For some, erectile dysfunction is a condition more typically associated with older men. While it is true that ED becomes more likely with age, it isn’t necessarily representative of the whole picture. 

Why is ED seen more as an older man’s condition?

There are a few reasons. Generally speaking, health declines with age. Certain conditions become more likely as we grow older, some of which are linked with erectile dysfunction. 

According to the British Association of Urological Surgeons, almost 90% of cases of erectile dysfunction occur as a result of at least one pre-existing health condition. 

They state that of those 90%, the cause of their ED could be attributed to at least one physical condition.

  • 40% - Cardiovascular disease
  • 33% - Diabetes 
  • 11% - Hormone problems
  • 10% - Neurological disorders
  • 3-5% - Pelvic surgery or trauma 
  • 1-3% - Anatomical abnormalities

BAUS also cite that only 10% of men encounter erectile dysfunction caused by psychological conditions (or factors). 

However, this is not to say that psychological problems cannot be the consequence of a physical factor which inhibits their ability to sustain an erection. In many instances, there is a presence of both psychological and physical causes. 

Why does ED occur in young men? 

Research into the prevalence of erectile dysfunction among younger men is still an area of clinical focus. More research needs to be conducted among this particular age group. Because of this, it is difficult to cite statistics which may be indicative of certain causes. 

Is ED in young men psychological? 

It is thought by some that because young men are, generally speaking, of better overall health when compared with older or elderly men, psychological causes may be more prominent. 

However, this is not to suggest that the physical conditions which affect older men in relation to ED cannot affect young men. Diabetes, high blood pressure and several other conditions, while being more likely with age, can affect anyone. 

It’s important also to say that, perhaps since the early 1990s, understanding of erectile dysfunction has vastly improved. It is now viewed as a legitimate health condition with legitimate symptoms and impacts. 

This fact alone has helped greater numbers of men come forward without fear of being stigmatised or neglected. 

There may be certain reasons behind the possible psychological causes of erectile dysfunction among younger men. 

A study published in December 2018 by BBC News shows that severe mental illnesses have been growing since the 1990s. Furthermore, they often tend to develop earlier in life. 75% of all mental health problems are already established and diagnosed by the time a young person reaches their 24th birthday. 

Lastly, the World Health Organisation released data that showed 793,000 people had committed suicide globally in 2016. Of that figure, a considerable majority were men. Even more startling is that the single biggest killer of men under 45 was suicide. 

These statistics demonstrate mental illness is on the rise and is a growing problem for the male community.

Of course, ED is not always the symptom of psychological problems - but it can be. It could be argued that there may be links between the increased prevalence of mental illnesses and the increased prevalence of erectile dysfunction in young men. 

Does pornography play a role in impotence in young men? 

Unlike many generations that came before, young men are now growing up with the Internet as a normal fixture and aspect of their lives. This comes with a whole new set of challenges in terms of safeguarding and oversight in terms of their usage. 

It is argued by some that porn-induced ED is a real and legitimate psychological cause for ED in men. They posit that pornographic material desensitised young men and gives them a false understanding of how sex should feel and look, and leads to improper expectations in terms of sexual partners. 

On the other hand, some argue ‘porn-induced ED’ is merely part of a much broader psychological issue. 

What should I do if I have ED and I’m under 40? 

The same as anybody over the age of 40: seek help. Just because ED is more commonly observed in older men doesn’t mean it cannot occur in younger men, and doesn’t mean that younger men should be left without help or attention. 

If you are over the age of 18 and you are struggling with erection problems to such a great extent that it is interfering with your ability to live a normal life: try to open up to your sexual partner, talk to a friend or visit your GP. 

If you’re struggling to see a GP, you can consult with real GMC-doctors and GPhC prescribers using our video consultation service Treated.com/Live. Our clinicians can offer tailored advice, refer you to experts or, where necessary, prescriber medicinal treatments.

Page last reviewed:  29/07/2020