We usually think of erectile dysfunction (ED) as being a condition exclusive to older men. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Yes, it’s true that ED affects men more severely as they age. According to the UW School of Medicine, 5% of men over age 40 suffer from complete erectile dysfunction, and that number increases to 15% by age 70. Mild or moderate ED is even more common as men age, affecting 50% of men at age 50 and 60% of men at age 60.
However, we never hear about ED affecting younger men. There could be a few reasons why. One is that it’s statistically less likely, but another is that there’s a stigma surrounding ED and youth.
In Western countries, getting and keeping an erection is often viewed as a sign of strength and masculinity. We’re told that young men, who are supposed to be at their physical peak, shouldn’t be having issues with their sexual health. Their problems are therefore seen as signs of weakness, and of being uniquely impotent among their peers.
The numbers paint a different picture, though. Rather than being unique or abnormal, a 2013 study showed that one in four men under 40 suffers from ED (Capogrosso et al.).
Young men suffer from health problems just as older men do, and we should treat ED no differently. And as a health problem, we need to understand the causes behind it.
A sexually inexperienced young man might worry about how he’ll perform in bed. He might also have similar anxieties about sex in general: he might worry about his penis size, or about the vulnerability of being seen naked. So, when he finds himself in bed with someone, the anxiety and overthinking can prevent him from getting aroused.
Performance anxiety is common in men of all ages, and gradually goes away after a little more experience with a trusted sexual partner. If these anxieties persist, you may want to seek out psychological help such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Your health can be impacted in huge ways by the things you do in your day-to-day. Diet, exercise, sleep, and drug/alcohol use can all affect not just general health, but sexual health too. And, as it turns out, young men don’t keep super healthy habits.
Roughly 45% of men aged 21 to 25 drink above the recommended limit (NSDUH), 16.5% of men aged 25-34 smoke cigarettes (CDC), and sedentary behavior has increased in all age groups in the U.S. since 2001 (Yang et al., 2019). Making lifestyle changes and staying generally healthy is a surefire way to take care of your sexual health too.
Even a totally healthy young man can suffer from ED if he’s on medication. Treatments for unrelated, non-sexual health issues can have unintended effects on someone’s sex drive or ability to get an erection.
Antidepressants or antipsychotics, for example, are notorious for killing even the most active libidos. Allergy meds target histamine, a compound that goes overboard during allergic reactions but is also necessary in moderation for healthy erections. Opioid painkillers, which can be taken for any number of reasons, have long been known to reduce testosterone and have been linked directly to ED (Deyo et al., 2013).
Depression is a well-known cause of ED in men of all ages, but this cause might be especially relevant to young men. In recent years, depression and other psychological disorders have skyrocketed in young people; 2017 data by the NIH reports that 13.1% of people aged 18 to 25 suffer from major depressive disorder, compared to 7.7% aged 26-49 and 4.7% aged 50+.
Just like with ED, a similar stigma surrounds mental health and choosing to seek treatment—but it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re a young man suffering from either or both of these conditions, consider seeking professional psychological help. Their benefits cannot be overstated.
MS is a disease that degrades myelin, the fatty sheath surrounding your brain cells. Myelin is required for your brain to send signals to the rest of your body, including those required for sexual arousal and erection.
While neurological diseases like MS are usually associated with older people, MS in particular is most common among people between ages 20 and 40—precisely the age group in which ED is considered premature.
Martin, M. (2020, April 30). Here's why a third of young men experience ED. Roman. (Link)