Erectile Dysfunction and Your Age: Is It Inevitable?

Mary Lucas, RN

Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, RN

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 1/18/2021

Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is a very common condition that affects an estimated 30 million men in the United States alone.

Like many other sexual dysfunctions, ED can vary in severity. Some men with ED find it difficult to get an erection at all, while others may be able to get an erection but have difficulty keeping it for long enough to have satisfying, fulfilling sex. 

Although erectile dysfunction can potentially affect men of any age, it’s generally more common in middle-aged and older men than it is in younger men. 

Below, we’ve looked at the relationship between age and ED to help you learn more about how your age may affect your risk. We’ve also explained how other age-related medical issues may contribute to erectile dysfunction. 

Finally, we’ve looked at the options that are available for treating ED, from medications such as sildenafil and tadalafil to habits, lifestyle changes and more. 

Erectile Dysfunction & Age: The Basics

  • Erectile dysfunction can occur at any age. Although you have a lower risk of ED if you’re young and physically active, a variety of factors may still cause you to experience issues getting and maintaining an erection.

  • Your risk of developing ED tends to increase as you age. One scientific review notes that around 40 percent of men aged 40 have some form of ED — a percentage that increases by 10 percent with each additional decade.

  • ED is associated with several chronic diseases and health issues, including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart conditions and atherosclerosis (clogged arteries). Your risk of developing some of these diseases may increase with age.

  • Healthy habits, such as exercising regularly and maintaining a normal body weight, can go a long way towards reducing your risk of developing ED as you age.

  • Regardless of your age, numerous effective, science-based treatments are available to help you get and maintain an erection. 

What is Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is a condition in which you find it difficult or impossible to develop or maintain an erection when you’re sexually aroused. 

ED can vary in severity. Some men may be able to get an erection but find it difficult to maintain it during sex. Others may not be able to get an erection at all. Your healthcare provider may diagnose you with ED if you:

  • Are completely unable to get an erection at any time

  • Can get an erection, but can’t maintain it long enough to have satisfying sex

  • Can sometimes get an erection when you’re sexually aroused, but not consistently

Like many other sexual performance issues, symptoms of ED can come and go. You might find it easy to get an erection at some points in your life, then struggle with persistent or severe ED at others.

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What Causes Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction has numerous potential causes, some of which are related to aging. It often occurs as a result of certain diseases and medical conditions, including the following:

  • Atherosclerosis (clogged arteries)

  • High blood pressure

  • Heart and blood vessel disease

  • Chronic kidney disease

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Multiple sclerosis

ED can also occur as a result of medications, behaviors and psychological issues. For example, common medications such as those used to treat high blood pressure, depression, anxiety and other conditions are often associated with an increased risk of ED.

Psychological issues that can cause or worsen ED include depression, low self-esteem, stress and sexual performance anxiety.

Habits that can cause or worsen ED include lack of physical activity, being overweight, smoking, drinking alcohol excessively and illicit drug use.

Our full guide to the causes of erectile dysfunction goes into more detail on the factors that may increase your risk of experiencing ED.

How Aging Affects Your Risk of Erectile Dysfunction

Research shows that age is one of the factors most closely linked to ED. Put simply, the older you are, the more at risk you are of developing erectile dysfunction.

One of the most thorough, comprehensive studies of erectile dysfunction, the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, looked at the sexual health of more than 1,700 men aged from 40 to 70 in Massachusetts during the late 1980s.

The study found that the combined prevalence rate for minimal, moderate or complete erectile dysfunction was 52 percent, with a man’s age the factor most strongly associated with ED.

Interestingly, complete erectile dysfunction was present in three times the number of men aged 70 compared to the men aged forty.

Other research has produced similar results. For example, a scientific review from 2017 noted that a man in his 40s has a 40 percent chance of developing some form of erectile dysfunction, with this risk increasing by 10 percent with each additional decade.

Finally, a study published in the American Journal of Medicine found that 5.1 percent of men in their 20s and 30s suffer from erectile dysfunction, compared to 70.2 percent of men aged 70 or older.

Related read: How to Fix Erectile Dysfunction at 20; What Can Cause Erectile Dysfunction at 30?

In short, science very much supports the common perception that ED becomes more common as you get older. 

Now, it’s important to put this research in context. Age isn’t the only factor that affects your risk of developing erectile dysfunction, nor does getting older guarantee that you’ll eventually have to deal with difficulty getting or maintaining an erection.

However, age is very closely associated with other health issues that can increase your risk of erectile dysfunction.

For example, it’s common for your vascular system to gradually change as you age. Partly as a result of this age-related change, conditions like high blood pressure, a known cause of erectile dysfunction, become more common.

