Sex is great, sex is fun, but sex isn’t always easy. And when it comes to men’s sexual health, stigma and embarrassment still make opening up difficult. Last year, a Men’s Health survey of 1,5000 men found that while two in five had experienced a sexual health problem, only half of them had actually seen a health professional about it. A third of respondents said they felt too embarrassed to talk about it with anyone.
Nobody should ever feel embarrassed to talk openly about an aspect of their health, whether mental, physical or sexual. To break this stigma and encourage conversations about sex, Sequoia Health – an app dedicated to men’s sexual health which provides tools, resources and education – has conducted new research into men’s sexual health.
The survey of over 2,000 men found that varying degrees of erectile dysfunction affects 71% of men, with just over a quarter of men under the age of 40 experiencing erectile dysfunction – a condition usually thought to affect men of an older age. The research further found that 1 in 6 men experience incomplete erection during sex.
Why do we experience erectile dysfunction?
“Many men experience incomplete or dysfunctional erections due to the complex nature of sexual arousal, which involves various factors such as the brain, hormones, nerves and muscles,” Denis Galka, the CEO of Sequoia says. “This issue may result from a combination of physical and psychological disorders, making it challenging to pinpoint a single cause.”
Dr Deborah Lee, a GP and reproductive healthcare doctor at the Dr Fox Online Pharmacy, says that poor erections are surprisingly common: “But whereas any man can have the problem from time to time, if it is severe and persistent, it shouldn’t be happening and he should seek help.”
Dr Lee says that there are a number of factors that can increase a man’s risk of erectile dysfunction, including the body’s reaction to particular medications (especially for high blood pressure and diabetes) and mental health problems like depression and anxiety.
But that’s not all. In terms of younger men developing erectile dysfunction, a number of factors come into play, from obesity (which trebles the risk) to a poor diet, binge drinking, drug use and overusing pornography. “Studies have shown that overuse of pornography causes a man’s brain to become desensitised,” she explains. “This makes it more difficult to get a good erection and maintain it when trying to have sex.”
Does masturbating affect erectile dysfunction?
The research also found that men masturbate 40% more frequently than they engage in sexual intercourse. Of course, masturbation is a natural, healthy thing for everyone – it can help us to feel relaxed, in tune with our bodies and explore our sexual desires, with some research even suggesting that it can benefit the immune system and reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer.
Galka points out that being in a relationship where different sexual needs aren’t met, and even performance anxiety and wanting to avoid embarrassment during sex can be reasons why men opt to masturbate over having intercourse.
Dr Lee backs this point: “Men tend to masturbate as there is less stress if things go wrong than when they’re with a partner,” she says. “They can still ejaculate and let off steam so to speak, but there’s no embarrassment as they are not required to perform.”
She also makes sure to assert that masturbation does not cause erectile dysfunction. “Masturbation is natural and does not affect the quality and frequency of erections,” Medical News Today explains, calling the link between the two “a myth”.
What can we do?
Explaining that there’s “no quick-fix solution” to erectile dysfunction, Dr. Lee explains that a change in lifestyle can impact the quality of erections – like eating healthily, quitting smoking and drinking and dealing with relationship problems. In terms of treatments, she points to PDE5Is (phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitors), a group of drugs including Viagra which can treat erectile dysfunction. “They’re very successful treatments, in clinical studies, between 43% and 83% of men who took Viagra had improved erections.”
However, before medical treatments, conversations about erectile dysfunction – and men’s wider sexual health in general – need to be opened up.
“When you’re sick, you’re weak, it’s natural to experience a sense of vulnerability,” Galka says. “However, this aspect of vulnerability doesn’t align with the prevailing concept of masculinity, which compels men to embody traits of strength, self-reliance and toughness. Unfortunately, this societal expectation has cultivated a fear of potential ridicule of being perceived as less masculine if men express their problems or reveal their true emotions.”
“Men need to realise that they’re not alone – there are probably several other guys out there in the waiting room with the same problems,” Dr. Lee argues.
“Sexual function is an integral part of good health. We all need to be able to talk about sex and sexual problems without feeling stigmatised,” she continues.
Dr. Lee says that everyone involved — including doctors and nurses who get very little training on the topic and often feel embarrassed to bring it up to patients – needs to get better at addressing erectile dysfunction and communicating about it.
“There is so much that can be done to help a man with ED, but he just has to pass GO to get it!”