Medically reviewed by Michele Emery, DNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 4/17/2020
As a man, getting and maintaining an erection is an essential element of maintaining a healthy, fulfilling sex life.
Unfortunately, getting and staying hard isn’t always simple as it seems. Every year, tens of millions of men in the United States alone are faced with some level of erectile dysfunction (ED), preventing them from enjoying a normal sex life.
Erectile dysfunction can occur in men of all ages. Statistics show that about 70 percent of men will be affected by ED by the age of seventy. It’s also common in younger men, with as much as 40 percent of men experiencing some degree of erectile dysfunction by the age of forty.
In short, if you’re finding it more difficult than normal to get an erection quickly and maintain it during sexual activity, you’re not alone.
Luckily, options are available. Below, we’ve listed the most effective, science-backed ways to get hard faster and improve your erection quality, ranging from lifestyle changes to FDA-approved medications.
Before considering medication, it’s important to look at your lifestyle and general health. From the food you eat to your level of physical activity and exercise habits, your lifestyle can have a surprisingly large impact on your ability to get an erection and stay hard when you have sex.
Stress is closely linked to erectile dysfunction, as well as a range of other sexual performance issues. When you’re stressed, your body undergoes changes on a hormonal level, ramping up your production of the hormone cortisol.
This affects everything from your mental clarity and ability to think critically, to your ability to get and maintain an erection.
While there are few studies that specifically track the effects of stress on erection quality, there are several studies linking stress with poor sexual performance.
Our guide to the psychological causes of ED goes into more detail on the effects of stress on your sex life, as well as treatment options. You can also use these stress reduction techniques provided by Harvard Medical School to reduce the effects of stress on your life.
Believe it or not, your porn watching habits (if you watch porn, of course) could have a negative effect on your sexual performance. In recent decades, a new phenomenon has emerged where young, otherwise healthy men find it difficult to perform sexually when they’re with a partner.
This is called “porn-induced erectile dysfunction.”
Porn-induced ED occurs when your porn habits start to interfere with the parts of your brain that are associated with reward sensitivity. This can affect your sexual performance and reduce your brain’s response to sexual stimulation.
In a recent study, researchers found that watching pornography (among other “online sexual activities” or OSAs) is closely linked to both “lower overall sexual satisfaction” and “lower erectile function.” In short, watching porn excessively both reduces your level of sexual enjoyment and could make it harder to get and maintain an erection.
The solution? Consider limiting — or outright stopping — your porn consumption. Our guide to porn and erectile dysfunction explains how you can do this in more detail, with a simple 90-day plan to help you take action and improve your sex life and erection quality.
Erections are all about blood flow. In fact, it takes around eight times the normal amount of blood flow to supply your penis with the blood it needs for an erection. When your heart is strong and healthy, the process of getting and maintaining an erection becomes easier for your body.
Because of this, good cardiovascular health is an important part of getting an erection quickly and staying hard during sexual activity.
In a 2018 meta-analysis, researchers found that 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise four times per week is usually sufficient to reduce erectile dysfunction — but only in men who experience ED as a result of physiological conditions like obesity, metabolic syndrome, physical inactivity, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
Over the long term, this level of exercise is also linked to improvements in overall heart health and wellbeing.
In short, there’s no need to commit to an intensive exercise regimen to improve your erections (although, if you’re a gym enthusiast, by all means, go for it). Instead, focus on getting at least four moderately intense workouts per week and maintaining this habit for the long term.
Although your diet isn’t as closely linked to erectile dysfunction as factors like your activity level and stress, it can still play a role in helping you get erect faster and maintain an erection (or, if you eat poorly, preventing you from getting hard in the first place).
Erectile dysfunction is closely linked to high blood pressure. This means that foods that increase your blood pressure may have a small but noticeable negative effect on your ability to get hard and maintain an erection during sexual activity.
Common foods that raise blood pressure include deli meats, canned foods, burgers and other fast or processed foods. Anything that’s high in sodium is likely to increase your blood pressure and affect blood flow throughout your body. We know — it’s a bummer.
On the other hand, foods like leafy greens and omega-3 rich fish such as salmon and mackerel can potentially lower your blood pressure and improve your heart health, making these excellent replacements for salty foods.
If you drink alcohol often, reducing your consumption could help to improve your erections and sex life. While a glass or two of wine or beer isn’t likely to hurt your erections, studies show that there’s a real link between chronic and persistent alcohol use and sexual dysfunction.
