What Age Does Erectile Dysfunction Start?

By The Rex MD Editorial Team

March 19, 2021

It’s common knowledge that as men get older, they're more likely to experience sexual dysfunction in one way or another. Among these, one of the most common issues that impacts older men is erectile dysfunction – the inability to get and maintain an erection – and the general quality of a man's erection. 

While numerous studies from across the world have shown the correlation between age and erectile dysfunction, it’s not the only factor. In fact, epidemiological studies like these have also shown that regardless of age, there are many risk factors involved in the appearance of ED, many of which can be controlled by lifestyle changes. Maintaining a good diet and getting plenty of exercise can help to lower the chances of experiencing erectile dysfunction, while also lowering your risk of other health problems that can lead to erectile dysfunction or exacerbate the issue.  

What the Research Says About Aging and Erectile Dysfunction 

There's no single, specific age where your downstairs plumbing suddenly stops functioning correctly. Even though erectile dysfunction is fairly common, not every man will experience this issue. 

While it can’t be said that erectile dysfunction will happen to everyone, there are many research studies that have provided information as to the relationship between erectile dysfunction and age. 

A study surveying 31,742 menthe most participants in a single study to date – was completed in order to better understand how age and other factors influence erectile dysfunction. Men with prostate cancer, which is known to cause erectile dysfunction, were not included in the study. 

Some of the information that emerged around sexual function:

  • A majority of men aged 53-59 years (74%) rated their ability to function sexually as “good” (30%) or “very good” (44%). The opposite happened on the other end of the spectrum as the majority (64%) of men aged 80-90 years rated their ability to function sexually as “poor” (15%) or “very poor” (49%). Only 10% of men over the age of 80 gave ratings of “good” (8%) or “very good” (2%).

  • In addition to these results, the study also looked into how the desire to have sex (called libido) changes as a man ages. The group of men between the ages of 53 and 59 generally felt that their desire to have sex was good. 70% of this age group said their desire was either “good” (36%) or “very good” (34%). On the opposite side, only 26% of men aged 80 to 90 years said their desire was either “good” (20%) or “very good” (6%).

  • The study also established a strong link between erectile dysfunction and age. Specifically, less than 2% of men who reported having erection related issues said that they first experienced them before the age of 40, and only 4% said they first started occurring between 40 and 49 years of age. However, looking at age 50 and beyond, there was a drastic increase. Almost a quarter of the men said that their erection problems started between the age of 50 and 59, and 40% said they started between age 60 and 69.

  • In addition to studying age, the researchers also looked into the following chronic diseases and risk factors:
    • Heart disease
    • Hypertension
    • Diabetes
    • Stroke
    • Cancer (excluding prostate cancer)
    • Taking antidepressant medication 
    • Having two or more alcoholic beverages per day
    • Smoking 
    • Being overweight or obese (BMI of 25 or higher)
    • Infrequent exercise
    • Watching television for more than eight and a half hours per week
    • The study found that the men who had none of these diseases or risk factors were the ones with the lowest rates of erectile dysfunction across all age groups.

Other research has shown that around 30 million men in the United States have erectile dysfunction, and it’s estimated that mild or moderate experiences will affect 10 percent more men for every decade of their life (so 70% of men in their seventies, for example). 

Another study found that one in four men seeking their first treatment for erectile dysfunction were under the age of 40. Smoking and drug use seemed to be the correlation in these men when compared to older men, indicating that lifestyle choices heavily influence erectile dysfunction in younger men. 

The clear cut results of all these studies have been that while the risk of erectile dysfunction will increase with age, it’s not inevitable, and the healthier that someone is, the better the likelihood of normal sexual function. 

Risk Factors Other Than Age 

While age itself is heavily linked to erectile dysfunction, there are many other factors that are involved. Some of them include health conditions such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Thyroid problems
  • Kidney issues
  • Sleep disorders
  • Blood vessel damage
  • Nerve damage
  • Low testosterone
  • Tobacco use
  • Alcoholism
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Depression

It should also be noted that lifestyle habits will have a critical impact as well. In particular, not exercising and being overweight can significantly impact the risk of erectile dysfunction. Many men tend to reduce physical activity and gain weight as they age – partly a result of natural hormone changes – which increases the risk of developing erectile dysfunction.