In fact, data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) shows that 70 percent of adults 65 years of age or older have high blood pressure. 

Similarly, other health issues related to ED often become more common with age. Diabetes, a disease that’s closely linked to ED, is more than twice as common in adults aged 45 and older than it is in people aged 18 to forty-four.

As you get older, it’s important to be aware of these diseases and medical conditions, as well as the risks they may have for both your general health and your sexual performance.

By being aware of these risks and living a healthy lifestyle (a topic we’ve covered in more detail below), you can reduce your risk of developing erectile dysfunction. 

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How to Treat Erectile Dysfunction As You Age

Erectile dysfunction is almost always treatable, either through lifestyle changes, medication or both. By staying on top of your health and making effective use of ED medication, you’ll find it easier to maintain your sexual performance as you get older. 

If you have mild or moderate ED, making certain changes to your lifestyle may help you to get and keep an erection without the use of medication. Try to:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is a significant risk factor for ED, particularly due to its close association with health issues such as diabetes and heart disease. If you’re overweight or obese, try to lose weight. Although BMI is far from perfect as a measurement of health, a BMI in the normal range is a good target if you’re aiming to lose weight and keep yourself physically healthy.

  • Exercise regularly. While there’s no need to train like an athlete, staying active is an important part of preventing erectile dysfunction. In fact, research has shown that men with ED due to blood flow issues experience improvements after exercising. If you have an inactive lifestyle, try to exercise more often. The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and at least two sessions of resistance training per week for better physical health.

  • Drink alcohol responsibly. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a beer, glass of wine or cocktail every now and then, drinking excessively may increase your risk of ED and other closely related health issues. Try to limit your alcohol intake to no more than two drinks per day — the recommended consumption under the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

  • Quit smoking. Smoking can affect your cardiovascular health and increase your risk of dealing with ED. If you smoke tobacco, make an effort to quit. Our guide to quitting goes into more detail on the best treatments and strategies for quitting successfully.

  • Treat underlying health issues. ED is often linked to underlying health issues, such as high blood pressure. If you’ve recently noticed ED, it’s worth talking to your healthcare provider to check for underlying medical conditions that could be responsible. Often, treating these issues can reduce the severity of erectile dysfunction and improve your sexual performance.

  • Check your medications. Certain medications, such as antidepressants, medications used to treat high blood pressure, cardiovascular medications and some sleeping pills, may cause ED and other sexual issues. If you’ve recently started using medication and noticed difficulty getting an erection, talk to your healthcare provider to see if it could be the cause. You may be able to change to a new medication or adjust your dosage to improve your symptoms.

  • Consider therapy. If your ED is related to a psychological issue, such as depression or sexual performance anxiety, speaking to a therapist may help you to treat the underlying issue and improve your sexual performance. 

Our guide to naturally protecting your erection goes into more detail about how you can improve your erectile health without medication. 

Medications for Treating ED

Several FDA-approved medications are available to treat ED. These work by increasing the rate of blood flow to the erectile tissue of your penis. Your options include:

  • Sildenafil. The active ingredient in Viagra®, sildenafil(generic Viagra) provides relief from ED for three to four hours before becoming less effective.

  • Tadalafil. The active ingredient in Cialis®, tadalafil is a long-lasting ED treatment that can improve your ability to get an erection with its effect lasting for one to two days.

  • Vardenafil. The active ingredient in Levitra®, vardenafil works quickly and offers relief from ED for slightly longer than sildenafil.

  • Avanafil. Sold as Stendra®, avanafil is a fast-acting, newer ED treatment that is less likely to cause certain side effects than older ED medications. 

We offer generic versions of several well-known ED medications online, following a consultation with a physician who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.

Although ED medications are safe for most people, they can cause certain side effects and may interact with some medications used to treat hypertension.

Our guide to what you should expect from ED medication lists side effects and interactions that you should be aware of. 

In Conclusion

Age and erectile dysfunction are closely correlated, with studies showing that ED is a relatively common issue for men in their 50s, 60s and 70s. 

However, this doesn’t mean that getting older means being forced to deal with ED. By living a healthy lifestyle, treating underlying conditions and using FDA-approved medications, you can enjoy optimal sexual performance and a fulfilling sex life regardless of your age. 

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Learn More About Treating ED

Erectile dysfunction can be frustrating, especially when it occurs at the worst moment. Luckily, it’s very treatable.

If you have questions like why can't I stay hard, our complete guide to erectile dysfunction explains why ED occurs, as well as the steps you can take to treat it and enjoy better, more consistent sexual performance. 

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.