Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/20/2023
For men, sometimes it can feel like everything good in our lives hinge on our ability to… Get a boner. It’s ridiculous, and we all know it. But there’s almost no faster way to negate a great date, a great day at the office, a fun outing or literally anything else than when things fall flat — literally — in the bedroom.
But it probably happens more often than any of your buddies would ever admit to.
Every year, tens of millions of men in the United States alone deal with some degree of erectile dysfunction (ED) or erection problems, preventing them from enjoying the sex life they deserve.
And we know you probably think ED is an older fella’s game, but it can happen to men of all ages.
In fact, statistics show that even though about 70 percent of men will be affected by ED by the age of 70, a staggering 40 percent of us will experience similar problems by the age of forty.
So, if you’re wondering how to get hard — and stay hard — during sex, you’re not alone.
Consider Making Healthier Lifestyle changes
Stop watching porn
Eat (and drink) healthy
Maintain a healthy weight
Check testosterone levels
Communicate with your partner
Explore new things in the bedroom
Below, we’ll be diving into some of the science-backed ways to get hard faster and improve your erection quality for a greater sex life.
Before using medicine to achieve an instant boner, it’s important to reflect on your lifestyle habits and see if they align with general men’s health recommendations.
From your diet to your level of physical activity and exercise habits, your lifestyle can have a big impact on your ability to get an erection, keep that erection and perform in the bedroom.
If you’re experiencing the symptoms of erectile dysfunction, try making the following lifestyle changes to improve your general health and sexual performance.
Stress can affect almost every aspect of your health — from your mental function to your physical well-being. As if stress alone wasn’t bad enough, wait until we tell you the effects it can have on your erection quality.
When you’re stressed, your body undergoes changes on a hormonal level, including ramping up the production of the hormone cortisol. When your cortisol levels are high, you may be at a higher risk of experiencing anxiety and depression, both of which can affect sexual function.
While there are few studies that specifically track the effects of stress on erection quality, there are severalstudies linking stress with poor sexual satisfaction.
Some of the best stress reduction strategies include:
Spending time with friends and family
Avoiding unhealthy habits
Prioritizing your mental health
Getting enough sleep
Doing a creative activity
Signing up for online therapy
Our guide to the psychological causes of ED goes into more detail on the effects that stress can have on your sex life, as well as ED treatment options.
When it comes to staying hard, blood flow is the most important piece of the puzzle. In fact, it’s fair to say erections can’t happen without it. It’s also fair to say that life in general also doesn’t happen without blood flow, but we digress…
When you’re aroused, blood flows into your penis to give it the size and firmness that are required for penetrative sex. That’s how erections work.
When your cardiovascular system is strong and healthy, the process of getting and maintaining an erection becomes much easier for your body.
And what’s the best way to keep your cardiovascular system strong and healthy? That’s right!
One of the most effective ways to improve your heart health and function is by staying active and getting regular exercise. Luckily, you don’t have to go crazy.
In a meta-analysis published in the journal Sexual Medicine, researchers found that 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise four times a week is enough to reduce erectile dysfunction.
However, this effect only occurred in men who experienced ED as a result of physical conditions such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, inactivity, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
Generally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adults get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week.
Yes, even what you eat at the dinner table every night can affect how you perform in the bedroom after. And if you think you can make it on a steady diet of steak and eggs, we have some devastating news.
Erectile dysfunction is closely linked to high blood pressure. Common foods that raise blood pressure include deli meats, canned foods, fast food and other foods high in sodium. In fact, anything that’s high in sodium is likely to raise your blood pressure and affect blood flow throughout your body. We know — it’s a bummer.
On the other hand, a diet that’s rich in fish, nuts, legumes, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fresh ingredients and unsaturated fats may help to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range.
In addition to food, alcohol consumption can have a negative impact on your erectile health and sexual performance.
