption under the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Quit smoking. Smoking can affect your cardiovascular health and potentially increase your risk of dealing with erectile dysfunction. If you smoke, try your hardest to cut down your cigarette consumption and eventually kick the habit completely.
Treat underlying health issues. ED is often linked to underlying health issues, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
If you’ve recently noticed ED, it’s worth talking to your healthcare provider. They may be able to carry out a physical exam, take a blood sample or use other techniques to detect any underlying issues that could affect your ability to maintain healthy erections.
Check your medications. Certain medications, such as antidepressants, medications used to treat high blood pressure, cardiovascular medications and some sleeping pills, may cause ED and other sexual issues.
If you’ve recently started using medication and noticed difficulty getting an erection, talk to your healthcare provider to see if it’s the cause. You may be able to switch to another medication or adjust your dosage to improve your symptoms.
Our guide to naturally protecting your erection goes into more detail about steps you can take to improve your erectile health and quality of life without medication.
Although erectile dysfunction does become more prevalent with age, there’s no specific age at which men stop getting hard.
Depending on your general health, lifestyle and other factors, you may begin to notice signs of erectile dysfunction as you get older. Maintaining good habits, such as keeping yourself active and limiting your alcohol intake, can help to reduce your risk of dealing with ED.
If you’re starting to develop erectile dysfunction, there’s no need to panic. Medications such as sildenafil and others can make getting and keeping an erection easier and allow you to have an enjoyable sex life at any age.
We offer several ED medications online, following a consultation with a healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
Worried you might be starting to develop ED? Our guide to how to know if you’re getting erectile dysfunction goes into more detail about common sexual function warning signs, as well as steps that you can take to improve your erections and sexual performance.