Temporary Erectile Dysfunction: What You Need to Know

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When people think about erectile dysfunction (ED), they generally think of a persistent condition that tends to get worse with age. But, there are times when ED is only temporary and the ability to achieve an erection can be restored.

There are many reasons why temporary ED can occur, some of which may be situational, and others may be due to lifestyle factors that can be changed.

This article explores the different causes and types of temporary ED and what you can do to diagnose and treat this potentially reversible form of erectile dysfunction.

Types of Short-Term Erectile Dysfunction - Illustration by Ellen Lindner

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

Symptoms

The symptoms of temporary ED are more or less the same as any other type of erectile dysfunction. Formerly known as impotence, ED is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection that lasts long enough to have sexual intercourse or achieve an orgasm.

An estimated 43% of people with penises will have problems getting an erection at one time or another. From a medical standpoint, the inability to get or keep an erection 20% of the time is not of major concern. It is only when it occurs more than 50% of the time that a person should consider seeing a doctor.

What differentiates temporary ED from chronic forms of ED is that it tends to occur suddenly and/or affect groups less likely to have ED, such as younger people. The symptoms may be erratic or persistent depending on the underlying cause.

Causes

There are many different causes of ED, which are broadly classified as either being physiological (relating to the body) or psychogenic (relating to the mind). Oftentimes, there will be multiple overlapping causes.

As opposed to chronic forms of ED (which mainly affects people over 40), short-term forms of ED have their own distinctive causes and risk factors. These short-term forms can be broken down into two groups: situational ED and temporary ED.

Situational ED

Situational ED, as per its name, is a type of ED that only occurs in certain situations. The causes are usually psychogenic and can include guilt, depression, fatigue, stress, performance anxiety (fear or worry related to sexual activity), relationship problems, or a history of sexual trauma.

Oftentimes, a person with situational ED will approach a sexual situation with dread, knowing that they won't be able to "get it up." In other cases, a sexual interaction may spur unexpected emotions that dampen sexual arousal. At other times still, a person may not have any idea why an erection is difficult.

The symptoms of situational ED tend to be erratic and may not happen with different partners or in different circumstances. Being overworked, having a stressful lifestyle, or using drugs or alcohol can cause or contribute to situational ED.

Temporary ED

Temporary ED is a bit more difficult to define but is a form that can potentially be reversed based on changes in modifiable risk factors.

There are many lifestyle risk factors that can influence ED. Some can impair blood flow to the penis or affect the contraction of muscles or tissues needed to achieve an erection. Others may reduce testosterone levels or the availability of a molecule called nitric oxide that enables the engorgement of the penis during an erection.

Temporary ED tends to be ongoing rather than sporadic. Causes include:

By making positive lifestyle changes, a person with temporary ED—especially younger people without significant cardiovascular problems—can sometimes reverse ED and achieve normal erections again.

Recap

Situational ED is mainly due to psychological issues and can change with different partners or circumstances. Temporary ED tends to be persistent but can improve with positive lifestyle changes.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of temporary ED is more or less the same as any other form of ED. The diagnosis may involve a doctor known as a urologist who specializes in male sexual health.

Temporary ED may be suspected if the symptoms are sudden, sporadic, or occurring in people who are at otherwise low risk of ED. The diagnosis will start with a review of your medical and sexual history, including your risk factors for ED.

Based on the initial findings, other tests or procedures may be performed, including:

  • A physical exam: To examine the penis and scrotum and look for signs of hormonal problems such as abnormal breast enlargement (gynecomastia) or shrunken testicles
  • Blood or urine tests: To check testosterone and blood lipids levels and look for signs of diabetes
  • Nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT) test: A simple test in which a band of stamps is wrapped around the penis to see if a person has erections at night
  • RigiScan: A portable device worn around the penis that can evaluate the rigidity and engorgement of the penis at night
  • Ultrasound: A non-invasive imaging test used with injectable erection-inducing drugs to evaluate blood flow to the penis
  • Mental health evaluation: To identify psychological issues that can either cause or complicate ED

Treatment

The treatment of temporary ED depends on the cause. If the symptoms are situational, the focus may be placed more on counseling and psychotherapy. If the symptoms are persistent, a greater focus may be placed on lifestyle changes. With that said, ED is often caused by multiple, overlapping risk factors and may require a holistic treatment plan.

