These days we’re overburdened with things to worry about: the degradation of our environment, the US’ rocket path towards fascism, and the end of The Good Place. On top of that, there’s lots of everyday reasons sex doesn’t go as planned, from frisky pets to errant farts to bits (or butt plugs) slipping out). You have enough on your mind when you go into the bedroom—there’s no need to add erectile dysfunction (ED) to that list. ED comes up a ton in our counseling practice. In this article we cover what causes it and what helps erectile dysfunction.
This post about what helps erectile dysfunction is proudly sponsored by Giddy. We love their holistic approach to addressing this common issue. Learn more about them at the bottom of this post.
What Causes Erectile Dysfunction: It’s more than physical
Erections happen when blood flows into and stays in the penis. With ED, there’s an issue with those mechanics.
However, reducing ED to only a blood flow problem ignores the interconnectedness of our mind and body, the cyclical nature of the sexual response cycle, and the pressure society puts on cis men’s sexuality.
Though jokes about the simplicity cis men’s sexuality abound, more recent research shows this just isn’t the case. Even the American Urological Association (AUA) supports this perspective, recommending that “all patients who report symptoms of ED should undergo a thorough medical, sexual, and psychosocial history” as well as a physical exam and potential lab tests.
This is because physical arousal—in this case, getting and keeping an erection—is impacted by the context in which you’re having sex. Think: your stress level, self-esteem, body image, how you feel about your partner(s), and more. Issues with physical arousal may also impact your desire to have sex or feeling fulfilled by sex since your most recent sexual experience also plays a role in wanting more.
Furthermore, societal expectations for cis men’s sexuality create pressure to perform a certain way in the bedroom. From equating “manliness” with penis size and hardness to anger being the only acceptable emotion, or needing to be the pursuer who’s always in the mood, not getting and/or staying hard even once can upend one’s sense of self. Plus, a lack of comprehensive, pleasure-inclusive sex education means it’s easy to interpret ED as a lack of interest or desire—even when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
All of this creates a vicious cycle. You can’t get or stay hard, which in turn makes you worry about it happening again and feel emasculated. This stress, challenge to your identity, and unmet expectation makes it harder to get and stay hard the next time. Rinse. Repeat.
What Helps Erectile Dysfunction
Just as ED is more than a blood issue, what helps erectile dysfunction needs to focus on more than the physical. To that end, there are three main ways to address ED: knowledge, communication, and tools. Each body and situation is different. So, while these build on each other, each is also worth trying in its own right.
Education helps normalize your experience and remind you that you aren’t alone. For example, did you know…
Erectile dysfunction is really common
Up to 30 million people in the US are estimated to be affected by erectile dysfunction according to the AUA. While most people think of it as an issue affecting older folx, ED is increasingly seen in younger people, where it appears to have a more psychosocial and interpersonal component than physical.
Ejaculation and orgasm are not the same thing
In other words: you can experience an orgasm without ejaculating. You can be completely soft and still have an orgasm.
Physical arousal /=/ your desire, interest, or orgasmic potential
Your genitals’ role is to respond to sexy things in the environment. That’s it. They don’t tell you if you like that sexy thing or not, just that it is something related to sex. You can be hard and not into something or soft and totally into it.
In fact, studies show that for cis men, there’s about a 50% overlap between their genital response (getting hard) and their subjective arousal aka being into it and wanting more.
Sex can be so much more than a P in a V
It can be anything that brings you sensual pleasure, from an intimate rubdown to anal play, a hot make-out session or sensation play, oral sex, spanking and everything before, after, during and in between.
When you focus on more than penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex, your opportunities to connect and experience pleasure multiply exponentially.
Less than 1/3 of people with vulvas experience orgasm from internal stimulation alone
Yes, less than one third. There’s a good chance your partner feels that having an erect penis isn’t as important to their pleasure as society has led you to believe.
