Symptoms of Erectile Dysfunction

At one point or another, most adult men will have trouble getting or keeping an erection long enough to have sex. This usually resolves on its own with little or no treatment. But when it becomes an ongoing problem, it is called erectile dysfunction (ED).

In addition to problems with getting a satisfactory erection, ED can lead to emotional and psychological problems too, including feelings of shame and guilt. In some cases, ED can lead to a loss of intimacy that affects the mental well-being of both partners.

This article discusses the signs and symptoms of erectile dysfunction. It also mentions several ejaculation-related conditions that often occur alongside ED, as well as when you should see your doctor.

Frequent Symptoms

Erectile dysfunction is a common problem among men, affecting some 30 million men in the United States. ED typically develops over time. But it can happen suddenly for what seems like no reason at all.

The main symptoms of erectile dysfunction are:

  • Difficulty getting an erection: The inability to get a firm enough erection to have sex when you desire it
  • Difficulty keeping an erection: The inability to keep an erection firm for long enough to complete sex or truly enjoy it

Frequency of your erection issues is what defines the difference between having ED and not. Having symptoms from time to time, rather than often, is typically not a sign of erectile dysfunction.

For many men, ED also causes emotional and psychological distress. ED can affect your relationships and your self-esteem, and may lead to feelings of guilt, embarrassment, shame, or other difficult emotions.

Associated Conditions

Some men with ED have problems with ejaculating (ejaculatory dysfunction), while others are able to ejaculate one or more times during sexual intercourse.

Erectile dysfunction and ejaculatory dysfunction are the two most common sexual difficulties in men. They are separate disorders, however, that often occur together.

Types of ejaculatory dysfunction include:

  • Premature ejaculation: When a man ejaculates within minutes of penetration or sooner than he and his partner would like
  • Delayed ejaculation: When a man is unable to ejaculate within a reasonable timeframe of sexual stimulation
  • Retrogade ejaculation: When a man is able to reach sexual climax, but his semen goes into his bladder rather than exiting through his penis
  • Anejaculation: When a man is unable to ejaculate semen

Other physical conditions that may or may not occur alongside ED include:

Erectile dysfunction may be a risk factor for heart attacks and strokes, according to research published by the American Heart Association. If you have symptoms of ED, consider getting screened for cardiovascular disease.


Erectile dysfunction can affect your mental health and wellbeing, along with that of your partner. It can lead to such complications as:

  • Unfulfilled sex life
  • Loss of intimacy with your partner
  • A strained relationship with your partner
  • Depression, anxiety, low self-esteem
  • Inability to get a female partner pregnant

These complications can both contribute to ED symptoms and happen as a result of them.

If you are experiencing ED, getting professional help can prevent you from falling into a cycle of physical and psychological ED symptoms.

Fortunately, almost all cases of erectile dysfunction are treatable.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you have difficulty getting or keeping an erectile on occasion—for example, after a night of drinking or a stressful work day—you probably don't need to worry. Most men experience this at one point or another.

But if getting or keeping an erection is something that occurs 25% of the time or more, then you could have ED and should consider seeing a healthcare provider.

In addition, if symptoms are consistently getting worse, there could be a physical cause that should be investigated.

It's also time to get professional help if:

  • You have anxiety about your ability to get or keep an erection
  • Your symptoms are creating an issue between you and your sexual partner
  • Getting an erection is painful

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


Erectile dysfunction is defined as an inability to get or keep an erection 25% of the time or more. Aside from these physical symptoms, it can also cause emotional and psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, and lost self-esteem.

Several disorders can happen alongside erectile dysfunction, including premature ejaculation and reduced sex drive. If your symptoms are becoming a regular issue, causing you anxiety, or creating tension in your relationship, make an appointment to see a healthcare provider.

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 keep the erection. Either can happen for a variety of underlying health conditions that affect the circulatory system, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or certain cancer treatments.

  • How can I tell if I have ED?

    One of the following criteria must be met in order to have erectile dysfunction:

    • Ability to get an erection sometimes when you want to have sex, but not always
    • Ability to get an erection but unable to keep it
    • 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.

8 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. Definition and facts for erectile dysfunction.

  2. Otani T. Clinical review of ejaculatory dysfunctionReprod Med Biol. 2019 Jul;18(4):331-343. doi:10.1002/rmb2.12289

  3. American Heart Association. Erectile dysfunction may be a warning sign for more serious health problems. Published June 2018.

  4. Harvard Health Publishing. Sex and the prostate: Overcoming erectile dysfunction when you have prostate disease.

  5. Urology Care Foundation. What is erectile dysfunction?.

  6. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases. Symptoms & causes of erectile dysfunction.

  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

By Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio, OTR/L
Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio, OTR/L, is a licensed occupational therapist and advocate for patients with Lyme disease.