Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a common symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but treatments like therapy and medication can help treat both the cause and effect.

There’s evidence of a possible connection between PTSD, sometimes called post-traumatic stress or post-traumatic injury, and ED, which is an inability to get or keep an erection.

Both conditions are related to the way your body responds to arousal. When you have PTSD, your body may perceive feelings of arousal as a threat and keep you from being able to get or maintain an erection.

Read on to learn more about what the research says about PTSD and ED, how you can tell if your ED is related to PTSD, and how to treat ED that’s connected to PTSD.

Usually, sexual arousal in males causes the body to go through a series of changes that lead to an erection so that sex or masturbation is possible. These include increased blood flow to the penis and changes in your nervous system to increase sensation in your pelvis and genitals.

In people with PTSD, these otherwise normal changes in your body during arousal can trigger a fight-or-flight response instead, stopping you from getting an erection. This can happen when your body experiences heightened emotions that trigger intense feelings related to traumatic events, even if those events weren’t sexual at all.

Intrusive thoughts or memories related to trauma can also stop you from being able to focus during sexual activity or reduce your feelings of pleasure. This can cause you to develop a negative association or anxiety related to sex that contributes to your ED symptoms.

A 2021 review of literature related to ED and PTSD found that PTSD can affect many aspects of your sexual responses, including:

  • your overall sexual function, such as your ability to get an erection or keep one long enough to ejaculate
  • your sexual desire, including whether you feel attracted to your sexual partner
  • your sexual satisfaction, or whether you feel like sex or masturbation leads to pleasure
  • your sexual distress, including your emotional responses to sexual feelings or situations

An erection self-test can help you find out if your ED is related to PTSD. To try this, wrap a roll of stamps around your penis before bed to see if your penis gets hard in your sleep. If you do get an erection, it will break the stamps off.

This means that you’re able to get an erection while you’re sleeping and your body experiences typical arousal, which doesn’t trigger the fight-or-flight response to your PSTD.

If you start experiencing normal erections after getting therapy and addressing your PTSD symptoms, this can also mean that your ED was related to PTSD.

Another test that can help diagnose ED related to PTSD is RigiScan, a device that’s attached to your thigh on one end and to two different areas of your penis while you sleep. This can measure blood flow in your penis and how firm your penis can become. A doctor can download and analyze the data from this scan to find out about your erections.

Talk with your doctor if you’re interested in these or other ways of figuring out the cause of your ED.

Treating your PTSD is the best way to help resolve ED related to your PTSD symptoms.

Some options for treating PTSD include:

Mental health is a journey

As with all other mental health conditions, your journey with PTSD is unique to you. But help is available.

Here are some resources you can use to help you on your journey to treating PTSD:

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ED can result from PTSD, as heightened emotions or anxiety related to your sexual function can trigger your symptoms.

That said, treating PTSD can help resolve your ED and allow you to have a more satisfying sex life.