Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 3/18/2021
Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is a common issue for men in their 50s. In fact, data from insurance claims databases suggests that men aged between 50 and 59 are the demographic most likely to seek medical assistance for erectile dysfunction.
If you’ve noticed that it’s more difficult for you to get or maintain an erection during sex, you may want to talk to a healthcare provider to learn more about your treatment options.
Erectile dysfunction has several potential causes, from physical health issues such as diabetes or high blood pressure to mental health disorders, habits and even your use of certain types of medication.
While ED can be frustrating to deal with, it’s almost always treatable with medication, changes to your lifestyle or a combination of these things.
Below, we’ve provided more information about how and why erectile dysfunction can develop in your 50s. We’ve also explained what you can do if you’ve started to experience ED and want to take action to improve your erectile health and sexual performance.
Erectile dysfunction is a pretty common issue for men of all ages. Research shows that around 30 million men in the United States are affected by some degree of ED.
ED is often linked to physical health problems, particularly cardiovascular health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes and atherosclerosis. Your risk of developing these health issues increases with age, especially as you enter your 50s.
You may have a higher risk of developing ED in your 50s if you’re overweight, physically inactive or have unhealthy habits such as smoking or heavy alcohol consumption.
ED is almost always treatable. Several FDA-approved, science-based medications are available to improve blood flow to your penis and make it easier to get an erection.
You can also improve your erectile health by making changes to your lifestyle and habits, especially in combination with other treatments for ED.
Erectile dysfunction is a condition in which you may find it difficult or impossible to develop and maintain an erection that allows you to have enjoyable, fulfilling sex.
While many people think of ED as not being able to get an erection at all, the reality is that ED can vary in severity. You may have erectile dysfunction if you:
Can’t get an erection, even when you’re sexually aroused
Can only get an erection sometimes, but not consistently enough for satisfying sex
Can get an erection, but can’t maintain it for long enough to have satisfying sex
Erectile dysfunction is sometimes referred to as impotence. It can be a short-term problem that occurs from time to time or a long-term issue that has a lasting effect on your sexual health and performance.
While erections might seem simple, the reality is that developing and maintaining an erection is a complicated process that involves your brain, nerves and cardiovascular system.
Erections begin with sexual stimulation and arousal. When you feel aroused, your brain signals to nerves located near your penis, causing an increase in blood flow to the corporate cavernosa -- a pair of soft, sponge-like areas of tissue inside your penis.
As blood flows into this tissue, your penis becomes firm and erect. The membrane surrounding your penis, called the tunica albuginea, contracts, helping to keep blood inside your penis and maintain your erection while you have sex.
Erectile dysfunction occurs when one or several factors disrupt this process, either by affecting your blood flow, nerve function or sexual arousal.
A variety of different factors can cause erectile dysfunction, ranging from physical health issues to medications, unhealthy habits and even psychiatric disorders such as depression.
While not all of the factors that cause erectile dysfunction correlate with age, some are linked to aging and can become more of a problem as you enter your 50s.
Common physical causes of erectile dysfunction include high blood pressure, atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), heart and blood vessel disease, diabetes and chronic kidney disease.
These conditions may affect blood flow throughout your body, making it more difficult for blood to flow into the erectile tissue of your penis. Some, such as diabetes, may damage the nerves required for an erection.
Many of these issues become more common as you enter your fifties. For example, according to the American Heart Association, many common risk factors for cardiovascular disease begin to appear in people’s 50s and sixties.
Health issues such as obesity, which can contribute to an increased risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, are also most prevalent in adults in their 40s and fifties.
Erectile dysfunction can also develop as a side effect of certain medications, including common medications used by people in their 50s.
Medications that may cause ED include antidepressants, blood pressure medications, sedatives and ulcer medications. Some antiandrogen medications used to treat prostate cancer can also affect your sexual performance and cause erectile dysfunction.
Usage of these medications tends to increase with age. For example, people in their 50s have a slightly higher rate of antihypertensive (blood pressure medications) use than people in their 40s or younger.
Some psychiatric disorders, emotional issues or particular beliefs about sex may cause erectile dysfunction or make existing ED symptoms worse.
These include anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, stress and concerns about sexual failure or poor sexual performance. Some people may also experience ED as a result of guilt related to having sex or engaging in certain sexual activities.
