Not happy with how hard your erections get? You’re not alone.

The key is figuring out whether you’re dealing with a one-off issue, or if less than ideal erections are becoming a regular occurrence. It could be caused by a health problem, a relationship issue, or something else that needs to be resolved.

A combination of talking with your partner, making a few lifestyle adjustments, and forming new habits may help.

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a condition where a person with a penis is regularly unable to have or maintain an erection for the duration of a sexual encounter.

It’s worth noting it’s possible to lose an erection prematurely from time to time during sex. It’s not considered ED unless it happens several times a week over the course of 4 weeks or more.

So, if you’re experiencing these symptoms frequently and over an extended period of time, ED may be why.

The most common cause of ED is reduced blood flow to the penis. During arousal, blood flows into the tissues of the penis, which causes it to harden, resulting in an erection.

If blood isn’t able to flow unobstructed to the penis, it can prevent an erection, cause an erection to be lost prematurely, or reduce its overall hardness.

Phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) is an enzyme that can restrict blood flow. It’s often to blame when someone experiences ED.

This is why medications like Viagra and Cialis are so effective: They are both PDE5 inhibitors. By blocking or inhibiting PDE5, blood flow to the penis is improved.

However, the cause of ED isn’t always physical. Many factors can contribute to ED, such as:

  • sudden changes to your routine
  • increased stress in daily life
  • significant changes to diet or nutrition
  • mental health conditions like depression

This is why it’s always a good idea to talk with a doctor if you think you’re experiencing ED symptoms. A doctor can more accurately diagnose your symptoms and rule out any other contributing factors.

Talking with your partner is the only way to communicate how you’re feeling and what you’re experiencing.

Use this time to open up a discussion about any anxiety, discontent, or even boredom you may have about your current sex life.

Here are some tips to help spark a healthy, productive conversation:

  • Dissatisfaction with your sex life doesn’t necessarily mean dissatisfaction with your partner or relationship. Try to keep your mind from wandering toward extremes. Do your best to reassure your partner. A convo about your sex life likely doesn’t mean the end of this pairing; you may just need something new to spice things up.
  • Sexual behaviors are often learned from the media we consume. This includes both positive and negative depictions of sexual activity. Be aware that what you think sex is supposed to be may not be what you or your partner want.
  • Timing is important. This isn’t the time to multitask. You don’t want to risk making your partner feel unheard during a vulnerable conversation.

Try something new in the bedroom

Before you do anything too drastic or long-term to your diet or lifestyle, try to spice things up with:

  • New positions. Raise your partner’s legs on your shoulders when you enter, do it from behind while lying on your side or with your partner on their hands and knees, or have your partner keep their legs closer together to tighten the vaginal canal or anal area.
  • Sex toys. Handheld vibrators, penis rings, butt plugs, and anal beads can be a fun way to stimulate the penis, clitoris, or anus. Make sure to use these items safely and clean them between usage.
  • Other forms of sexual contact. Use your mouths to build excitement, either on each other’s genitals or other erogenous areas.
  • Different entry points. In a heterosexual relationship and only tried vaginal sex? Ask your partner if they’re interested in trying anal or if they’re willing to peg you with a toy. Pro tip: Bring plenty of lube!
  • Role-playing. Set up a situation or act as characters to help build an arousing story around your sexual encounter.
  • Focus less on sexual performance. Instead, focus more on identifying what type of touch feels the most pleasurable to you.

Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes

The nutrients in many fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes help improve blood flow throughout your body — including your penis.

And blood flow to the penis is one of the keys to healthy, consistent erections.

Here are some foods that may help:

  • Fruits high in antioxidants and anthocyanins, such as blueberries, can help protect body tissues and lower your risk of heart disease, according to a 1993 study.
  • Foods dense with vitamin B12, such as fermented soy-based tempeh, can help support other bodily functions that contribute to erectile health, according to a 2019 study.
  • Foods with L-arginine, such as oatmeal, can help relax your muscles and improve blood flow, according to a 2003 study.

Eat less fatty, fried, and processed foods

Eating a diet that’s high in fatty, fried, or processed foods may increase your risk of conditions that can affect your sexual health and overall well-being, according to a 1994 study.

These conditions include:

You may find it helpful to:

  • Swap high fat dairy products, like yogurt and milk, for low fat versions.
  • Opt for oat or whole grain cereals instead of processed ones.