Treatment options include:

  • Phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors: Typically used for the first-line treatment of ED, PDE5 inhibitors are a class of drugs that include Viagra (sildenafil) and Cialis (tadalafil).
  • Weight loss: Studies show that being of average weight decreases the risk of ED compared to people who are overweight or obese.
  • Improved diet: Studies suggest that a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, and fish (and low in red and processed meats) lowers the risk of ED.
  • Routine exercise: Exercising 160 minutes per week for six months has been shown to improve erectile function in people with metabolic syndrome or obesity.
  • Quitting cigarettes: Smoking cessation can improve erectile function, particularly in younger smokers with ED or people who are not heavy smokers.
  • Cut back on alcohol: The regular, high consumption of alcohol is linked to an increased risk of ED. Cutting back decreases the risk.
  • Managing stress: Studies have shown that stress reduction techniques like diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) can increase libido in men with ED.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Also known as talk therapy, CBT is often effective in treating psychogenic ED and is sometimes combined with sex therapy.

Healthy Activity for ED

Research has shown the combination of weight loss, a healthy diet, and physical exercise can improve erectile function by increasing the endothelial function of blood vessels (meaning their ability to contract and relax). This alone can increase blood flow to the penis.

Coping

Erectile dysfunction can be distressing even if it only occurs every now and then. Therefore, it is important to find ways to reduce stress and anxiety to avoid making ED worse. It's a "Catch-22" situation wherein ED causes stress and stress causes ED.

There are several ways to better cope with situational or temporary ED:

  • Talk with your partner: Trying to ignore the problem (or ignoring sex) can add tension to a relationship. By talking openly about ED, your partner can become part of the solution and even explore new and exciting forms of sex that don't involve intercourse.
  • Focus on health: By getting healthier (by losing weight, exercising, and quitting cigarettes), you'll not only be stronger but feel better about yourself. Positive self-esteem translates to increased sexual desire.
  • Have sex when peak energy is high: If you have a hectic lifestyle, plan on having sex earlier rather than later. This includes having sex in the morning rather than at night when you both may be tired.
  • Explore couples counseling: This is especially useful if there are communication problems between you and your partner. This may include couples' sex therapy.
  • Practice relaxation: Take time each day to practice relaxation techniques which, along with exercise, can improve feelings of well-being. Option include meditation, yoga, Tai chi, guided imagery, deep breathing exercises, and biofeedback.

Summary

Erectile dysfunction may only be temporary, and the ability to achieve an erection can be restored. It may occur depending on the situation or be ongoing but reversible. A healthcare professional can diagnose erectile dysfunction, determine the cause, and direct treatment. Drugs, lifestyle modifications, and treating underlying causes may be recommended.

A Word From Verywell

It's important to remember that erectile dysfunction is common and you shouldn't stress if you have occasional difficulty with erections. If erection problems are frequent or have occurred suddenly for no reason, speak with your doctor. Ignoring the problem rarely helps.

ED can sometimes be a sign of a medical condition in need of treatment, including prostate problems, heart disease, kidney disease, or diabetes. By treating the underlying condition, you may find that your ability to get and sustain an erection will also improve.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can being sick cause erectile dysfunction?

    Being sick can cause temporary ED if it makes you fatigued. Certain urinary tract infections can lead to prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate)—a condition that can directly cause ED.

  • Does erectile dysfunction go away?

    It's possible depending on the underlying cause. Psychogenic causes such as anxiety or stress can often be resolved with counseling. Temporary ED triggered by obesity, smoking, or other unhealthy habits will sometimes go away with changes in lifestyle. Drug-induced ED may improve by changing medications.

  • How long does temporary erectile dysfunction last?

    If the cause of ED is situational (meaning that it only occurs in certain situations), behavioral changes can sometimes resolve symptoms quickly. It may take longer to overcome ED caused by things like obesity or poor cardiovascular health as they require sustained improvements in health and lifestyle.

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