Shame thrives in silence and secrecy, and it’s a surefire way to shut down your sex life. Naming the situation, as well as how it makes you feel, is the first step towards dismantling this shame, healing, and finding peace. Which means: you’ve gotta talk about the ED.
That can be with a partner, a sex coach, therapist, an online or IRL support group, or your friends.
This goes for both the person experiencing ED as well as their partner(s). The more we bring things out of hiding and into the light, the more we realize that we aren’t alone, there’s nothing to be ashamed of, and that healing and finding freedom in pleasure is possible.
Use the right tools
Set + share your sex intentions
You’ve probably heard some version of the phrase, “What you focus on is what you create.” And while life isn’t that simple, focusing your attention on what you want versus what you don’t can have physical impacts.
Before sexy times begins, take a moment to connect with yourself and your partner(s), if present, by naming what you don’t want to be part of sexy times (e.g. “I throw out the pressure to stay hard”) and calling in what you do (e.g. “I crave deep connection.”)
Focus on pleasure, not erections (or orgasms)
Did you know that in your brain there’s this little monitor that tracks your goals and your progress towards them? It also guesses how challenging the journey should be, as well as whether it’ll be too hard to even try. When your effort-to-progress ratio is as expected, you feel confident and excited. When it’s not, you tend to go into frustration, anger, sadness, and ultimately despair.
If you’ve ever found yourself sobbing in the car or on public transit because you still weren’t home, you know what this feels like!
Now let’s apply this to your sex life. You want to get and stay hard. You expect this to be easy–and then it’s not. Frustration. Anger. Sadness. Despair. Rinse and repeat.
One of the answers is to change the goal. Instead of focusing on getting or staying hard, focus on connecting with yourself and your beau(s) or having as much fun as possible. This is easier to achieve which makes you and your monitor happy and motivates you to do it more because it feels good!
Focus on other erogenous zones
Explore playing with a soft penis
All of those pleasurable nerve endings live in the penis whether it’s hard or not. Enjoying oral sex or a hand job with a soft cock can be fun in its own right. Will it be “the same”? Nope.
But as humans we can enjoy a variety of pleasure. Case in point: I love junior mints and $15 dark chocolate bars. Are they the same? Nope! Do both bring me ridiculous amounts of pleasure? Hell yes.
Use Eddie by giddy
While all of the above takes time and practice to be supportive, there are also tools that can immediately help you maintain an erection for sex or masturbation.
Our favorite is the Eddie, a non-prescription ED device from Giddy. It has none of the side effects of prescription drugs AND comes with the ED Guide, a personalized video series providing information and exercises to help with the physical and mental aspects of ED.
This holistic program is all about helping you worry less about staying hard and focus on being present and enjoying your sexy times.
Eddie is different than a cock-ring thanks to its unique shape that’s designed to fit the penis’ natural curve without putting pressure on the urethra, which can inhibit ejaculation. (Nerd alert: mathematicians and engineers created the “omega” shape to maximize blood flow and hardness.) Also, unlike penis-rings, it comes in 4 different sizes to accommodate a variety of girths and let’s you customize how tight the device is so you never have to worry about it hurting.
It’s made of body-safe materials, has enhancement ridges for your partner’s pleasure, and the constriction plumps the penis, giving you and your partner more of a sense of being filled.
Eddie can be used on its own if you have mild to moderate ED OR in conjunction with medication, therapy, and other treatments as indicated by your healthcare provider.
What helps erectile dysfunction is being open and using the resources available
Increased conversations about sex and pleasure mean that more people are aware of how widespread the experience of ED is. It also brings new innovations to the market to help folx who struggle with ED. Giddy makes this even easier, by combining the physical support of Eddie with the mental and emotional support from their program.
Erectile dysfunction doesn’t have to c*ck block you
Not only can you find full support in addressing the issue, it also can be a catalyst for deeper connection, more intimacy, and finding freedom in pleasure.