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Erection Problems

Definitions, Causes, and Treatments for Erection Problems

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Updated February 09, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

To understand erection problems, you first need to understand the basics of how erections work. Erections (which don't just happen to people with penises, by the way) may seem like a simple, almost automatic, process. But they are far from that. Getting an erection involves multiple parts of your body, including your brain, nerves, hormones, muscles, and heart. Anything that interrupts any of these systems may result in erection problems. While erections can occur in other parts of the body, here we're going to talk about the most common erection problems, which have to do with the penis.

Erection problems can be divided into a few different categories or types of problem:

You may notice that most of these erection problems involve subjective evaluation. After all, what's the right amount of time for an erection to last? There isn't a universal answer to this question. There isn't even one answer for the same person. If you want a quickie, then an erection may only need to last for a minute or two. If you're hoping for a long session of hot sex or romantic passion, you might want an erection that will last a lot longer. The same is true for when one wants or doesn't want erections, and even, to a lesser extent, with painful erections, as we all have different pain thresholds. This doesn't mean that erection problems are all in your head, or should be thought of as less important. It's just worth remembering that if you're the one experiencing erection problems, you are also the one who needs to help describe and define the problem.

Causes of Erection Problems

If you are experiencing erection problems, it is recommended that you start by talking with a doctor and having a complete physical exam. Some erection problems, particularly erectile dysfunction, may be an early warning sign of other potentially serious health problems -- your body's way of telling you that something else is going on. It's important to understand what might be causing the changes in your erections, and the best and easiest place to start is with your body.

Depending on what your erection problems are, the cause may be simple or complicated; it may be one thing or many things. For example, not being able to get an erection or keep one may first be caused by a physical issue (everything from medication you're taking to the fact that you're getting older) but if it's been going on for a while, the initial physical cause may be made worse by psychological or relationship issues that were sparked by the initial inability to get an erection.

If your erection problem is pain, it may be caused by something anatomical (for example, a tight foreskin or phimosis) or something relational (a kind of sexual activity you and your partner engage in that is traumatic to the penis).

Some erection problems -- while they are definitely experienced as problems -- are unavoidable and predictable part of having a penis. For example, getting erections when you don't want them is common for younger men, and there is nothing that can be done to actually eliminate the erections. Similarly, erectile dysfunction happens more often as men age. While there may be something that can be done about it, the cause of the erection problem is itself not related to bad health.

Treating Erection Problems

Some erection problems can be treated, while others cannot. As previously stated, it's important to begin by identifying the cause of your erection problem, both because this will lead to better treatment, and because it may be related to other health issues.

The treatment depends both on the problem and the cause. By far, the most options are available for treating erectile dysfunction. These include medications, products, surgery, and therapy. Identifying the cause of erectile dysfunction will determine in part the recommended treatment.

Depending on the cause, treatment for painful erections may involve surgery or it might include addressing the ways you have sex (for example, using more lubricant and/or talking more with a partner about what works and doesn't work for you). Similarly, if you are ejaculating too quickly or too slowly, currently the main treatment options are therapeutic and not pharmaceutical (although this will change).

Some erection problems, like getting them when you don't want them, have no real treatment. If the real problem is embarrassment, though, there may be solutions like wearing different underwear or pants that allow you to more easily hide your erection.

The bottom line is that if you have a penis, you're going to have erection problems. Our bodies were simply not meant to last forever, nor do they always cooperate with our plans and desires. That erection problems are inevitable doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention to them, but it may be worth remembering that everyone deals with them, and you're not alone, and if you have someone you trust enough, talking with others can help generate creative solutions when straightforward medical ones aren't available.

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