In short, eat healthy and limit your alcohol consumption. If you’re overweight or obese, it’s also important to consider losing weight, as obesity is one of the most significant risk factors in men for erectile dysfunction.
As we’ve mentioned, getting and maintaining an erection during sex is all about optimal heart health. Very few habits are as bad for your cardiovascular system as smoking, meaning it might be a good time to consider quitting if you’re starting to experience sexual performance issues.
Smoking harms your erections in several ways. First, the nicotine in cigarettes can cause your blood vessels to narrow, reducing the amount of blood that can flow into the soft, erectile 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 erectile dysfunction.
In short, smoking harms your erection quality and sexual performance from multiple angles, all while damaging your health in general. If you smoke and have ED, it’s important to think about quitting to improve your health, enhance your life and boost your sexual performance.
If you’re a busy person, it’s easy to sleep less than you should. About 35 percent of American adults fail to get the recommended seven-plus hours of sleep per night, with more than 40 percent of people in some U.S. states sleeping less than they should.
Sleep deprivation can affect your erection quality in several ways. First, it’s closely associated with higher levels of stress, which can affect your libido and sexual performance. Second, it’s also associated with lower testosterone production, which could potentially contribute to ED.
In short, sleep is very important for maintaining optimal sexual performance. Aim for seven to nine hours per night, especially if you have a busy daytime routine, and you’ll be able to avoid most sleep-related negative effects on your erections.
Changes to your lifestyle can help to treat some causes of erectile dysfunction. However,]medications may also play an important role in helping men suffering from ED to get erect faster and stay hard during sex.
Currently, there are three FDA-approved medications for treating ED and improving your sexual performance: Sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®) and vardenafil (Levitra®).
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 three FDA-approved erectile dysfunction medications. It works by inhibiting PDE5, an enzyme that’s responsible for regulating blood flow to and from the soft, erectile tissue of your penis.
You can find sildenafil sold under the brand name Viagra, though it’s now available as a generic medication. Viagra and generic sildenafil work in exactly the same way.
After you take sildenafil, it takes about one hour to fully start working and wears off after three to five hours. During this period, you’ll usually find it easier to get an erection faster and stay hard during foreplay and sex.
Tadalafil is another popular medication for improving your erections and helping you to stay hard during sex. It works the same way as sildenafil — by inhibiting the action of the PDE5 enzyme on blood flow to your penis.
You can find tadalafil sold under the brand name Cialis, or as a generic medication. Like Viagra and generic sildenafil, branded Cialis and generic tadalafil work in exactly the same way.
Compared to sildenafil, tadalafil is a long-lasting erectile dysfunction drug. Its effects last for up to 36 hours, making this a good option to consider if you need to treat erectile dysfunction and improve your sexual performance for one or several days at a time.
Vardenafil is another ED medication with similar effects to sildenafil. It starts working within one hour and lasts for slightly longer than sildenafil, with the effects usually starting to wear off after five to eight hours.
You can find vardenafil sold under the brand name Levitra, or as a generic medication. Both of these medications have the same active ingredient and produce the same effects.
Sildenafil, tadalafil and vardenafil are all prescription medications, meaning you’ll need to talk to a doctor before using any of them. We’ve covered each of these medications in greater detail in our guide to the most common ED treatments and drugs.
Lidocaine is a topical anaesthetic that lowers the sensitivity level of specific parts of your penis, helping you last longer in bed. While it won’t help you get hard, it can help you stay harder for longer and avoid reaching orgasm and ejaculating too quickly during sex.
Studies show that when used in combination with sildenafil, delay spray with lidocaine increases the total amount of time before ejaculation. In short, used together, PDE5 inhibitors and lidocaine spray could improve your erections and prevent you from ejaculating earlier than you’d like to.
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 sexual performance.
Improving your sexual performance involves multiple factors. First, there’s your cardiovascular health and overall wellbeing. Second, there are your choices and habits. Finally, if changes to your lifestyle aren’t enough on their own, there are proven, FDA-approved medications.
Since no two people are the same, your path to better sexual performance and longer-lasting erections could involve making changes to one, two or all three of these things.
Our guide to erectile dysfunction covers this topic in more detail, with detailed information on the most common causes of ED and the treatment options that are available. Meanwhile, our guide to the effects of ED drugs explains what to expect if you use these medications.
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