If you’re usually pressed for time, you may find it helpful to keep salad greens and other easy-to-prep vegetables and grains like quinoa on hand.

Use simple whole foods like these to throw a quick, nutritious meal together, or even prep a meal or two in advance.

Consider the Mediterranean diet

Some 2017 research suggests the Mediterranean diet can help with several underlying factors that may contribute to erectile dysfunction (ED).

Following this diet may help:

  • lower cholesterol
  • increase antioxidants
  • increase L-arginine levels
  • improve blood flow

If you aren’t ready to make the switch or want to gradually ease into it, start by eating more of the following:

  • vegetables like kale, spinach, and carrots
  • fruits like apples, bananas, and grapes
  • nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, and sunflower seeds
  • legumes like beans, lentils, and peanuts
  • tubers like potatoes and yams
  • poultry like chicken and turkey
  • eggs
  • dairy like cheese and Greek yogurt
  • healthy fats like extra-virgin olive oil and avocados

Cut back on your alcohol intake

Heavy alcohol consumption was associated with a higher risk of sexual dysfunction in a 2007 study.

One or two drinks typically won’t hurt. A 2018 review suggests it may even help lower your risk of erectile issues.

But there’s a direct correlation between how many drinks you have and how often you have issues with sexual performance.

Feel free to drink more caffeine

Love coffee or tea? Great! A 2005 review showed that caffeine may improve blood flow and relax the muscles that help you get and keep an erection.

Try to keep it to black coffee, unsweetened tea, and caffeinated drinks without sweeteners.

Get at least 20 minutes of moderate exercise every day

Some 2013 research suggests that physical inactivity can have a negative effect on erectile function.

Just 20 minutes of exercise per day can help improve your circulation and aid in weight management — two key factors in overall erectile health.

Make time for a short walk or jog, or consider the following moves for an at-home workout:

Watch how much time you spend cycling, though

Some 2015 research suggests the pressure put on the blood vessels and nerves in your pelvic area when biking can lead to ED.

More research is needed to know if there’s truly a connection.

If you bike a lot to work or just for fun, consider investing in a seat that takes some of the pressure off your perineum, where pressure may do the most damage.

Maintain a moderate weight

According to Harvard Medical School, having excess weight or obesity can affect your sex drive and increase your risk of conditions that affect your sexual health, including:

Eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise are key.

Make sure you’re getting enough sleep

Not getting enough sleep, especially as a result of sleep apnea and other sleep disorders, has been linked in a 2005 study to an increased risk of ED.

A 2019 study suggests losing sleep can also make you more likely to develop plaque in your arteries, or atherosclerosis.

This can affect your circulation, and, in turn, make it more difficult to get and maintain an erection.

Here are some tips to make sure you get your 6 to 8 hours per night:

  • Turn off all screens — including your phone, computer, or TV — at least 1 hour before bed.
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks after about 6 p.m.
  • Limit any daytime naps to an hour or so at most.
  • Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Consider taking a melatonin supplement about 1 hour before bed.
  • Keep your bedroom at around 70°F (21°C).

Do what you can to minimize or better manage your stress

Research suggests that psychological factors like stress and anxiety are often the culprit behind ED.

Stress and anxiety can also make you more likely to develop other conditions that have been linked to ED, including:

Try these tips to reduce stress:

  • Listen to music.
  • Light an aromatherapy candle or diffuse essential oils.
  • Keep a journal to write down your thoughts.
  • Make yourself laugh with a funny movie or stand-up comedy.

Try to cut back your nicotine use

Nicotine and other chemicals in vaporizers, cigarettes, cigars, and other products can damage blood vessels and reduce the effectiveness of nitric oxide.

Nitric oxide opens up your blood vessels, allowing blood to flow through more easily when you’re erect. Impairing its effectiveness can make it more difficult to get and stay erect.

The earlier you quit, the lower your overall risk for developing ED.

Q: Why do I have a firm erection when I masturbate and not when I’m with a partner?

Masturbation is a solo activity. If you’re horny, you can probably get yourself to an orgasm without much help because you can focus entirely on the good feelings that come with pleasuring yourself.

But sex with another person brings in more complexity: both your and your partner’s moods, emotions, level of trust with each other, and levels of confidence. To reduce performance anxiety, focus more on discovering what’s most pleasurable to you versus on how well you’re sexually performing.

