Emotional factors affecting sex include both interpersonal problems (such as marital/relationship problems, or lack of trust and open communication between partners) and psychological problems within the individual (depression, sexual fears or guilt, past sexual trauma, and so on).
Sexual desire disorders or decreased libido can be caused by a decrease in normal estrogen (in women) or testosterone (in both men and women) production. Other causes may be aging, fatigue, pregnancy, medications (such as the SSRIs) or psychiatric conditions, such as depression and anxiety.
Sexual arousal disorders were previously known as frigidity in women and impotence in men, though these have now been replaced with less judgmental terms. Impotence is now known as erectile dysfunction, and frigidity has been replaced with a number of terms describing specific problems with, for example, desire or arousal.
For both men and women, these conditions can manifest as an aversion to, and avoidance of, sexual contact with a partner. In men, there may be partial or complete failure to attain or maintain an erection, or a lack of sexual excitement and pleasure in sexual activity.
Orgasm disorders are a persistent delay or absence of orgasm following a normal sexual excitement phase. The disorder can occur in both women and men. Again, the SSRI antidepressants are frequent culprits -- these can delay the achievement of orgasm or eliminate it entirely.
The problem of an inadequate erection is probably one of the biggest issues a man confronts. Most men experience erectile problems on occasion, but impotence, also called erectile dysfunction, is defined as "the persistent failure to develop and maintain erections of sufficient rigidity for penetrative sexual intercourse." Of course, men have other kinds of sexual problems including lack of desire and problems with ejaculation, yet impotence is the most common and troubling.
The creation of an erection is an extremely complicated cascade of events that requires many different things to happen. There are numerous chemical transmitters involved in this including epinephrine, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, prostaglandins and nitric oxide. The exact mechanism by which erection occurs is still unclear but we do know that the neural input from the brain is extremely important. Reflex erections, as seen in people with cord damage such as paraplegics, are often poor erections and not sustainable for prolonged periods of intercourse.
An erection occurs when the nervous system activates a rapid increase in blood flow. The vascular muscle in the spongy area becomes engorged with blood and the outflow of blood is cut off. An erection can occur as a reflex as we see in spinal cord patients, or can be caused by psychogenic (originating in the mind) stimulation. Numerous sexual stimuli are processed by the brain and transmitted to the penis via the nervous system.
Nerves must be working normally for a man to get and keep an erection. Nerve damage can result from diabetes, multiple sclerosis, prostate surgery or damage to the spinal cord.
Psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, guilt or fear can sometimes cause sexual problems. At one time, these factors were thought to be the major cause of erectile dysfunction. Doctors now know that physical factors are present in most men with erectile dysfunction. However, embarrassment or "performance anxiety" can make a physical problem worse. Erectile dysfunction caused only by psychological causes is found most commonly in young men.
Erectile dysfunction can occur suddenly or gradually. Some men slowly lose the firmness of their erections or how long the erections last. In other men, especially those whose impotence is largely caused by psychological factors, the problem may occur unpredictably and can improve at any time. Despite their difficulties with erections, men with impotence often continue to have normal orgasm and ejaculation.
How long your erectile dysfunction lasts depends upon what causes it and how quickly your treatment starts to work. The important thing to remember is that erectile dysfunction is treatable in all age groups.
Little is known about how to prevent erectile dysfunction. However, avoiding cigarette smoking and maintaining normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels can help because smoking and high cholesterol can affect blood vessels. Men with diabetes should strive to keep blood sugar levels under control. Because certain medications have been associated with erectile dysfunction, ask your doctor about possible side effects before you start using any new prescription.
There are many effective treatments for erectile dysfunction. The most popular option is a class of drugs called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors, which includes sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra) and tadalafil (Cialis). These drugs, taken in pill form from zero to 60 minutes before sexual activity, work in approximately 70 percent of men, though they are less effective in men with neurological causes of erectile dysfunction such as nerve damage from prostate surgery, diabetes or spinal cord injury.
If Sildenafil (Viagra), vardenafil (Levitra) and tadalafil (Cialis) drugs don't work or cannot be used because of potential side effects, your doctor can recommend other therapies. The drug alprostadil (Caverject, Edex, Muse) causes blood vessels to widen. This can allow blood to flow more freely in the penis, leading to an erection. The drug can be injected with a tiny needle, or a small pellet (suppository) can be inserted into the opening of the penis. Suppositories like this are effective in approximately two-thirds of men. Injections are effective about 80 percent of the time.
Men who do not benefit from medical or psychological treatment often have success with mechanical or prosthetic devices. External products, known as vacuum erection devices, are safe and highly effective, but many men and their partners find them unappealing. Another option is a surgically placed penile implant. However, because implants require surgery (with the risk of surgical complications), only 10 percent of men with erectile dysfunction choose this option. Vascular (blood vessel) surgery sometimes is recommended for young, healthy men who develop impotence after trauma to the groin.
Terms and definitions on this page
- A state of uneasiness and apprehension, as about future uncertainties.
- Worry or tension in response to real or imagined stress, danger, or dreaded situations. Physical reactions such as fast pulse, sweating, trembling, fatigue, and weakness may accompany anxiety.
- The inability to achieve and sustain penile erections.
- A gland in the throat that produces hormones that regulate growth and metabolism.
- A large gland in the neck that functions in the endocrine system. The thyroid secretes hormones that regulate growth and metabolism.
- A drug used to counteract the physiological effects of histamine production in allergic reactions and colds.
- Reducing or controlling high blood pressure.
- In psychiatry, a symptom of mood disorder characterized by intense feelings of loss, sadness, hopelessness, failure, and rejection.
- The expulsion of seminal fluid from the urethra of the penis during orgasm.
- The process of ejecting semen from the penis, and is usually accompanied by orgasm as a result of sexual stimulation.
- The firm and enlarged condition of a body organ or part when the erectile tissue surrounding it becomes filled with blood, especially such a condition of the penis or clitoris.
- Any of several steroid hormones produced chiefly by the ovaries and responsible for promoting estrus and the development and maintenance of female secondary sex characteristics.
- Any one of a group of hormones synthesized by the reproductive organs and adrenal glands in females and, in lesser quantities, in males.
- The state of marked or abnormal sexual indifference.
- Sexual unresponsiveness (especially of women) and inability to achieve orgasm during intercourse.
- A substance, usually a peptide or steroid, produced by one tissue and conveyed by the bloodstream to another to effect physiological activity, such as growth or metabolism.
- The peak of sexual excitement, characterized by strong feelings of pleasure and by a series of involuntary contractions of the muscles of the genitals, usually accompanied by the ejaculation of semen by the male.
- The highest point of sexual excitement, marked by strong feelings of pleasure and marked normally by ejaculation of semen by the male and by vaginal contractions within the female.
- Complete paralysis of the lower half of the body including both legs, usually caused by damage to the spinal cord.
- The male organ of copulation in higher vertebrates, homologous with the clitoris. In mammals, it also serves as the male organ of urinary excretion.
- The organ of the male reproductive system through which semen passes out of the body during sexual intercourse. The penis is also an organ of urination.
- Gland in males that surrounds the urine tube (urethra) at the base of the bladder.
- A firm partly muscular chestnut sized gland in males at the neck of the urethra; produces a viscid secretion that is the fluid part of semen.
- A state of extreme difficulty, pressure, or strain.
- A physical and psychological response that results from being exposed to a demand or pressure.
- A white crystalline steroid hormone, C19H28O2, produced primarily in the testes and responsible for the development and maintenance of male secondary sex characteristics. It is also produced synthetically for use in medical treatment.