Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to maintain an erection firm enough for satisfying sexual activity. While occasionally having difficulty maintaining an erection is normal, if it happens frequently and it consistently disrupts your sex life, your doctor may diagnose you with ED.

In this article, we’ll look at the prevalence of ED. We’ll also take a look at the most common causes and treatment options.

Experts widely agree that ED is common and that the risk of developing ED increases with age. Some studies cite that ED is the most common form of sexual dysfunction that affects men.

But estimates on just how common ED is vary widely. One 2018 review estimated that ED affects about a third of men. And a 2019 review found that the global prevalence of ED ranges between 3 percent and 76.5 percent.

The Massachusetts Male Aging Study, which was completed in 1994, is often cited by experts in discussions of prevalence, even though the research is older. This study found that around 52 percent of men experience some form of ED, and that total ED increases from about 5 to 15 percent between ages 40 and 70.

Though the risk of ED increases with age, it’s still possible for young men to experience ED. A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that ED affected about 26 percent of men under the age of 40.

As all this research shows, even though experts agree that ED is common, prevalence can be hard to measure in large populations. This may be because doctors and researchers use different definitions of how often erection issues must occur in order to be considered ED.

There’s also a lot of variation among screening tools and questionnaires used by researchers.

Occasionally experiencing erection problems isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. And it doesn’t necessarily mean you have ED.

The Cleveland Clinic estimates that it’s normal to have trouble getting or keeping an erection for up to 20 percent of sexual encounters. Having trouble getting an erection more than 50 percent of the time can indicate a medical issue.

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about the quality of your erections.

When you become sexually excited, the muscles in the penis relax and blood flow to the penis increases. Blood fills two chambers of spongy tissue that run along the length of the penis called the corpora cavernosa.

ED occurs when there’s a problem with this process. According to the Mayo Clinic, causes can be physical or mental, and can include:

People who have one of the following risk factors have a higher chance of developing ED:

  • Age. Age is one of the primary risk factors of ED. Whiles estimates vary, ED is generally more common among older men than younger men.
  • Diabetes. Diabetes can cause nerve damage and problems with circulation, both of which can contribute to ED.
  • Obesity. Men who are overweight have a significant risk of developing ED. As many as 79 percent of people with ED have a body mass index (BMI) over 25.
  • Depression. Research shows a strong correlation between depression and ED. In some cases, it isn’t clear if ED leads to depression or depression leads to ED.
  • Other risk factors. Men who are physically inactive, have metabolic syndrome, smoke, have high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol, or low testosterone are also at an increased risk of developing ED.

Treatment for ED involves targeting the underlying cause. Your doctor can help you figure out the best treatment.

Improving lifestyle habits

Regular exercise can improve your circulatory health and may help treat ED if your BMI is over 25 or if you’re physically inactive.

A 2018 review looked at the effect of exercise on ED caused by inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease. The researchers found that 160 minutes of weekly aerobic activity for 6 months can help decrease ED symptoms.

Quitting smoking, minimizing alcohol intake, and following a healthy diet can also help improve ED symptoms.


Medication is often one of the first ED treatment options men try. Stendra, Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis are among the most common ED medications on the market. These medications increase blood flow to the penis.

Your doctor may recommend testosterone replacement therapy if your ED is caused by low testosterone.

Talk therapy

You may benefit from talk therapy if your ED is caused by a psychological issue, such as stress, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or anxiety.

Penis pumps

A penis pump, or vacuum erection pump, is a tube that fits over your penis. When used, the change in air pressure triggers an erection. It may be a treatment option for mild ED.


Surgery is generally used only if all other treatment options haven’t been successful or aren’t well tolerated. If that’s the case, a penile prosthesis may help.

The prosthesis involves an inflatable rod placed in the middle of the penis. A pump is hidden in the scrotum. The pump is used to inflate the rod, causing an erection.

ED may cause relationship issues, but it’s important to realize that this condition is common and treatable. It might be embarrassing to bring up ED with your partner at first, but talking openly about your sex life can help you find a way to resolve the issue.

ED affects both of you, so being honest about how you’re feeling can help your partner work with you to find a solution.

Erectile dysfunction is a common condition. While occasional difficulty achieving an erection is normal, if it starts to happen more frequently or disrupts your sex life, talk to your doctor.

ED isn’t a life threatening disorder, but it can be a sign of a more serious medical condition. Your doctor can help you find the best treatment option and offer advice to address the underlying cause.