Health

The Health Issue Holding Many Young Men Back

A quarter of new patients with erectile dysfunction (ED) are younger than 40, yet many are quick to mock young men who struggle with getting or maintaining an erection.

RELATED: Erectile Dysfunction Is Not Just For Old Men

ED, which can be brought on by many different things such as diet, drug use, smoking, drinking, and stress, is often difficult for young males to talk about due to societal shame surrounding difficulties keeping it up.

There's an existing stigma, as Viagra and other brands that make pills for this condition tend to cater advertisements to older men despite the growing number of young men suffering from ED. This could compound the feelings of shame young ED sufferers experience. 


Dr. Bill Callahan, a psychiatrist who specializes in men's and couples therapy, told Men's Health writer Tammy Worth in 2012 that most men struggle to have erections at some point in their lives and never forget the experience because it's so psychologically damaging.

"Almost every man I know has a story of at least a time or two when he couldn't get it up," he said. "It becomes emblazoned in their minds because it is so emotionally significant and traumatizing."

Over the summer, Vanity Fair writer Nancy Jo Sales wrote a detailed article about the hookup aspect of dating app Tinder and interviewed one woman who said many young men seem to flip out when they experience ED.

"If a guy can’t get hard, and I have to say, that happens a lot, they just act like it’s the end of the world," the woman said. 

Two years ago, a Reddit user expressed concern that his relationship might be at stake because of his struggles becoming erect. He wrote:

"I'm 26, this shouldn't be happening to me. I know my girlfriend is understanding but I can see she is getting a little frustrated and I don't want to ruin a relationship over my wet noodle."

How ED impacts sexual intercourse

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As shown in the Reddit user's post, ED can be very hard on the sexual partners of victims, particularly in long-term relationships. This could make men feel even worse about suffering from ED, in turn exacerbating the issue for the man and creating conflict in the relationship. Dr. Callahan said he has treated couples who have struggled with the impact of ED on their sex life.

"There are so many ways to have fun and get turned on that don't involve intercourse," he said. "I tell couples who are dealing with ED to use it as an unexpected opportunity to remember the days when they were dating—when the uncertainty of intercourse was erotic." 

But even if someone has ED for reasons unrelated to the attractiveness of his partner, this can still bring a lot of anxiety to both people having sex. In her 2012 Men's Health piece, Tammy Worth recalls being so upset about her partner's inability to get it up, initially blaming herself.

"I'd never encountered erectile dysfunction, or ED, and to be perfectly honest I was mortified," she wrote. "Being unable to please the man I cared about was ego crushing. Sure, he said it wasn't me—that I was gorgeous, sexy, doing everything right—but he may as well have been Charlie Brown's teacher, because I heard none of it."

But Worth ultimately acknowledged an overlooked reality about the male sex drive. While men in pop culture tend to be portrayed as sex crazed and able to have sex at any given moment, the reality is much different. 

"Women often think a man's erection is essentially a reflex—that it occurs without having to be willed, sort of like blinking or breathing," Worth wrote. "We assume that if he sees an attractive woman across the room or even catches a stiff breeze, he's ready for sex."

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Preventing erectile dysfunction

There are many different reasons a person might be suffering from ED. Becoming more active can be a good step in the right direction because sedentary activity can play a role in ED. A good diet is also important because junk food can alter one's vascular function changes, and according to Dr. Tobias Köhler, chief of the Division of Male Infertility at Southern Illinois University, good blood flow helps with erections.