Stress and erectile dysfunction

How your state of mind impacts your sex life


How stress affects the body

Stress is the body’s natural response to dangerous and unpleasant situations. When confronted with a mammoth charging right at them, our ancestors would experience an adrenaline rush that would boost their blood circulation and make them run faster or attack with greater strength. Stress is an essential device in evolution’s survival toolbox.  

But stress was never intended for long-term exposure. When the mammoth had left or died, adrenaline levels would drop off and prehistoric men quickly regained their calm. There were no mortgage payments, no 80-hour week with unpaid OT, no divorce trials, no hospital bills, no PTSD etc. Our body’s stress response hasn’t yet adapted to these challenges of modern life, where unpleasant situation can last for weeks, months or even years, and one doesn’t get a chance for the body to calm down. Stress then becomes chronic, with adrenaline constantly hoovering at elevated levels and blood pumping faster than your veins can bear in the long run.

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In fact, because of this constant higher blood pressure induced by chronic stress, your blood vessels are gradually worn out and there’s heightened risk of cardiovascular diseases, which ultimately may end in a heart attack. Chronic stress also increases the risks of diabetes, a weakened immune system, and chronic inflammation — to name only a few issues from a long, long list.  


Effects of chronic stress on your sexual function

One of the many casualties of chronic stress can be your erection and all the pride you take in it. This is because your penis stands or falls — literally — with changes in the blood flow and your penile veins’ ability to contract and “trap” blood (which is the process that makes the penis hard). If these veins are damaged due to years of high blood pressure, they’ll no longer be able to capture blood effectively and trap it long enough for you to enjoy sex. 


Stress-induced erectile dysfunction is most common in men aged 35-50, whereas for younger men the main form of erectile dysfunction is short-lived psychological stress (more on this below) and for men past age 50 it’s physical factors like low testosterone levels or blood vessel damage unrelated to stress.  


There’s also psychological erectile dysfunction

If you constantly worry about getting erection difficulties, you’ll get them for sure. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Such psychological erectile dysfunction is most widespread among young men, especially men who are having their first sexual adventures. Performance anxiety and fear of failing to get hard in front of their girlfriends puts so much psychological pressure on them that they indeed fail to get an erection. Fortunately, for the vast majority of afflicted men, this is a temporary problem and disappears as they get older.  


Psychological erectile dysfunction is a more serious concern for more mature men when they are first confronted with stress-related erection problems. It can be a big shock and spark anxiety that worsens erectile dysfunction. Such anxiety-induced erectile dysfunction can take a bigger toll on your sexual performance (like complete failure to get an erection) than the physical factors that originally triggered it. The good news is that anxiety caused erection problems are reversible if you get your anxiety under control, whereas damaged blood vessels cannot be repaired.   


How to overcome stress related erectile dysfunction?

You should try preventing it in the first place by minimizing chronic stress, and not just for the sake of your penis. Remember, chronic stress can seriously shorten your life expectancy. Try eliminating the underlying stress factors, even if that requires a change of jobs or ending a relationship with someone. For most of us entirely eliminating stress is not feasible, but we at least can get rid of the worst stress causes. 


Yoga and other regular physical exercise also can go a long way in reducing your stress levels. Seeking help through professional therapy is a good option too — in particular when dealing with anxiety and psychological caused erectile dysfunction. 


If you are experiencing erectile problems caused by stress in the past or other physical issues where psychological therapy can no longer help much, there’s a range of medications for treating erectile dysfunction. Sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis) and vardenafil (Levitra, Staxyn) typically are the most popular choices. 


All of them are taken as oral pills, either from branded or generic versions, and function by increasing the blood flow in your penis, thereby successfully causing an erection in 50-80 percent of users. This is a purely physical process, though. These drugs make the penis firmer, but don’t increase sexual appetite. To many men new to this type of drugs this initially comes as a surprise. 


The precise chemical workings of each drug are different and so are their timing, effectiveness, and side effects. If you think sildenafil or another drug could work for you, talk to a doctor to find out more and learn about side effects.    



  1. Mobley, David F, et al. “Recent Advances in the Treatment of Erectile Dysfunction.” Postgraduate Medical Journal, vol. 93, no. 1105, 27 July 2017, pp. 679–685,, 10.1136/postgradmedj-2016-134073. Accessed 9 Jan. 2020.
  2. McMurray, James G, et al. “Long-Term Safety and Effectiveness of Sildenafil Citrate in Men with Erectile Dysfunction.” Therapeutics and Clinical Risk Management, vol. 3, no. 6, 2007, pp. 975–81, Accessed 9 Jan. 2020.
  3. Papaefstathiou, Efstathios, et al. “The Impact of Burnout and Occupational Stress on Sexual Function in Both Male and Female Individuals: A Cross-Sectional Study.” International Journal of Impotence Research, 2019, pp.–7,, 10.1038/s41443-019-0170-7. Accessed 9 Jan. 2020.
  4. Kalaitzidou, I., et al. “Stress Management and Erectile Dysfunction: A Pilot Comparative Study.” Andrologia, vol. 46, no. 6, 3 July 2013, pp. 698–702, Accessed 9 Jan. 2020.

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