Impotence is a term that has mostly fallen out of use, in favor of the more descriptive and clinical term erectile dysfunction, although it is still used at times in both in popular culture and by some physicians when talking about sexual dysfunction in males (for example, there is still a medical journal called The International Journal of Impotence Research).
Whatever We Call It, What Is It?The way it's used today, impotence refers in general to a man's inability to perform sexually, and specifically to his inability to get an erection. Of course, impotence has many other meanings, including powerless, helplessness, weakness, etc... The inaccurate idea that if a man can't get an erection, he has no sexual power, is what makes impotence such a dangerous but also popular term. It's a word that strikes fear in the hearts of those who are worried it might happen to them, and causes pain when it's directed at someone as an insult.
Impotence isn't an accurate term because the truth is that men have sex all the time with and without erections, and a man's sexuality or power isn't related to just one part of his body. When we confuse ability to get erections with ability to give and receive sexual pleasure, we make worse a complicated and common sexual complaint -- an inability to get an erection that is satisfactory for sexual pleasure.
In order to understand why erections don't work, you need to understand the basics of how erections work. Getting an erection involves multiple parts of your body, including your brain, nerves, hormones, muscles, and heart. Anything that interrupts this any of these systems may result in what gets called impotence.
CausesBecause erections involve multiple systems, there are often multiple causes of impotence, even for one man. Causes of impotence are often broken down into different categories. These include:
- High blood pressure
- Multiple sclerosis
- Parkinson's disease
- Heart disease
- Conditions that affect thyroid function and/or interrupt hormones in the body
- Spinal cord injuries
- Injuries to the groin (recent research also points to consistent but mild trauma related to cycling)
- Colon surgery
- Other treatments for prostate, penile, and rectal cancers, including some chemotherapy and hormone treatments
- Medications for high blood pressure, heart disease, and some antidepressants
- Sexual performance anxiety
- Relationship problems (which may or may not be related to sex)