It used to be said that men think about sex every seven seconds. New research has debunked that theory, but it’s still safe to say that men think about sex a lot. Having sex on the brain, though, doesn’t always lead to the act itself nor does it always make the act easier. Show me a man who claims to have never suffered from performance anxiety and I’ll show you a man who is a liar.
Performance anxiety never feels great, but for many men it goes beyond that. When it starts to veer into erectile dysfunction territory, it can be debilitating. It’s estimated that about ten percent of men per decade of life suffer from mild to moderate erectile dysfunction (twenty percent in their twenties, thirty percent in their thirties, and so on) and this does not include full ED, where achieving an erection is impossible. While the majority of men who complain about or struggle with erectile dysfunction are older, new research shows that about one in four men who have ED are under the age of forty and many think this number might be higher, since men are notoriously tight-lipped about problems with their equipment. Men equate sexual performance with virility, so when they’re having problems between the sheets, it comes wrapped in shame, secrecy, and questions about their masculinity. It’s no wonder they don’t want to talk about it, not even to their doctors.
A man’s difficulty in verbalizing his struggle might not be the only reason cases of ED might be higher than expected; erectile dysfunction is an umbrella term that could mean different things depending on who you talk to. Male sexual function has three components: desire and interest in sexual activity (the libido), the ability to have and maintain an erection, and ejaculation and/or orgasm. Of course, the inability to get hard is a form of ED, but so is premature ejaculation or the flip-side, inability to climax. Generally, clinical erectile dysfunction can mean a problem in one or more of these areas. Understanding the symptoms of a man’s specific erectile dysfunction is an important part of treatment, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
That’s because as common as erectile dysfunction is among men, we know relatively little about it. The possible causes of ED are myriad. There are psychological factors such as depression, anxiety, and stress, environmental factors such as alcohol abuse, smoking, or incompatibility with a partner. There are also physical issues such as heart disease, diabetes, hormonal disorders, high cholesterol, side effects from medications, and others that contribute to ED.
The fact that so many factors might play a role in erectile dysfunction make it extraordinarily hard to treat. It’s why the most famous ED medication, Viagra, is so popular - it’s a band-aid solution for what could be a larger underlying issue. Ask most men if they want an immediate solution to their ED or to spend longer getting to the root of the issue, and they’ll pick the blue pill every time. And it’s been that way for centuries, even before Viagra was invented. The ancient Chinese used Ginseng and Ginkgo Biloba to address erectile dysfunction, the Zulus favored Eriosema root, and Russians say Rhodiola Rosea (golden root) does the trick. It’s clear that issues with erectile dysfunction, and treatments for it, have been around for as long as human history itself.
It’s easy to write off natural remedies as mumbo jumbo, and many of them probably are, but some have been shown to actually work. This is because they address one of the most common underlying factors that may contribute to erectile dysfunction: inflammation. “Inflammation and free radical damage cause direct injury to the microvasculature or the blood vessels that supply the penis,” says Richard Firshein, MD, a leading expert in integrative and precision-based medicine and founder of the Firshein Center in New York City. In treating ED, he says, it’s important to identify underlying medical and lifestyle factors that could be contributing to inflammation (poor diet, lack of sleep, allergies, and other medications) and making ED worse.
Some of those natural remedies, while maybe not leading to a boner at the pop of a pill, have been shown to help in a roundabout way. “Arginine is a precursor for nitrous oxide and testosterone, which is the compound that dilates blood vessels and causes erections,” Firshein says. “Ginseng is an adaptogen often associated with energy vitality or chi. Studies have shown that ginseng can stimulate testosterone production in individuals with suppressed levels.” And in addition to botanicals, he says some men see improvement with acupuncture. “It is designed to stimulate the flow of energy in the body and there are numerous mechanisms including stimulation of tissue repair, increased circulation and reduction in pain and inflammation,” he says.
Natural remedies shouldn’t be discounted when it comes to erectile dysfunction. It’s tempting to look for a quick-fix and just buy a blue pill off the internet, but it could cause harm in the long run. Erectile dysfunction could be a symptom of a larger issue, like heart problems, and should always be discussed with a physician before starting treatment. If you take the time to try to figure out what’s lurking beneath the issue, you’ve got a better shot at finding the most effective way to treat it. As we’re understanding other types of medicine, a holistic approach can make all the difference. Now, that’s something to stand up for.