Erectile Dysfunction By Age

By Sarah Malka, MD
Medically reviewed
November 16, 2021

You’re never too young to have erectile dysfunction.

ED affects roughly 30 million men in the United States, and while it’s often associated with older guys, it can affect men of any age.

So if you’re having problems getting or keeping an erection, first know that you are not alone.

Second, know that medications as well as lifestyle changes can effectively treat ED.

In this article, I’ll explain what erectile dysfunction is, including the various causes.

I’ll also discuss if young men can get ED, effective ED treatments for all ages, and when to see a doctor about ED.

No matter your age or situation, you can have the sex life you desire. 

What Is Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to get and maintain an erection that is firm enough to have sexual intercourse.

Also called impotence, ED can occur when the penis doesn’t get enough blood to create an erection for sex.

It’s normal for men to have occasional difficulty with erections.

However, you may have erectile dysfunction if: 

  • You can achieve an erection sometimes but not every time you want to have sex
  • You can achieve an erection but it doesn’t last long enough or isn’t hard enough to have satisfactory sex
  • You aren’t able to achieve an erection at all

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Average Age of Erectile Dysfunction Onset

Though not everyone develops ED as they age, being older is one of the most common risk factors for the condition.

By the time a man reaches his 40s, he has about a 40% chance of developing some form of ED.

After age 40, the risk increases by about 10% each decade.

Causes of Erectile Dysfunction

In order for an erection to happen, a complex process of communication must take place between the brain, blood vessels, hormones, nerves, and emotions.

When dysfunction is present in any of these systems, it can cause difficulty with getting or maintaining an erection.

The most common causes of ED include:

  • Vascular disease: Blood supply to the penis can be disrupted as a result of clogged or malfunctioning blood vessels. Cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or any other condition that impacts blood vessels can cause ED.
  • Neurological disorders: Conditions that affect nerves that go to the penis can cause ED. These include multiple sclerosis (MS), back and spinal cord issues, Parkinson’s disease, and diabetic neuropathy. 
  • Diabetes: Diabetes is a condition that can damage nerves and blood vessels, which in turn can lead to poor erections or no erections at all.
  • Physical trauma: Injury or surgery to the spinal cord or in the pelvic region can cause ED.

Many men correlate their difficulty with getting or maintaining erections with low testosterone levels, but in reality, the connection between the two is more complicated.

Though low testosterone levels can contribute to endocrine-related causes of ED, endocrine (hormone) disorders themselves are some of the rarest causes of ED.

It’s more likely that another cause is at the root of your sexual dysfunction. 

Can Young Men Get Erectile Dysfunction?

ED is more common among older men, however, younger men can still get it.

In fact, some data suggests that about 8% of men between 20 and 29 years old and 11% of men between 30 and 39 experience erectile dysfunction. 

Compared to older men who are more susceptible to physical causes of ED, younger men may be more likely to experience erectile dysfunction as a result of lifestyle or emotional factors, including:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Performance anxiety or shame about sexual activity
  • Chronic stress
  • Smoking
  • Recreational drug use
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Being too sedentary

Some medical conditions, including the below, can also cause ED in younger men:

  • Sleep apnea
  • Heart disease or blood vessel disease
  • Diabetes (history of poorly controlled diabetes is one of the main risk factors for ED)
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Peyronie’s disease or other penile abnormalities
  • Injury to the penis, prostate, spinal cord, or pelvis

Treatment for Erectile Dysfunction at All Ages

Several treatments—including lifestyle changes, dietary adjustments, and medication—can effectively and safely treat symptoms of ED for men of all ages.

The most effective treatment largely depends on the root cause of your ED.

If you’re unsure what’s causing your symptoms or simply want more support, contact a healthcare provider to discuss what you’re experiencing and your treatment options.

Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changes that may help to reduce your symptoms or improve sexual function include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Limiting or stopping the consumption of alcohol
  • Increasing physical activity
  • Stopping illegal drug use
  • Doing pelvic floor exercises
  • Seeking treatment to help manage any underlying health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension 

Diet

A number of studies suggest a link between ED and heart health.

Because a healthy heart and healthy blood flow are important to getting and maintaining erections, eating a heart-healthy diet may help to prevent ED or improve the condition if it’s already present.

Specifically, the Mediterranean diet—which is low in red and processed meats and high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, and fish—may reduce the risk of ED.

Therefore, it may also benefit men who have ED.

Medications

There are currently four FDA-approved ED medications on the market: sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), vardenafil (Levitra), and avanafil (Stendra).

All of these medications are phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors.

They help men get and maintain better erections by enhancing the effects of nitric oxide to relax the penile muscles, expand blood vessels that go into the penis, and improve penile blood flow.

When used correctly, ED medications are safe and effective for many men.

Get erectile dysfunction prescriptions for as low as $0.90 per dose.

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When to See a Doctor

No matter your age, if you’re experiencing symptoms of ED, contact your healthcare provider.

A simple, honest discussion can help identify any possible underlying causes and the best treatment options for you. 

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?

Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can smoking increase the likelihood of getting erectile dysfunction?
Yes. Smoking damages blood vessels and decreases the formation of nitric oxide. These effects reduce blood flow to the penis. However, 25% of men who quit smoking for a year saw improvements in erections.
Will older men always be at risk for erectile dysfunction?
Older age doesn’t directly cause erectile dysfunction, but it does put you at a higher risk of developing symptoms, especially if you have other age-related conditions like cardiovascular disease.
Can erectile dysfunction be cured?
Several treatment options can safely and effectively treat, and in some cases eliminate, symptoms of ED. These treatments include medication as well as lifestyle changes such as eating healthier, quitting smoking, and doing pelvic floor exercises. Therapy may also help those whose ED is caused by psychological factors.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

Sarah Malka, MD

Dr. Sarah Malka is a board certified emergency medicine physician with K Health. She completed her residency at Harvard Medical School.