Erectile Dysfunction – We know that as men get older, they’re more likely to experience sexual dysfunction.
Sexual dysfunction encompasses many issues that affect successful intercourse, one of which is erectile dysfunction (ED).
It also refers to a man’s overall desire to have sex and the general quality of his erections.
Many large studies, both in the U.S. and across the world, have shown this.
However, age doesn’t explain everything.
In fact, one clear takeaway from studies that have looked into causes of ED is that regardless of age, many risk factors for ED are controllable to some extent.
If you maintain a good diet and get plenty of exercise, for example, you can lower your chances of experiencing erectile dysfunction, and you lower your risk of other health problems that can cause ED or make it worse.
Here’s a guide to help you understand how age and erectile dysfunction are related, and how other risk factors affect your chances of experiencing ED.
Do you have ED?
Getting an erection is a complex process where physiological and psychological processes act together to make the penis erect.
Erectile dysfunction is defined as regular difficulty getting or maintaining an erection for satisfying sex.
If you experience ED, know that it is treatable in most cases.
If other health conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and depression are causing your ED symptoms, your healthcare provider may recommend treatments that directly address those conditions.
They may also prescribe medications specifically for ED, like sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), or vardenafil (Levitra).
ED can be caused by physical or psychological issues, and can be more likely if risk factors, including older age, are present.
If you’re wondering how your age affects your risk for ED, this guide is for you.
What research tells us about aging and ED
There is no specific age at which the penis suddenly stops working and erections no longer happen.
And even though erectile dysfunction is common, not every man will experience this issue.
Though we can’t say when ED will definitely happen, there are many large studies that give us some insight into how sexual dysfunction, ED, and age are related.
We’ll run through some of the main studies here.
In the study with the most male participants to date, researchers surveyed 31,742 male health professionals from the U.S. to understand how age and other factors affect rates of erectile dysfunction.
(Men with prostate cancer, which can cause ED, were not included in the study.) Results from those surveys, which we’ll discuss below, were published in 2003 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Here’s a breakdown of the survey respondents by age:
The survey results from this study showed that the majority of men ages 53 to 59 years old (74%) rated their ability to function sexually as “good” (30%) or “very good” (44%).
At the older end of the spectrum, the opposite happened: The majority (64%) of men 80 to 90 years old rated their ability to function sexually as “poor” (15%) or “very poor” (49%). Only 10% of men over age 80 gave ratings of “good” (8%) or “very good” (2%).
In addition to these findings, the study looked at how the desire to have sex changes as men age.
The group of men between the ages of 53 and 59 generally felt that their desire to have sex was good.
Seventy percent of these men said their desire was either “good” (36%) or “very good” (34%). In contrast, only 26% of men 80 to 90 years old said their desire was either “good” (20%) or “very good” (6%).
This study also noted a strong link between age and erectile dysfunction.
Specifically, less than 2% of men who reported erection problems said that they first started before they were 40 years old, and only 4% said that they first started between 40 and 49 years of age.
But looking at 50 years of age and beyond, there was a sharp increase.
About a quarter of men said that erection problems started between age 50 and 59, and 40% said they started between age 60 and 69.
Having chronic diseases and other risk factors matter with respect to ED, too.
In the study, the researchers looked at the following chronic diseases:
- Heart disease
- Cancer (other than prostate cancer)
They also noted the following risk factors:
- Taking antidepressant medications
- Having more than 2 alcohol drinks per day
- Being overweight or obese (BMI of 25 kg/m² or above)
- Exercising infrequently (less than 21.5 metabolic equivalents per week)
- Watching TV for more than 8.5 hours per week
They found that men with none of these diseases or risk factors had the lowest rates of erectile dysfunction at all ages.
These findings are in line with results from other leading studies looking at age and sexual function in men. Take the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, for example.
This was one of the first large studies to look at the link between age and erectile dysfunction. For this study, researchers interviewed 1,085 men ages 40 to 70 for 9 years between the late 1980s and mid-1990s.
The results showed a strong link between worsening sexual function and advancing age, along with a drop in how often men were having sex and how many monthly erections they were recording as they got older.
A later 2007 study investigating the sexual habits of 1,455 U.S. men (along with 1,550 women) also found that erectile problems are more common in older men compared to younger men.
And it backed up the strong link we mentioned earlier between being in “good health” and having lower rates of sexual problems and higher rates of sexual satisfaction — interestingly, much more so in men than women.
The most common reason for sexual inactivity in the men and women surveyed was poor health of the male partner.
Of those 57 to 85 years old who said they were in intimate relationships but were sexually inactive, 55% of men and 64% of women reported poor health of the male partner as the main reason for their sexual inactivity.
Another 2007 study looked at data collected from 2,126 men surveyed in the 2001 to 2002 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), and published figures specifically about erectile dysfunction.
The findings mirrored the trends seen in other studies: 5% of men 20 to 39 years old experienced erectile dysfunction compared to 70% of men above 70 years of age.
Again, strong links were seen between erectile dysfunction and poor health: Almost 90% of men with erectile dysfunction had cardiovascular disease or at least one major risk factor for it; (for example, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cigarette smoking, or diabetes).
And they were much less likely to be physically active, too.
The last study we’ll detail here is the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors (GSSAB); a survey of 13,882 women and 13,618 men ages 40 to 80 years from 29 different countries.
The purpose of this study was to collect data on all aspects of sex and relationships across different ethnicities and cultures.
The effect of age on erectile problems was strong across all regions and cultures; and the links between erectile problems and other health problems similarly so.