In recent years, awareness of erectile dysfunction has risen dramatically.
Whereas historically, it may not have been accepted by many as a problem warranting ‘medical condition’ status, ED is now a subject millions of men are much readier to talk about.
This is in large part due to its increasing recognition as a disorder caused (albeit not exclusively) by physical factors, and the availability of effective treatment.
However, even though it has grown to such prominence in everyday culture, erectile dysfunction is still a condition more commonly associated with older men; and popular media has, to an extent, perpetuated this view.
Barring a few exceptions, representations of impotence in TV and film, and even in the advertorial content related to ED treatments like Viagra, mostly tie the condition to men aged 40 and over.
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This may have contributed towards a detraction in the association between ED and younger men.
But, though you may not think it, impotence is something which often affects those under the age of 40. Granted, the condition is more common in older men, but it can occur at any point during a man’s sexually active life.
So why is ED more commonly associated with older men?
The rate of incidence among men above 40 is higher, which may explain why it is mostly seen as an older man’s condition.
In fact, the NHS estimates that as many as half of all men between the ages of 40 and 70 will experience erectile dysfunction to some degree.
To explain this, it is first important to explain the processes in the body which cause symptoms:
An erection occurs as a result of a complex sequence of chemical and molecular reactions.
When a man experiences arousal, the brain relays nerve signals which trigger certain hormonal responses, causing blood to flow into the penis; more particularly the corpus cavernosum.
Once this becomes filled with blood, the penis becomes erect.
In the case of ED, this blood flow may be impaired. So, even though the man is sexually aroused, they may not get an erection because blood cannot rush into the penis as freely.
Treatments like Viagra and Cialis work by facilitating the widening of blood vessels at the base of the penis, so blood can get in more easily, producing firmer and ultimately more reliable erectile potency.
For older men, healthy blood flow can often be reduced.
This might be due to any number of contributing factors, such as an underlying medical condition like diabetes or high blood pressure.
Erectile dysfunction should not be considered a ‘natural part of the aging process’; however, the risk of other conditions which can affect blood flow and cause impotence does increase with age, which is why it is more common among this group.
That said, impotence among younger men occurs more than you might think.
A study carried out at the University Vita-Salute San Raffaele in Milan examined over 400 men who were experiencing ED symptoms and looking for treatment. It found that one in four of these men were under 40.
What does it mean if I’m experiencing symptoms at a young age?
The causes of ED in younger men are not necessarily different than those in older men.
But the prevalence of some causes may be higher in the 18-40 group than they are in the 40+ age group.
For instance, problems with blood flow are by no means exclusive to the over-40s. As previously mentioned, circulation issues can be caused by diabetes and high blood pressure, and a plethora of other conditions. In turn, sexual function may become inhibited as a result.
But it’s worth considering that drug use, alcohol and tobacco are potential instigators of the problem too. Toxins such as these can inhibit circulation, however they can also interfere with the passing of signals between the pleasure centres in the brain and the blood vessels near the penis.
Generally speaking, are men aged under 40 more likely than those aged over 40 to indulge in drug use, or overdo it when it comes to alcohol? It's certainly possible. For younger men experiencing the condition, addressing these possible causes may go some way towards tempering symptoms.
One of the main areas that experts have pointed to when discussing younger cases of impotence, however, is psychological causality. These might manifest from feelings of added pressure to perform sexually, relationship issues, or a lack of sexual experience.
Other, non-related cases of anxiety may also prove to be a distraction and cause symptoms too. Added stress at work for instance, may carry over to the bedroom.
For some, one instance of erectile dysfunction can be enough to trigger a state of mind whereby the problem persists; and impotence itself becomes the self-perpetuating cause.
Is treatment for ED different for younger men than for older men?
Strictly speaking, no.
How the condition is treated will depend on what is causing symptoms.
The important thing to remember is that whatever the cause, help is available. Whatever your age, if you feel as though erectile dysfunction is harming your relationship, it’s crucial to take measures to treat the condition.
In any case, it’s worth talking to your doctor to rule out any potentially serious health issues which might be causing circulation problems.
Those who are experiencing ED related to stress or anxiety (again, young or old), may be able to find non-medicinal relief by talking about the issue; either with their partner, or with a therapist.
Recognising and rationalising fears about sexual performance can make the problem easier to deal with, and reduce the severity of symptoms.
But those who find such treatment paths insufficient may also be able to take ED medication, provided their medical profile is suitable.
Increasing the fluidity of blood flow to the penis can often improve sexual performance in those who are experiencing ED due to stress; and in such cases, may only be needed as a short-term solution.
Once the medication has succeeded in restoring a user’s confidence, they may no longer require treatment and symptoms may dissipate.
Am I too young to use ED treatment?
If you are over 18, sexually active and are having persistent erectile problems, you shouldn’t ignore the issue just because you’re under 40. Talking to your partner or your doctor about the condition is a common course of action.
Take a look at our information pages to find out more about the different treatments.