In addition, drinking alcohol and smoking are also related to erectile dysfunction. Studies have shown that those who drink in moderation and do not smoke are less likely to have erectile dysfunction when compared to those who drank alcohol in excess and regularly smoked. 

Medications have also been known to increase the likelihood of experiencing erectile dysfunction. Certain antidepressants, opioid pain medication, and some blood pressure drugs have all been linked to erectile dysfunction. 

What Happens When You Have Erectile Dysfunction? 

The main symptom of erectile dysfunction is not being able to get or maintain an erection. This is a temporary issue in most cases, but erectile dysfunction can have a significant negative impact on your sex and personal life if you're unable to maintain an erection long or hard enough to continue sexual intercourse. Men may experience psychological symptoms that develop if they feel that they're are not able to satisfy a partner, including issues like like low self-esteem, lack of confidence, and depression.

Erectile dysfunction is likely to happen to anyone with a penis at some point in their lives, due to either physical or psychological causes - sometimes both. Drinking too much alcohol, stress, fatigue, and anxiety are all common causes of intermittent erectile dysfunction. 

While it can happen to men of all ages, one reason that ED is more common in older men has to do with atherosclerosis and cardiovascular conditions. This particular condition is caused by a buildup of plaque located in the arteries. This plaque makes it more difficult for blood to flow throughout the body; the same lack of blood to the penis can result in erectile dysfunction. In fact, ED can be an early warning sign of cardiovascular conditions like atherosclerosis in younger men.

Some of the most common symptoms and experiences related to erectile dysfunction include:

  • Trouble getting an erection when aroused
  • Difficulty maintaining an erection, even during sexual activities
  • Reduced interest in sex
  • Premature ejaculation
  • Delayed ejaculation
  • Anorgasmia (the inability to achieve orgasm even after ample stimulation)

What Are the Treatments For Erectile Dysfunction? 

When erectile dysfunction can be linked to an underlying condition like diabetes, treating the deeper condition can normally help to alleviate erectile dysfunction issue. ED can be an early warning sign for a variety of conditions. However, in the event that your physician decides you need medication to treat erectile dysfunction symptoms, ask your doctor about sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), or vardenafil (Levitra®). These medications were designed and FDA-approved specifically to help you achieve and maintain an erection. You may not be able to take these medications if you have certain underlying medical conditions like heart disease or are currently taking medications that could interact with these drugs, and a physician can hel make that determination.

It’s important to talk to a doctor to find out if it’s safe to take these medications. In addition to these pharmaceutical drugs, some mechanical options such as penis pumps or penile implants. 

Along with medication, your doctor may also recommend lifestyle changes, some of which may include:

  • Quitting smoking if you haven’t already
  • Avoiding the use of drugs such as cocaine and heroin
  • Drinking less alcohol
  • Getting regular exercise (at least three times a week)
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

The Takeaway: Research has shown that there's a clear correlation between erectile function and age, but there is no age that guarantees ED will occur. For the most part, the healthier you are the less likely you will experience erectile dysfunction, regardless of age.

In some cases, erectile dysfunction can be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, but erectile dysfunction is also often a result of a combination of age and generally poor health. While getting healthier is the best preventive measure for erectile dysfunction in the future, lifestyle and health modifications like losing weight can take time, and the results won’t be immediate. 

In the meantime, there are plenty of treatments to help battle erectile dysfunction while you start your journey to improving your health. Rex MD was created to help men get real, FDA-approved ED medications from home, with the help of a remote physician. It's all done online and by phone, with industry-leading prices. 

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Sexual Function in Men Older Than 50 Years of Age: Results from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study | Annals of Internal Medicine

Erectile Dysfunction Treatment and Causes - UW Health

What Age Does Erectile Dysfunction Start? - UnityPoint Health

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Disclaimer : This article is for information only and should not be considered medical advice. Always speak with your doctor about your health and the benefits or risks of any treatment or intervention. This information should not be relied on as a substitute for professional medical advice.