Symptoms of Erectile Dysfunction

While a single episode of the inability to maintain an erection may be nothing to worry about, repeated instances of erectile dysfunction (ED) can wreak havoc on your personal life. ED affects 50% of men ages 40 to 70, however only 10% of those men are likely to seek medical attention for the condition.

Don’t wait to talk to your healthcare provider about what you’re experiencing. There are treatment options available to you. Your practitioner will rule out whether your ED is due to an underlying medical condition and discuss the appropriate course of action and next steps for you.

Frequent Symptoms

Erectile dysfunction is a common problem among men, and the signs and symptoms may differ from person to person. One man may be able to sustain an erection for short periods of time, while another man might exhibit a complete inability to achieve an erection.

Nevertheless, the key to recovering from ED is to recognize the early warning signs and symptoms and promptly get help.

Difficulty Achieving an Erection

The primary symptom of ED is the inability to achieve an adequate erection to have sex when you desire it. ED may be a short-term or long-term problem for you. But it can persist to such a degree that it eventually begins to interfere with your relationships.

An intermittent problem with getting an erection may be considered a normal part of life. But if your ability to achieve an erection becomes unpredictable, meaning it’s not possible to get one during the times when you want to have sex, you may be looking at a symptom of ED—even if you’re able to get an erection once in awhile.

Inability to Sustain an Erection 

Maybe you can get an erection, but you quickly find it doesn’t last long enough to complete sex or truly enjoy it. Even though ED isn’t always an easy topic to discuss, you’re not alone.  

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), approximately 30 million men are living with ED in the United States. By age 40, the condition becomes more frequent as men age. 

It’s important to make mention that ED can be associated with stress, hormones, emotional well-being, the nervous system, muscle tone, circulation, medications, and more.

While there may be a simple explanation for the inability to maintain an erection, sexual arousal is a complex function of the body, so it’s in your best interest to consult with your healthcare provider if you’re regularly having trouble sustaining an erection and having pleasurable sex.

Inability to Have an Erection

Some men may have trouble getting an erection at all, which may lead to feelings of distress, guilt, embarrassment, shame, or other difficult emotions.

If you find yourself in this situation, you may also feel like your inability to have sex profoundly impacts your relationships with your partner, affects your self-esteem, and reduces your overall sense of health and well-being.

A mix of physical and psychological factors may contribute to ED. For example, a physical ailment could impede your body’s ability to get an erection. This may create anxiety and further compound the problem of ED.

The good news is that many healthcare providers and urologists are equipped to discuss and treat ED. While ED is more common in aging men, it’s entirely possible to have a healthy sex life well into your mature years.

Rare Symptoms

An article in Current Sexual Health Reports suggests there may be some additional symptoms associated with ED. In fact, ED may be connected to increased incidences of coronary artery disease (CAD).

Previously published studies identified a two to five-year time frame from when the initial ED symptoms occurred until the onset of CAD. Additionally, risk factors for peripheral arterial disease and strokes may rise in men with ED.

The article urges all men who have symptoms of ED to take a proactive approach to healthcare and get screened for CAD and related conditions.

Other symptoms that may be related to ED include:

  • Premature ejaculation
  • Delayed ejaculation
  • Inability to ejaculate
  • Reduced libido or sex drive
  • A dysfunction in the muscles of the pelvic floor
  • Trauma to the pelvis, such as pelvic fractures
  • Failure to become aroused after sufficient stimulation, which is a condition known as anorgasmia.
  • Low levels of the hormone testosterone


Erectile dysfunction can interfere with more than just the sexual aspects of a man’s life. It can lead to intense psychological and relationship distress and impact a man’s self-esteem.

Complications of erectile dysfunction include:

  • Relationship troubles and lack of intimacy
  • Difficulty getting your partner pregnant
  • Increased stress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem or low self-worth
  • Feeling discouraged by an unsatisfying sex life

While ED may contribute to psychological symptoms like depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and low self-worth, those same symptoms may be an underlying cause of ED, which can lead to a vicious cycle and worsen the condition. 

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If the inability to get or maintain an erection happens to you once or twice, you may not need to see a healthcare provider. Many lifestyle factors, such as stress or drinking too much alcohol, can affect your sexual ability. If you notice the problem is happening on a routine basis and it’s impacting your ability to have a satisfying sex life, then it’s time to consider seeing a healthcare provider.

Although it’s not always comfortable to discuss the topic of ED with a healthcare provider, most likely, your healthcare provider has several patients with similar problems and has had many discussions about sexual health with them—after all, sex is an integral part of life.

Erectile Dysfunction Doctor Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Doctor Discussion Guide Man

The primary reason for seeking out the advice of a qualified healthcare professional is because there are a variety of options available to treat ED. There’s no need for you to suffer in silence, and your healthcare provider can help you determine which treatment option is right for you.

It is also important to see a healthcare provider is to diagnose or rule out any underlying causes of ED.

If your healthcare provider can pinpoint the origin of the problem, this may significantly reduce or eliminate incidences of ED and enhance your sex life. Treatments for ED are always evolving, so don’t delay getting the help that you need.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens physically when a man has erectile dysfunction?

Typically there's a lack of blood flow to the penis or the penis isn't able to trap and hold blood long enough to sustain an erection. Either can happen for a variety of reasons ranging from underlying health conditions that affect the circulatory system, such hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, or diabetes, to certain cancer treatments.

How can I tell if I have ED?

There are three criteria for erectile dysfunction:

  • Ability to get an erection sometimes when you want to have sex but not always, or
  • Ability to get an erection but unable to keep it, or
  • Being unable to get an erection under any circumstance

Is there a self-test for erectile dysfunction?

There is no diagnostic test for ED. On occasion, a urologist will have a patient do a nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT) test, which can indicate if he is having spontaneous erections during sleep, or a penile plethysmograph, which evaluates blood flow to the penis in response to arousing material. Both can help determine if a physical condition is fully or partly responsible for erectile dysfunction.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases. Symptoms & causes of erectile dysfunction. Published July 2017.

  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases. Definition and Facts for Erectile Dysfunction. Published July 2017.

  3. Pastuszak AW. Current Diagnosis and Management of Erectile DysfunctionCurrent Sexual Health Reports. 2014 Sep; 6(3): 164–176. doi:10.1007/s11930-014-0023-9

  4. Jackson G, Boon N, Eardley I, et al. Erectile dysfunction and coronary artery disease prediction: evidence-based guidance and consensus. Int J Clin Pract. 2010;64(7):848-57. doi:10.1111/j.1742-1241.2010.02410.x

  5. Lotti F, Maggi M. Sexual dysfunction and male infertility. Nat Rev Urol. 2018;15(5):287-307. doi:10.1038/nrurol.2018.20

  6. Urology Care Foundation. What is erectile dysfunction? Updated June 2018.

  7. International Society for Sexual Medicine. What is the nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT) test?

  8. International Society for Sexual Medicine. What is a penile plethysmograph?

Additional Reading