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What is Impotence?

Jessica Ellis
Updated Feb 05, 2024
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Impotence is a medical condition that affects a male’s ability to get or sustain an erection. It is often called erectile dysfunction, as it usually only affects erectile ability, which distinguishes it from other male sexual problems of both physical and psychological natures. Causes of impotence are typically physical, but in some cases it may also be caused or aggravated by psychological issues. Medical treatment for this problem is now widely available, and widely used.

Most men experience the inability to sustain an erection from time to time, but impotence is considered a medical issue if it occurs on a regular basis. Without the necessary rigidity, it may be difficult or impossible to engage in sexual activities or reach ejaculation. This can be a severe source of frustration and shame for men experiencing the condition, and can lead to psychological issues if it is a continuous occurrence.

Erection is the result of a physical arousal that causes blood to swell the penis to the point where veins cannot drain the blood back out. After ejaculation or loss of arousal, enzymes in the body quickly break down the secreted chemicals that caused the rush of blood, allowing the penis to become flaccid. Men suffering from impotence experience a breakdown at some point in this natural system, often caused by hormonal imbalance or neurological and cardiovascular issues.

In order for the erection cycle to work, the male body must secrete sufficient levels of testosterone. Some men suffer from a low level of testosterone, due to pituitary gland tumors, or a simple chemical imbalance. Impotence caused by low testosterone is often curable or made manageable by taking low doses of the hormone as prescribed by a doctor.

Some impotence cases are caused by improper or unhealthy blood flow throughout the body. This can prevent enough blood from getting to the penis to make it rigid or keep it that way. Lifestyle factors may be a significant issue in this form of the condition, as smoking, obesity, and hypertension have all been shown to increase rates of impotence.

Low blood flow can also be the result of age or illness. Some conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, have been scientifically shown to increase chances of erectile dysfunction. If lifestyle factors do not seem to be an issue, patients suffering erectile dysfunction are often treated with drugs to increase the chemicals released by the body that cause erection.

Erectile dysfunction has been shown by some scientists to be affected by psychological stress and other mental conditions. Depression, anxiety and panic disorders, and simple stress can affect the male’s ability to perform sexually. Because men often find the inability to maintain an erection a shameful experience, the problem may compound as the dysfunction continues to reoccur. Some experts recommend counseling for men having trouble dealing with issues related to impotence.

With the advent of Viagra®, as well as other drugs and hormonal therapies, erectile dysfunction has become much more manageable for many men. It seems that the miracle of medicine has largely solved a problem that has plagued doctors throughout recorded history. If you are suffering from erectile dysfunction, contact a doctor to discuss diagnosis and your best options. With medical technology constantly advancing, speaking to a professional now could quickly make any problems a distant memory.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGeek. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.
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Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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