While a glass or two of wine or beer isn’t likely to hurt your erections, studies show a clear link between chronic and persistent alcohol use and sexual dysfunction.
HEY! Yeah you! Smoking is bad for you. Terrible, really. You already knew that. But did you know that smoking is also bad for your erectile health?
The nicotine in cigarettes can cause your blood vessels to narrow, reducing the amount of blood that can flow into the soft tissue of your penis when you’re sexually aroused. This means slower, weaker erections and a higher risk of losing your erection during sex due to poor blood flow.
Smoking also contributes to atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque inside your arteries. This further reduces your cardiovascular health and harms blood flow, increasing your risk of getting heart disease and erectile dysfunction.
If you smoke and have ED, it’s important to think about quitting smoking to improve your health and boost your sexual performance.
About 35 percent of American adults fail to get seven or more hours of sleep per night, with more than 40 percent of people sleeping less than they should.
And since not getting enough shut-eye every night is also closely associated higher stress levels, and since stress can affect your sex drive and sexual performance… Well, you see what we’re getting at.
Previously, researchers thought that sleep deprivation caused testosterone levels to drop in men. However, a recent study that analyzed sleep restriction and its impact on testosterone levels concluded that there were no adverse effects on testosterone levels in the healthy young men involved.
That means there needs to be more research to have conclusive results.
With that being said, a lack of sleep can still cause poor circulation and negatively impact your sexual health.
At this point in the article it sort of feels like things are working against us, right? We can’t eat whatever we want, we need to keep our bodies moving, we have to get good-quality rest, we can’t drink too much and now, on top of all that other stuff, we also need to watch our weight. Woof.
But hey! Like Coldplay says: “Nobody said it was easy.” Or something like that.
Anyway, in a study out of Poland, researchers found that men with a body mass index (BMI) in the obese range were three times more likely to experience sexual dysfunction than their average-sized counterparts.
Even being overweight but not in the obese range can increase your risk of ED. In the same study, men with a BMI in the overweight range had 1.5 times more likely to develop ED.
While there’s no need to go full “Instagram Fitspiration Model” with it, maintaining a healthy body weight is one proven way to improve your erectile function and sexual performance, as well as reduce your risk of developing certain health conditions like type 2 diabetes.
Low testosterone in men can lead to a number of problems, including low sex drive, difficulty sleeping and, you guessed it, erection problems.
If you’re starting to experience low testosterone symptoms, talk to a healthcare professional and see about doing a testosterone levels test to check your hormones. This simple blood test can tell you everything you need to know.
If you’re suffering from a deficiency, hormone therapy can help you increase your testosterone, which can help reverse symptoms within four to six weeks.
Wait! Don’t click out! We know what you’re thinking, and we agree: porn is awesome. We love it. But here’s the thing… If you get to a point where you’re watching too much porn, research indicates that it may start interfering with the pleasure receptors in your brain. Yes, really.
Often referred to as “porn-induced erectile dysfunction,” it occurs when your porn habits start to interfere with the parts of your brain associated with reward sensitivity. As you can probably guess, this can affect your sexual performance and reduce your brain’s response to sexual stimulation.
In a recent study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, researchers found that watching porn (among other online sexual activities, or OSAs) was closely linked to both lower overall sexual satisfaction and lower erectile function.
The solution? Consider limiting your porn consumption or avoiding porn outright if you want to get or maintain an erection.
We get it. Talking about your penis problems can be uncomfortable for all parties involved. But it’s important to keep in mind the negative effects of ED can affect both you and your partner. And it’s equally important to be able to talk openly about what’s happening below the belt.
People are into different things, and being able to articulate what those things are and communicate about what you both need to have the best sex possible is the name of the game.
Speaking of communication, don’t be afraid to experiment with your partner/s. After all, it’s not just older men who sometimes struggle to get hard. Younger men can also face the same issues.
And sometimes, those issues can be solved simply by working to figure out just what — exactly — excites you.