Finally, some habits and lifestyle factors can increase your risk of facing erectile dysfunction or worsen existing ED symptoms.
These include smoking cigarettes and/or other tobacco products, drinking alcohol excessively, using illicit drugs or being physically inactive.
While these habits aren’t strictly linked to your age, the negative health effects of some habits can become more significant and pronounced as you enter your 50s and beyond.
For example, research shows that cumulative cigarette long-term cigarette smoking is closely associated with several heart health issues, including some that can cause ED.
Erectile dysfunction can be frustrating to deal with, especially when it prevents you from having a fulfilling, satisfying sex life.
Luckily, erectile dysfunction is almost always treatable with medication, changes to your lifestyle or a combination of these things.
If you’ve noticed some of the symptoms of erectile dysfunction, you should talk to a healthcare provider to learn more about your treatment options.
Most of the time, ED is treatable with medication. Several medications are available to improve blood flow to your penis and treat ED. Common options include:
Sildenafil. Sildenafil is the active ingredient in Viagra®. It’s a fast-acting medication that provides relief from ED for up to four hours per dose.
Tadalafil. Tadalafil is the active ingredient in Cialis®. It’s a long-acting medication that’s capable of providing relief from ED for up to 36 hours per dose.
Vardenafil. Vardenafil is the active ingredient in Levitra®. It provides relief from ED for a similar amount of time to sildenafil.
Avanafil. Avanafil is a newer ED medication that’s sold as Stendra®. It works quickly to treat ED and is less likely to cause certain side effects than other ED medications.
Modern ED medications are safe and effective for most people. However, they can cause some side effects and interactions. We’ve provided more information about these in our detailed guide to PDE5 inhibitors.
We offer several generic and brand name ED medications online, following a consultation with a healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
As well as using ED medication, making changes to your habits and lifestyle can improve your sexual health and strengthen your erections. Try to:
Treat any underlying conditions. If you have heart disease, high blood pressure or any other health issues that are linked to ED, treating these may help to improve your sexual health and performance.
Make sure to talk to your healthcare provider if you’re worried that an underlying health issue may be causing your ED.
Maintain a healthy weight. Your risk of developing erectile dysfunction is higher if you are overweight or obese. Research shows that men with a BMI in the obese range are three times more likely to have sexual dysfunction than those in the healthy range.
If you’re overweight or obese, try to lose weight until you’re in the 18.5-24.9 range. The CDC has a simple online BMI calculator that you can use to track your weight loss and check how close you are to the optimal range.
Keep yourself physically active. Research shows that men with erectile dysfunction caused by cardiovascular health issues may benefit from regular exercise, particularly aerobic exercise.
If you’re new to exercising, there’s no need to work out like an athlete. Instead, aim to get at least 15 to 60 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise, such as walking, jogging or cycling, each day.
Drink alcohol responsibly. Alcohol consumption can cause a form of temporary ED that’s referred to as whiskey dick. As one study has found, the total amount of alcohol you drink is also a reliable predictor of your risk of developing sexual dysfunction.
While it’s okay to drink alcohol, make sure that you drink in moderation. Try to stick to the CDC’s guidelines of up to two normal-sized alcoholic drinks a day to maintain your health and wellbeing.
If you smoke, try to quit. Research shows that you have a higher risk of developing ED if you smoke cigarettes or use other tobacco products. This is because smoking harms your vascular system and can affect blood flow throughout your body.
If you smoke, make an effort to quit. Our guide to quitting smoking goes into more detail about the most effective ways to deal with nicotine cravings, avoid your smoking triggers and keep yourself smoke-free for the long term.
Beyond improving your erections and sexual performance, practicing these habits may also help to improve your cardiovascular health, physical fitness and general quality of life.
Erectile dysfunction is a common issue for men in their 50s. It can occur for a variety of reasons, from physical health problems to depression, anxiety or your use of certain medications.
If you’re one of the tens of millions of men affected by ED, you can talk to a licensed healthcare provider to learn more about your options, including ED medications such as sildenafil (generic Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), avanafil (Stendra) and others.
You can also find out more about these treatments in our full guide to the most common erectile dysfunction treatments and drugs.
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