Causes of ED can vary with age, individual

By Ginger Manley | Posted: Sunday October 5, 2014

August 2014

Dear Ginger:
I read your column when I am in the Vandy cafeteria and I enjoy it. I'm only 58 but there is always something I can learn. Here's my question. Is it all about blood flow? That's what the ads on TV say. Please don't use my name if you answer this in the paper.

Dear Gus:
I'm glad to hear you are enjoying the column and that you can easily find a copy of Mature Lifestyles in the cafeteria at Vanderbilt. That is one of 600 locations in Davidson, Wilson, Sumner, Rutherford and Williamson counties where ML is distributed around the first of every month. With a circulation of 20,000 copies, it can be found in grocery stores, health and fitness centers, restaurants, senior citizen centers, community centers, medical complexes, retirement communities, public libraries, pharmacies and other retail locations.

In addition you can read my column--and lots of others covering topics of interest to the 50+ population--online at and on Facebook. Please let your buddies know of this valuable and free resource.

Is it all about blood?

Not completely, but blood flow is certainly important for a man to successfully get and keep an erection. As unromantic as it may sound, an erection is basically blood--about seven times as much blood as the penis usually contains, which has rushed into the formerly flaccid or limp organ in response to something sexually exciting or stimulating. When everything is in good working order most folks give very little thought to all this movement of blood, but when a man loses his erection or when he cannot get or keep an erection, he may begin to think about the information we have all become used to hearing in the TV commercials for ED medicines.

What interferes with this blood flow? A number of things, actually, including having a case of nerves, drinking too much alcohol, using tobacco products, and many other causes. In addition to blood flow, three other major body systems interact to enhance erections. The male hormone, testosterone, and other hormones secreted by the endocrine system, such as thyroid, pituitary, and pancreatic hormones all play roles. The nervous system, especially nerves that detect sensations and those that signal certain muscular structures to tighten or relax, is crucial to successful erections. Finally, state of mind or mood plays a big part in being able to have and keep an erection.

Many men who are under 55 and healthy may be able to have successful erections even if they get nervous, drink too much, or use tobacco. After a certain age, usually between 55 and 65, a man may begin to notice changes in his erections. Sometimes he has developed other conditions--high blood pressure, diabetes, or other chronic illnesses--where either the side effect or the treatment of the disease can get in the way of a good erection. Some men develop prostate problems--either benign enlargement or cancer--and the problem or the treatment or both can interfere with erections.

If an older man--say, someone between 65 and 75--has been relatively healthy and used alcohol and tobacco in moderation if at all, he will probably begin to have some erectile issues simply as a part of the aging process. Blood vessels narrow, nerve endings dull, testosterone production decreases. Sometimes loneliness or lack of a mate may affect his state of mind. All these factors contribute to about a 50% chance of ED developing during these years. As a man ages beyond 75, all of these factors speed up and 2/3 of men in this age group have some or frequent erection problems.

So, Gus, yes it is about blood flow, but not completely about blood flow. You are between 7 and 17 years younger than this group of older men I have just referenced. You gave me no indication about the state of your erections today, so I am assuming you are just looking ahead. If so, here are some things you can do to enhance your erectile health as you age.

1) Stay in optimal health to the best of your ability--attain and maintain a healthy weight; exercise moderately several times a week; stop or limit tobacco use; drink in moderation--2 drinks a day or 14 in a week is considered the maximum for a man's health.

2) Talk to your health care provider about any medicines you are taking, even those you buy over the counter. Do not buy erection medicines online or in health food stores. They are not safe and frankly, hardly any healthy man in his 50's needs to take ED medicines, even though the commercials always feature men of this age.

3) Engage your spouse or partner in True Oral Sex--my version of verbal intercourse or talking about sexual issues or concerns rather than expecting the other person to read your mind. When a man tries to cover up his concern about erections he is setting himself up for failure. An involved and caring mate can be a huge help in using more of a hands on approach during sexual warm up times, especially if there is no pressure to perform.

4) Invest in a good quality sexual lubricant that you can share with your special person. One of the secrets that people over fifty are learning is that both parties can really enjoy the experience more if there is less friction. You can buy a large bottle of scented or unscented sesame seed oil in the personal products section of your favorite drug store, and the same oil can be used as an after-shower moisturizer, so there's little chance it will become rancid from sitting in the bedside table.

Gus, I tell all my readers that at our age, sexual activity is probably not for making babies (procreation) but it is for having fun (recreation). If you are not having fun, figure out what is getting in the way and make some changes. Happy Homework!


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