Some fun ways to mix things up in the bedroom include:
Giving each other massages
Trying new positions
Sharing your fantasies with each other
Playing with sex toys
Changes to your lifestyle can help treat some causes of erectile dysfunction, but if you have ED, you’ll often get the best results by calling for backup and combining lifestyle changes with prescription drugs to improve your penile erections.
And that journey starts with speaking with a healthcare professional to find the right medication for you.
The better news? You have options. Currently, there are four FDA-approved medications for treating ED and improving your sexual performance:
Sildenafil (sold as Viagra®)
These treatment options are called PDE5 inhibitors and are commonly used to treat erectile dysfunction and pulmonary hypertension/BPD.
These drugs work by inhibiting PDE5, an enzyme responsible for regulating blood flow to and from the soft tissue inside your penis. They’re taken orally and are designed for use anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours before sex.
Our guide to what you should expect from ED medication explains how these medications work in more detail.
You can also learn more about each medication and its effects below.
Sildenafil is the most widely used of the four FDA-approved erectile dysfunction medications.
You can find sildenafil sold under the brand name Viagra, though it’s now available as a generic medication. Brand name Viagra and generic sildenafil work in exactly the same way and cause the same improvements in sexual performance.
Sildenafil takes around one hour to start fully working, meaning you’ll want to take it shortly before you plan to have sex. The effects of this medication wear off after about four hours.
Tadalafil is another popular medication for improving your erections and helping you to stay hard during sex.
You can find tadalafil sold under the brand name Cialis and as a generic medication.
Compared to sildenafil, tadalafil is a long-lasting erectile dysfunction drug. Its effects last for up to 36 hours per dose, making it an option worth considering if you want to treat ED and improve your sexual performance for one or a couple days at a time. In fact, it’s sometimes called “the weekend pill.”
Vardenafil is another PDE5 inhibitor that shares similar effects to sildenafil. It starts working within one hour, but lasts for slightly longer than sildenafil, with effects usually starting to wear off after around five hours.
You can find vardenafil sold under the brand name Levitra or as a generic medication.
Avanafil is the new ED medication on the block. It was designed throughout the 2000s and approved by the FDA in 2012 as an alternative to sildenafil, tadalafil and other PDE5 inhibitors.
Currently, avanafil is only available under the brand name Stendra. Since it’s a new medication for ED, a generic version isn’t on the market yet.
Avanafil starts working faster than other ED medications and is designed for use about 15 minutes before sex, which means if things are going from zero to 100 with the quickness, you can still be ready for anything.
It’s also less likely to cause certain side effects than older ED medications, as it targets fewer PDE enzymes.
Our guide to Stendra explains more about how avanafil works and its advantages over other ED drugs.
Lidocaine is a topical anesthetic that lowers the sensitivity level of specific parts of your body — including your penis.
While it won’t help you to get hard physically, it can help you from blowing up on the launch pad once you get going.
Studies show that when used in combination with sildenafil, delay spray with lidocaine increases the total amount of time before ejaculation.
Our guide to how lidocaine spray works explains this medication in more detail, as well as how you can use it to avoid premature ejaculation and improve your sex life.
How to get an erection and improve sexual performance — whether that means learning how to get hard faster, lasting longer or just having a more enjoyable time in bed — involves several factors:
Physical. Improve your cardiovascular function and overall physical well-being.
Mental. Concentrate on your psychological health by addressing any anxiety, depression, lack of self-confidence or mental health issues.
Habitual. Create health habits by following a nutritious diet, doing more physical activity and cutting back on alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs.
Scientific. Use science-based medications and other ED supplements.
Since no two people are the same, your path to better sexual performance and better erections could involve making changes to one, two, three or all four of these things.
If you’re interested in taking action against ED, you can view our range of erectile dysfunction treatments online.
You can also learn more about dealing with ED in our guide to erectile dysfunction, which goes over common causes, risk factors and treatment options for ED.