If you have trouble achieving or maintaining an erection, you’re not alone. According to one study, roughly 18 million men in America have at least some difficulty getting hard enough to engage in sexual activity. While men who are older or have heart disease, hypertension, or diabetes are at a greater risk of erection problems, anyone can experience them.
Whether you’re occasionally unable to get an erection or you suffer from chronic erectile dysfunction, it’s often frustrating. It’s also natural to want to get an erection faster and keep it harder for longer. So keep reading. I’ll walk you through the science behind erections and share steps you can try to improve your chances of achieving an erection more often.
What Is an Erection?
An erection is when the penis becomes engorged with blood and ready for sexual activity.
When a man is not sexually aroused, his penis is soft or flaccid. The muscles around the arteries in his penis are tight, limiting blood flow into the sponge-like erectile tissue (called corpus cavernosa) that makes up most of the organ.
During the arousal process, when a man becomes sexually stimulated, his brain sends signals through his nervous system to the muscles around the arteries in his penis, telling them to relax, widen, and allow more blood to fill the corpus cavernosa. When more blood rushes in, it creates pressure in the penis, engorging and stiffening it for sexual activity.
Because sexual arousal involves so many players—the brain, heart, blood, nerves, muscles, and more—many different things can cause a penis to not perform as you’d like it to. Some men suffer from physical conditions that inhibit their sexual responses; others may develop erectile dysfunction because of a combination of physical and psychological problems.
Why Make an Erection Last Longer?
There’s no one way to have a good sexual experience, and not everyone needs or wants to make their sexual experiences last longer. If you feel satisfied with your erections and take pleasure in sexual activities with or without a partner, then learning how to maintain your erection may not be a high priority for you.
If, however, you struggle with achieving and maintaining erections, feel sexually dissatisfied, ejaculate too early for your liking, or have a hard time experiencing pleasure, it may be worth learning how to get a harder erection or one that lasts for longer.
What Is Erectile Dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is when a man struggles to get or keep his penis erect long enough to engage in satisfying sexual activity. Most men will experience difficulties achieving an erection at some point in their lifetime. For men with ED, though, these challenges persist and can affect their quality of life.
Although erectile dysfunction can sometimes feel frustrating or embarrassing, the condition is widespread. It is the most common sexual dysfunction in men and particularly affects patients with pre-existing conditions or who are older. Roughly 70% of men ages 70 and up report difficulties getting hard.
This inability to perform sexually often creates significant intimacy problems if someone is in a relationship. One study found that erection challenges can cause diminished sexual desire for both partners and sometimes can end your sex life altogether. Sexual dissatisfaction informs and exacerbates other tensions within a relationship and ultimately puts couples at greater risk of conflict and strife.
The good news is you can take steps to get an erection faster, stay hard longer, and be more sexually satisfied in the long run.
How to Stay Hard Longer
Several things may help improve your sexual responsiveness and ability to stay hard longer.
- Change your diet: Developing healthy eating habits can make a big difference in your overall health and help your erections too. Keep your circulatory system strong by eating heart-healthy, flavonoid-rich foods like berries, cherries, soybeans, apples, and leafy green vegetables such as spinach and kale. While there’s no specific diet for erectile dysfunction, some research suggests that following the Mediterranean diet may help prevent ED.
- Engage in regular exercise: Do activities you enjoy, keeping in mind that you don’t have to go all-out. According to one study, simply walking only a half an hour a day may reduce the risk of ED by about 40%. Kegel exercises, the kind that strengthen the pelvic floor, can be another way to improve your sexual responsiveness.
- Quit smoking and cut back on alcohol: Either can negatively affect your ability to get and keep an erection.
- Mind your weight: Studies suggest that men who fall into the overweight or obese categories may experience improved erectile function if they lose weight.
- Reduce stress: Stress and anxiety can trigger ED. Worse, experiencing problems performing sexually can lead to more stress, creating a cycle. Stress is a part of everyday life, so find whatever works to help you manage it. If you believe you have a more severe or chronic mental illness or performance anxiety, make an appointment with a licensed mental health professional. They can help you address your concerns safely and effectively.
- Prioritize sleep: Sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and insomnia are fairly common in men who have ED. Establish a bedtime routine to help you wind down at night and set up your bedroom to be cool, dark, and calming.
- Work with your partner: If you’re in a relationship, openly communicating about sexual and emotional challenges can increase intimacy, alleviate anxiety, and reduce any pressure you might feel around the need to perform.
Prescription Options for Longer Erections
If you continue having difficulty maintaining an erection after committing to a healthier lifestyle, make an appointment with your doctor. They can do tests to assess if you have an underlying health condition and prescribe medications to help you achieve firmer, healthier erections.
These oral medications work by blocking the enzyme phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) and increasing the amount of cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP) in the body. Under normal conditions, PDE5 breaks down cGMP, a molecule that helps the muscles in the penis relax and widen enough to allow more blood flow. By suppressing PDE5, each of these medicines increases cGMP availability and improves blood circulation in the penis.
Sildenafil (Viagra) was the first drug developed to treat ED in men. You take a dose 30 minutes to one hour before sexual stimulation, and effects can last 3-5 hours (though erections should never last more than four).
Vardenafil (Levitra) is structurally similar to sildenafil but far more biochemically potent. That means you can take lower doses (commonly, 10 milligrams versus 50 with sildenafil) with less risk of side effects and still enjoy similar results.
Stendra, the newest PDE5 inhibitor on the market, has fewer side effects and drug interactions than the older, more established prescription drugs. It is the only drug on this list that is not available in a generic form.
When to See a Doctor
Safe, satisfying sexual activity is an integral part of a healthy life. If you have occasional challenges achieving or maintaining an erection, you probably shouldn’t worry. Most men experience an issue with sexual responsiveness at some point in their life. If you find that you’re chronically struggling to get hard or stay hard, have a lower libido than you’d like, or your erection difficulties affect your quality of life, call your doctor to discuss your options.
How K Health Can Help
You don’t have to suffer from erectile dysfunction on your own. Did you know you can get affordable erectile dysfunction treatment with the K Health app? Chat with a doctor and get prescription treatment for as low as $11.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
Dietary Flavonoid Intake and Incidence of Erectile Dysfunction. (2016).
Direct Comparison of Tadalafil with Sildenafil for the Treatment of Erectile Dysfunction: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. (2017).
Effects of Weight Loss Intervention on Erectile Function in Older Men with Type 2 Diabetes in the Look AHEAD Trial. (2010).
5 Natural Ways to Overcome Erectile Dysfunction. (2015).
Lose Weight to Lose Erectile Dysfunction. (2005).
Mediterranean Diet and Erectile Dysfunction: A Current Perspective. (2017).
A Multinational Population Survey of Intravaginal Ejaculation Latency Time. (2005).
PDE5 Inhibitors: Are There Differences? (2006).
Physical Activity to Improve Erectile Function: A Systematic Review of Intervention Studies. (2018)
Prevalence and Risk Factors for Erectile Dysfunction in the US. (2006).
Restoration of Couple's Intimacy and Relationship Vital to Reestablishing Erectile Function. (2004).