This is where communication is crucial. Openly discussing any anger, resentment, embarrassment, or unresolved conflicts can help maintain the trust and intimacy needed for a healthy sexual relationship.

Make an appointment with a doctor or other healthcare professional if you’re frequently:

  • concerned about the overall firmness of your erection
  • unable to get or maintain an erection
  • stressed or concerned about your sexual performance

These could be symptoms of ED.

Low testosterone levels can also affect your sexual performance. See a doctor if you notice any of the following:

  • reduced semen volume
  • abnormal hair loss
  • persistent fatigue
  • difficultly concentrating
  • trouble with your memory
  • losing muscle mass
  • abnormal fat buildup, especially in the chest (gynecomastia)

Your doctor can order some blood tests and recommend treatment, if needed. If you don’t already have a provider, our Healthline FindCare tool can help you connect to physicians in your area.

What causes a weak erection?

Weak erections can be caused by any number of factors, all of which differ for each individual. It’s most important to pay attention to what’s going on in your world: personally, professionally, and physically, and think about how it could be impacting your sex life.

Why is my erection not as strong as it used to be?

As we get older, it’s very common to see a dip in our sexual health. ED is also much more common in older males.

If you’re concerned about the strength of your erections, it’s worth meeting with a doctor to rule out any physical health issues that may be contributing to a softer erection.

Overall arousal may contribute to the strength of your erection, too. It’s worth considering any recent lifestyle or relationship changes that may be affecting your arousal, such as:

  • being under a lot of stress in your daily life
  • being distracted by things outside of sex
  • feeling less attracted to your partner
  • holding on to negative feelings toward your partner

How long can the average male stay erect?

It can be difficult to say exactly how long the average erection lasts. Many factors can contribute to the overall length of time.

For someone who reaches orgasm very quickly, this period of time is shortened because the penis usually stops being erect after ejaculation.

For people who “last longer” during sex or have a sexual encounter that’s drawn out over a longer period of time, an erection can last much longer.

But, on average, an erection lasts for the length of a sexual encounter — around 7 to 13 minutes.

Medications that help someone have an erection, like Viagra and Cialis, allow blood to flow more easily to the penis. In many cases, they can cause a longer erection.

However, if your erection lasts longer than 4 hours, get immediate medical attention. You may be experiencing priapism. This is a serious medical condition where blood is unable to flow out of the penis. It can cause severe or permanent damage if left untreated.

Can I get ED medications without seeing a doctor?

No, you’ll need to talk with a doctor (whether it be in-person or telemedicine) to get a prescription to get Cialis or the generic, called tadalafil.

Viagra (sildenafil) and Levitra (vardenafil) are two other prescriptions that are often used for ED. These medications are not available over the counter.

You can meet with your doctor to discuss your symptoms, and if it’s appropriate, they will prescribe the right ED medication for you. You can also consider the following telemedicine options:

Hims: You’ll complete an online questionnaire and consult with a licensed medical professional in your state. They will evaluate you to determine which ED medication is right for you. The prescription will be shipped from a licensed pharmacy in discreet packaging to your home. Costs are not listed upfront on Hims’ website.

Lemonaid Health: You’ll complete an online questionnaire and consult with a licensed medical professional (a nurse practitioner or doctor) in your state. They will evaluate you to determine which ED medication is right for you. The prescription will be shipped from a licensed pharmacy in discreet packaging to your home. Lemonaid Health’s website has pricing for each type of ED medication, ranging from $50-$60 for the first order.

Roman: You’ll complete an online questionnaire and consult with a licensed medical professional in your state. They will evaluate you to determine which ED medication is right for you. The prescription will be shipped from a licensed pharmacy in discreet packaging to your home. Costs are not listed upfront on Roman’s website.

If you’ve already met with your doctor and would like to compare pharmacy options, GoodRx is available to help you search online to find cheaper pharmacy prices and also has coupons for many prescriptions.

What options do I have other than taking ED medication?

There are several options to treat erectile dysfunction aside from oral medications like Cialis, including:

If you’ve reviewed the suggestions we’ve made and you’re still having erection issues, see your doctor. There are lots of options that can help manage any existing health conditions you may have.

It’s important to keep communication open with your partner. Although erection problems can be difficult to experience, there are a host of ED solutions out there.