COVID-19 can have wide-reaching effects on your body, including blood vessel and nerve damage and brain injury. These effects could interfere with your body’s ability to develop or maintain an erection.

COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019, develops from the virus SARS-CoV-2.

Despite several studies looking into COVID-19, long COVID, and erectile dysfunction (ED), experts still don’t know whether a conclusive link exists. However, research on the topic has grown since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some studies suggest that COVID-19 may increase a person’s risk of ED. Other research hasn’t found a strong enough relationship between the two.

Some studies have found a link between COVID-19 and ED. One, published in 2023, found that a prior SARS-CoV-2 infection linked to a 27% increased risk of developing ED.

A 2021 study involving almost 500,000 people also concluded that COVID-19 linked to ED significantly.

Others found an increased risk, too. But some tended to be small in scale.

COVID-19 may also affect people with preexisting ED, with researchers finding that the virus can worsen ED.

Why might COVID-19 affect erectile function? Well, there are a few potential answers.

Endothelial cell damage

Endothelial cells line blood vessels. COVID-19 can damage these cells and stop the lining from expanding and contracting.

This stiffness can affect blood flow to your penis, which is necessary for getting and maintaining an erection.

The virus can also interfere with pathways that your body uses during erections.

It’s this damage experts believe to be the most likely reason for COVID-19’s link to ED.

Neurological effects

COVID-19 can have wide-reaching effects on your body, including neurological (brain and nerve) ones.

Brain injury from the virus could affect nerves that are necessary for an erection.

Psychological effects

Another factor to consider is how COVID-19 and ED affect mental health. Some research links COVID-19 to several mental health conditions that can play a role in developing ED.

Some experts have found that the higher risk of ED in people with a history of COVID-19 could be due to stress, anxiety, or depression associated with the virus.

Other health conditions

Certain health conditions can make people with COVID-19 more at risk of developing complications. Other medical conditions also have ED on their symptom lists.

So, other health conditions may make someone with COVID-19 more likely to develop ED.

One small 2022 study found that people with diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions had a higher risk of ED after developing COVID-19.

Long COVID can affect multiple bodily systems. So, ED could be a complication.

But research into the topic is limited, including whether a link exists and what might cause it.

One larger 2022 study did find that erectile function improved after 3 months of developing COVID-19.

However, high levels of ED were still present during the third month of recovery, particularly in people above 40 years old or in those with major depression.

A different 2023 study found that ED linked to COVID-19 may improve with time, especially the first year after SARS-CoV-2 infection.

If COVID-19 has contributed to ED, it may improve naturally with time.

Consider making an appointment with a healthcare professional to discuss your symptoms. They can help identify or confirm the underlying cause and make treatment recommendations.

For example, lifestyle changes may result in improvements for some. This could be anything from upping exercise and cutting back on less nutritious foods, smoking, and alcohol to therapy for mental health support.

If you have another underlying health condition that could be contributing to ED, treating this may also help.

Medications also exist. Pills such as sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra, Staxyn), and tadalafil (Cialis) can boost blood flow to your penis.

There’s also an injection called alprostadil (Caverject, Edex, Muse), which you can receive as a penile suppository if preferred to help get an erection.

You may need to try several options before finding one that works.

Surgery to insert a prosthetic implant is also an option if the others don’t work for you.

If you already have erectile dysfunction, are you more likely to develop COVID-19?

Due to the lack of research, it’s hard to say.

One 2021 study did find people with ED were more likely to experience COVID-19. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you may have a higher risk of developing COVID-19 if you have ED.

One study isn’t enough information to draw any solid conclusions.

Can getting vaccinated against COVID-19 help prevent related erectile dysfunction?

This is yet another area where no answers are available yet.

A 2022 survey found no link between COVID-19 vaccinations and an increased risk of ED in people ages 45 years and older.

But no research exists yet into the opposite relationship.

Theoretically, though, if COVID-19 could increase the risk of ED, then helping protect yourself against it via vaccines could reduce the risk of such complications.

Does your risk for erectile dysfunction increase with subsequent SARS-CoV-2 infections?

There’s no definitive conclusion here yet.

If COVID-19 can make ED more likely to occur, then multiple bouts of COVID may only increase that risk.

How long does COVID-19-related erectile dysfunction last?

Studies have shown different results. One from 2022 found improvement 3 months after the initial SARS-CoV-2 infection, whereas another from 2023 noted ED getting better the first year after developing COVID-19.

Treatment may still be necessary in some cases.

The available research shows a person with COVID-19 might be 2.64 times more likely to develop ED. This could be due to the physical and psychological effects the virus can have on your body.

COVID-19 could also worsen existing ED symptoms. More large-scale studies are necessary to determine whether a relationship between the two exists.

Lauren Sharkey is a U.K.-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.