Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 4/14/2021
Impotence, or erectile dysfunction, is a common condition that occurs when you’re unable to get or maintain an erection that’s firm enough for sex.
A wide range of factors can cause or contribute to impotence, from cardiovascular health issues such as high blood pressure and/or clogged arteries to psychological issues such as depression and anxiety disorders.
Currently, there’s no cure for impotence. However, a variety of treatments are available that can improve your erections and make it easier for you to enjoy satisfying, fulfilling sex.
Below, we’ve explained what impotence is, as well as the factors that contribute to impotence in men.
We’ve also listed the treatments that are currently available for impotence, from FDA-approved medications to changes you can make to your habits and lifestyle.
Impotence is a term that’s used to refer to erectile dysfunction, or ED — a condition that affects approximately 30 million men in the United States.
Impotence can vary in severity. You may have impotence if you:
Can’t get an erection at any time, even when you feel sexually aroused
Can get an erection, but can’t maintain it for long enough to have satisfying sex
Can get an erection on some occasions, but not every time you want to have sex
Impotence can affect men of all ages and backgrounds, but it tends to become more common as you get older. You may also be more likely to develop impotence if you:
Use certain types of medication
Are affected by certain diseases or medical conditions
Have been diagnosed with certain mental illnesses or emotional issues
Are overweight, smoke cigarettes or have other habits that affect your health
Impotence can be a short-term issue or a recurring problem that you deal with for a long period of time. You may suddenly notice that you’re less able to get and maintain an erection, or notice a mild decline in your sexual performance over time.
While impotence can be embarrassing and stressful to deal with, it’s important to remember that it’s both a common issue and a treatable one.
Currently, there’s no medication that you can take to permanently cure impotence. However, a variety of science-based medications are available that can treat impotence and make it easier for you to get and maintain an erection.
Impotence can develop for a variety of reasons. In many cases, it’s caused by a physical health issue that affects blood flow to your penis.
Physical health conditions that may cause impotence include:
Heart and blood vessel disease
Hypertension (high blood pressure)
Atherosclerosis (clogged arteries)
Chronic kidney disease
Type 2 diabetes
Many of these conditions are treatable. If you have impotence due to an underlying health issue, you may notice your erectile health improving as you treat the underlying condition.
Similarly, impotence may develop as a result of psychological or emotional issues such as guilt regarding sex, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem or stress.
If your impotence is caused by a psychological or emotional issue, it may improve on its own as you undergo therapy or use medication to improve your mental health.
When impotence is caused by a health-related habit or lifestyle issue, such as smoking, being overweight or drinking alcohol excessively, changing your behavior may improve your erectile function and sexual health.
Sometimes, impotence isn’t curable by therapy or lifestyle changes alone. For example, some cases of impotence develop as a result of injuries that affect your penis, spinal cord, prostate, bladder or other parts of your urinary or reproductive systems.
Our guide to the causes of erectile dysfunction provides more information about how impotence can develop, as well as the factors that may increase your risk of developing impotence.
If you find it difficult to get or maintain an erection, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider about your symptoms.
In most cases, impotence can be diagnosed following a series of simple questions about your symptoms. Our guide to diagnosing erectile dysfunction provides more information about what your healthcare provider may ask you during this process.
Impotence, or erectile dysfunction, is almost always treatable. Today, several medications are available that can improve blood flow to your penis and make it easier for you to get and keep an erection during sex. Your healthcare provider may prescribe:
Sildenafil (generic Viagra). This is the active ingredient in Viagra®. It’s a fast-acting ED medication that’s designed to work in approximately 30 minutes and improve your erectile function for four hours per dose.
Tadalafil. This is the active ingredient in Cialis®. It’s a longer-acting medication that can last for up to 36 hours per dose.
Vardenafil. This is the active ingredient in Levitra®. It provides relief from ED for around the same amount of time as sildenafil.
Avanafil. This is the active ingredient in Stendra®. It’s a newer ED medication that’s less likely to cause some side effects. This medication currently isn’t available as a generic.
Since these medications come in tablet form, they’re easy to use shortly before you plan to have sex.
These medications require a prescription. We offer several generic ED medications online after a private consultation with a licensed healthcare provider, who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
Although most cases of impotence are treatable using oral medications, some are best treated using other methods. These include:
Other ED medications. Some other medications, including injectable medications such as alprostadil, may be used to treat impotence and improve your erections when oral ED medications aren’t effective.
Therapy. When impotence is psychological, options like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or sex therapy can be helpful. These techniques address the thought patterns associated with impotence and other sexual issues.
Vacuum constriction devices. These devices, which are also known as penis pumps, create pressure to draw blood into your penis. They’re typically used with a band to trap blood inside your penis and maintain your erection while you have sex.
Surgery. Some surgical procedures, such as the insertion of a penile implant, are used when other treatments for ED fail.
Erections are all about healthy blood flow. In fact, research suggests that impotence is often a warning sign of health problems that affect your cardiovascular system, such as heart disease or other circulatory issues.
You can lower your risk of developing impotence by following a healthy lifestyle that promotes good cardiovascular health. Try to:
Maintain a healthy body weight. Your risk of developing impotence increases if you are overweight or obese. In fact, research shows that men with a BMI in the obese range are three times more likely to develop ED than those with a normal BMI.
If you’re overweight or obese, try making changes to your diet and activity level to bring your weight closer to the normal BMI range.
Keep yourself physically active. Regular exercise helps to strengthen your heart and improve your blood circulation, making it easier for blood to flow to the erectile tissue of your penis when you’re aroused.
Try to exercise regularly. According to Harvard Medical School, as little as 15 minutes of exercise per day can have a positive impact on your health and wellbeing.
If you smoke, quit. Smoking significantly increases your risk of heart and blood vessel disease, which often causes impotence. Research also shows that nicotine can lower your level of sexual arousal, which may affect your general sexual performance.
If you smoke, take steps to quit. Our guide to the best ways to quit smoking explains the most effective techniques for giving up cigarettes, dealing with cravings and more.
Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Try to eat a diet that’s rich in fresh fruits, vegetables and lean sources of protein, all while limiting your consumption of simple sugars, processed foods and other foods with low nutritional value.
Research shows that the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruit, vegetables, nuts, fish and whole grains, may help to reduce the severity of erectile dysfunction.
Drink alcohol in moderation. Finally, try to limit your consumption of alcohol. In a study from 2007, researchers found that the amount of alcohol a person consumes is a major predictor of their risk of developing sexual dysfunction.
Try to drink in moderation. The CDC recommends consuming a maximum of two drinks per day for men, or a single serving of alcohol per day for women.
Our guide to naturally protecting your erection goes into more detail about the techniques listed above, as well as other steps that you can take to improve your sexual health naturally.
Impotence, or erectile dysfunction, is a common issue, especially for men in their 40s, 50s, 60s and above.
Although impotence can be frustrating to deal with, it’s almost always treatable with medication, changes to your lifestyle and other methods.
If you find it difficult to get or maintain an erection, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider about your options. We offer ED medications such as sildenafil online, following a consultation with a licensed healthcare provider who will determine if medication is a good option for you.