What can you do to keep erection problems at bay?
Give yourself time. “As a man gets older, it may take a longer period of genital stimulation to get an erection,” says Dr. Baum. “For men aged 18 to 20, an erection may take a few seconds. In your thirties and forties, maybe a minute or two. But if a 60-year-old doesn’t get an erection after a minute or two, that doesn’t mean he’s impotent. It just takes longer.”
The time period between ejaculation and your next erection also tends to increase with age. In some men aged 60 to 70, it may take a whole day or longer to regain an erection. “It’s a normal consequence of aging,” says Dr. Baum.
Consider your medication. Drugs your doctor has prescribed might be at the root of the problem. Or it might be those over-the-counter antihistamines, diuretics, or sedatives you’re using. Realize, of course, that what affects your neighbor may have no effect on you. More than 200 drugs have been identified as problematic. Drug-induced impotence is most common in men over 50, says Dr. Baum. In fact, in an American Medical Journal study of 188 men, drugs were the problem 25 percent of the time.
If you suspect your medication, consult your doctor or pharmacist. He may be able to change the dosage or switch you to a different drug. Do not, however, attempt to do this on your own.
Beware of recreational drugs. Examples include cocaine, marijuana, opiates, heroin, morphine, amphetamines, and barbiturates.
Go easy on the alcohol. Shakespeare hit it on the head when he said in MacBeth that alcohol provokes desire but it takes away the performance. That happens because alcohol is a nervous-system depressant. It inhibits your reflexes, creating a state that’s the opposite of arousal. Even two drinks during cocktail hour can be a cause for concern.
Know that what’s good for the arteries is good for the penis. The penis is a vascular organ. The very things that clog your arteries-dietary cholesterol and saturated fat-also affect blood flow to the penis. In fact, all men over age 38 have some narrowing ofthe arteries to the penis.
So watch what you eat. High cholesterol is probably one of the leading causes of impotence in this country.
Don’t smoke. Studies show that nicotine can be a blood vessel constrictor. A study of healthy adult mongrel dogs at the University of California at San Francisco showed that the inhalation of smoke from just two cigarettes was enough to prevent five dogs from getting a full erection and a sixth dog from maintaining one. The researchers believe that inhalation of cigarette smoke blocks erection by inhibiting the smooth muscle relaxation of the erectile tissue.
Relax. Being in a relaxed frame of mind is crucial. Here’s why. Your nervous system operates in two modes. When the sympathetic nerve network is dominant, your body is literally “on alert.” Adrenal hormones prepare you to fight or take flight. Nerves shuttle your blood away from your digestive system and penis and into your muscles.
Plan ahead. It is a good idea to decide in advance what you’ll do if you don’t get an erection. If it happens repeatedly, call your doctor.
PANEL OF ADVISERS
NEIL BAUM, M.D., is director of the New Orleans Male Infertility Clinic, a clinical assistant professor of urology at Tulane University School of Medicine, and a staff urologist with Touro Infirmary in New Orleans, Louisiana.
RICHARD E. BERGER, M.D., is a urologist with Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Washington.
He is the author of Biopotency: A Guide to Sexual Success.
JAMES GOLDBERG, PH.D., is research director of the Crenshaw Clinic at San Diego, California, and a clinical research pharmacologist.
IRWIN GOLDSTEIN, M.D., is co-director of the New England Male Reproductive Center at the Boston University Medical Center in Massachusetts and is an assistant professor of urology at Boston University School of Medicine.