Can stress cause erectile dysfunction
Reviewed by our clinical team
Erectile dysfunction (ED), or impotence, is the medical term for the inability to get or maintain an erection. Though it’s not often spoken of, ED is actually really common, particularly in later life. In fact, doctors think it affects most men at some point in their lives.
Part of the reason ED is so common is because there are lots of different things that can cause it. If you only struggle to get an erection every so often, the cause is probably something temporary like feeling very tired after a long day, or drinking too much alcohol.
If you frequently struggle to get an erection, or if you can’t maintain one during sex, the cause is more likely to be an underlying physical condition, or an ongoing emotional health issue.
One really common cause of ED in both the long and short term is stress.
Why does stress lead to erectile dysfunction?
The first thing to understand about stress is that its effects are just as physical as they are psychological. Experiencing ongoing stress can cause a long list of symptoms that can combine to cause problems in and out of the bedroom, including:
- Low mood
- Trouble sleeping
- Chest pains
- Constipation or diarrhoea
Another thing to understand is that you need to be sexually aroused to get an erection. If you’re feeling very stressed, you might find that you lose your sex drive, and therefore find it harder than usual get excited enough for sex. Even if you do manage to get an erection, you might struggle to maintain it.
Stress can also create a negative spiral of worsening symptoms. Experiencing ED due to stress can actually lead to more stress, as you worry about “failing to perform”. This performance anxiety may end up worsening your symptoms, and making it hard for you to break out of the cycle.
Anxiety and depression
Stress itself isn’t considered a medical condition, but if you’re experiencing stress on an ongoing basis for a long time, you may end up developing anxiety or depression. Both of these are known to have the symptom of sexual dysfunction – normally they cause a loss of sex drive.
How to treat ED caused by stress
How you tackle your stress-related ED will depend on what’s causing it.
If you’ve temporarily lost interest in sex because you’re going through a particularly stressful period (e.g. you’re preparing for an exam, moving house, or applying for a promotion) it may simply be a case of “waiting it out”. Once the stressful period has passed, you may find that your sex drive and ability to get an erection return to normal.
If stress has become a big feature of your daily life, for example due to ongoing work commitments, you might need to be more proactive about tackling the problem. While stress isn’t a diagnosable condition with any specific treatments, there are lots of resources available to help you deal with it.
Mind recommends talking to your GP for advice in the first instance, as they may be able to refer you for counselling or – where appropriate – prescribe medication.
You can also try making some changes in your life to try and manage your stress better. This can be as simple as making more time for yourself during the week, or talking to your workplace about reducing some of your responsibilities.
For more advice about coping with stress, check out the guides available from Mind.
Medication for ED
A good option for men experiencing erectile dysfunction due to ongoing stress is to take an ED tablet like Viagra. ED tablets are designed to be taken before you plan to have sex. They work by temporarily promoting blood flow to the penis, which helps you get an erection.
You can get ED tablets by visiting your GP and getting a prescription. Alternatively, you can order ED tablets through our secure online ED clinic. One type of ED tablet, Viagra Connect, can be bought over the counter in pharmacies, however you’ll need to have a short discussion with the pharmacist first.
One thing to note is that taking an ED tablet will only work if you’re able to get sexually aroused. If you’re struggling with your sex drive, or if you no longer feel attracted to your partner, tablets may not be a good option. As an alternative, you can try relationship counselling or sex therapy with an organisation like Relate.
When to see a doctor
If you aren’t sure what’s causing your ED, and if it keeps happening, it’s a good idea to see your GP. It may be that the cause is stress, however erectile dysfunction is often caused by a physical health condition that requires treatment.
Visiting your GP to get some tests will help you rule out serious conditions like diabetes and heart disease. As a bonus, you’ll be able to get some advice from your doctor about coping with your stress.
For more information about erectile dysfunction and ED tablets, visit our advice hub.