Why Is Erectile Dysfunction (ED) More Prevalent?

August 27, 2021

Erectile dysfunction (ED) rates have increased during the last twenty to thirty years, especially among younger men. Although ED is not as common across younger men, it can affect around 25% of men under the age of 40. However, only about 5% of all men under 40 have complete ED.

It begs the question: Why are more men “getting” ED?

Some research suggests that these numbers are overinflated because what “defines” ED is broad and does not reflect “complete ED.” Others argue that the rate of ED has increased because men are more aware of the issue and are more willing to discuss the symptoms and seek care. As a result, the number of ED cases being reported today are potentially more accurate than they were years ago. Another theory suggests that certain diseases that contribute or predispose men to ED are more common today, playing a larger role in the prevalence of ED. Finally, life stressors are rampant and frequent in today’s society, which also can influence ED.

Let’s break it down and look at each argument regarding the “increase” in ED today.

Defining ED 
Erectile dysfunction is defined as the inability to achieve and/or maintain an erection. This definition is broad and does not take into account if it’s an intermittent issue, temporary issue or an issue that takes place every single time an erection is attempted regardless of circumstance. Achieving an erection is a complex process involving psychological impulses from the brain, adequate levels of the male sex hormone testosterone, a functioning nervous system, and healthy vascular tissue in the penis. All of these components can be influenced by multiple factors and don’t always come into play when an erection is attempted. Complete ED is defined as the inability to achieve and/or maintain an erection regardless of circumstance.

Less Secrecy About ED
Men are more comfortable discussing ED than they were years ago. With the advent of medications and advertisements bringing the issue to the forefront, men are more open to discussing ED than they used to be. Men began to categorize ED as a medical condition that could be treated instead of a condition that was a reflection of their masculinity. Once it was widely understood and accepted that ED is a true, treatable medical condition that disrupts quality of life, more men were willing to seek help from their erectile dysfunction doctor and discuss treatment options. Because of this, the impact of the numbers on research was likely influenced.

Medical Conditions Linked To ED Are On The Rise
In a world with more processed foods, sedentary work and unhealthy life choices available at our fingertips, it is no wonder why chronic health disease such as hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes are on the rise. These medical conditions, if left untreated, can destroy the vascular and nerve tissues involved in achieving and maintaining erections. Additionally, due to advancements in medicine, other health conditions have been uncovered as potential offenders. Hormonal imbalances including testosterone, thyroid disorders, and pituitary disorders can play a role in ED. Depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions can contribute to ED. Alcohol, smoking, drug and anabolic steroid use and abuse are also linked to ED.

Increase in Life Stressors
Day-to-day life has become more complicated between work obligations, finances, relationship stress, performance anxiety, family responsibilities and society in general. This increases stress levels which can cause ED. With self-care increasingly deprioritized, it’s important to adopt simple routines such as exercise, sleep, healthy eating that can help you de-stress. Discover positive outlets for decompressing versus coping with alcohol or drugs. All of these “self-care” techniques are vital to overall good health and can play a role in avoiding ED.

So, are more men “getting” ED or are the complexities of ED just better understood and more widely discussed? Research will continue to explore this as men have become more comfortable seeking treatment. The most important point is that no matter the cause, ED is often temporary and treatable if addressed.

If you’re interested in learning more about ED and treatment options, contact Austin Urology Institute at 512.694.8888 to schedule an appointment with a provider.