Erectile Dysfunction in Young Men: Causes and Treatments

Written by Heidi Godman | Published on March 14, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George T. Krucik, MD, MBA on March 14, 2014

Find out why young men experience ED about as often as older men.

What Is Erectile Dysfunction?

An erection involves the brain, nerves, hormones, muscles, and circulatory system. These systems work together to fill the erectile tissue in the penis with blood. A man with erectile dysfunction (ED) has trouble getting or maintaining an erection for sexual intercourse. Some men with ED are completely unable to get an erection, while others have trouble maintaining an erection for more than a short time.

There are many possible causes for ED, and many of them are treatable. Read on to discover causes and treatments.

Prevalence of ED

While ED is more prevalent among older men, it affects younger men in large numbers too. The University of Wisconsin reports a correlation between the percentage of men affected by ED and their decade in life. For example, approximately 40 percent of men in their 40s have ED, and approximately 50 percent of men in their 50s, etc.

While ED may be embarrassing to discuss, a conversation with your doctor can lead to a proper diagnosis and treatment.

ED in Young Men

A study in the July 2013 Journal of Sexual Medicine suggests that ED is more common among younger men than previously thought. Researchers found that ED affected 26 percent of adult men under 40. Almost half of these men suffered from severe ED.

That rate is similar to what is experienced by older men. Researchers also noted that younger ED patients were more likely than older men with ED to smoke or use drugs.

Physical and Psychological Causes of ED

Many physical and psychological conditions can lead to ED. ED can be an early sign of a serious health condition, but not always. Physical causes include diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Psychological causes include stress and depression.

Treating the cause of ED may help resolve the problem. For some men, lifestyle changes make a positive difference. Others benefit from medications, counseling, or other treatments. Ignoring ED isn’t wise, particularly because it can be a sign of other health problems.

Cardiovascular Causes

Getting and keeping an erection requires healthy circulation. Clogged arteries, also known as atherosclerosis, can cause ED. High blood pressure can also lead to ED.

ED can be a sign of diabetes. This is because high levels of blood glucose can damage blood vessels, including those responsible for supplying blood to the penis during an erection.

Obesity is a risk factor for diabetes and hypertension, so overweight young men should take steps to lose excess pounds.

Psychological Causes

Feelings of sexual excitement that lead to an erection starting in the brain. But conditions such as depression and anxiety can interfere with that process. In fact, a major sign of depression is withdrawal from things that once brought pleasure.

Stress about jobs, money, and other concerns contribute to ED. Alcohol and drug abuse are both common causes of ED among young men. Additionally, relationship problems and poor communication with a partner can cause sexual dysfunction in both men and women.

Hormonal Causes

Hormonal disorders, such as low testosterone, may contribute to ED. But other factors are more likely to be at work in young men with ED. Another hormonal cause of ED is increased production of prolactin, a hormone produced by the pituitary gland. An abnormally high or low thyroid hormone level can result in ED. Young men who use steroids to help build muscle mass are also at a higher risk for ED.

Healthy Lifestyle Changes

For some men with ED, healthier eating, more exercise, and weight loss may help minimize the problem. Quitting cigarettes and cutting back on alcohol use may also lead to better outcomes.

Because performance anxiety can compound other causes of ED, communication with a partner is essential. A therapist or other mental health professional may also be able to help. Treating depression, for example, may help resolve ED and bring about additional benefits as well.


Oral phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors can help treat ED. These medications are recommended before more invasive treatments are considered. PDE5 is an enzyme that can interfere with the action of nitric oxide (NO). NO helps open the blood vessels in the penis to increase blood flow and produce an erection.

Three of the most widely used ED medications are sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and vardenafil (Levitra). All of these drugs require a prescription.

Vacuum Constriction Devices

Other treatment options may be considered if medications aren’t entirely successful. Vacuum constriction devices are generally safe and effective. In this treatment, a cylinder is placed over the penis and a vacuum is created inside the cylinder. This leads to an erection. A band is placed around the base of the penis to preserve the erection, and the cylinder is removed. The band must be taken off after about 30 minutes.


The last option for most men with ED is the implantation of a penile prosthesis. Simple models allow the penis to bend downward for urination and upward for intercourse.

More advanced implants allow for fluid to fill the implant and form an erection. As with any surgery, there are risks associated with this operation. It should be considered after other strategies have failed.

Stay Positive

ED can be an uncomfortable topic, especially for younger men. But bear in mind that millions of other men are dealing with the same issues and it can be treated. And because it may signal other health problems, your should seek treatment. Addressing the condition directly with your doctor will lead to faster and more satisfactory results.

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