Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 12/12/22
Worried about your ability to develop and maintain an erection? Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is a common condition that can affect men of all ages and backgrounds, making sexual activity less enjoyable and potentially contributing to issues such as anxiety and depression.
A variety of different factors can play a role in the development of erectile dysfunction, including excess weight.
If you’re overweight or obese, and especially if you have severe obesity, your weight could have a negative impact on your sexual function.
The good news is that simple changes to your daily life, such as cutting down physical inactivity, eating a healthier diet and treating underlying health conditions, can often have a big impact on your sexual health and reduce your risk of ED and other forms of sexual dysfunction.
Below, we’ve gone into detail on the link between erectile dysfunction and obesity, as well as the other negative effects that being overweight or obese can have on your health.
We’ve also covered topics such as weight and penis size, as well as the impact that maintaining a high body weight can have on your testosterone levels.
Finally, we’ve shared some actionable techniques that you can use to lower your risk of dealing with erectile dysfunction over the long term.
A diverse range of different physical and mental health issues can cause or contribute to erectile dysfunction, and obesity is one of them.
Before we go into more detail about the link between erectile dysfunction and obesity, let’s cover how and why erectile dysfunction occurs.
In order to get an erection, you need two things: sexual stimulation and proper penile blood flow to your erectile tissue.
When you feel sexually stimulated, the blood vessels that supply your penis dilate, providing an increase in the blood supply to the corpora cavernosa — a pair of elongated, sponge-like bodies of erectile tissue located inside your penis.
This blood is held inside your penis during sex, allowing you to maintain an erection that’s hard enough to penetrate your partner.
Erectile dysfunction can occur when one or both of these necessary factors — sexual stimulation and blood flow — aren’t present.
Some causes of erectile dysfunction are physical in nature. For example, issues such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and damage to the nerves around your penis can affect sexual stimulation and blood flow.
Mental health issues such as depression and sexual performance anxiety may also contribute to erectile dysfunction by preventing you from feeling sexually aroused.
Being overweight or obese is a major independent risk factor for many of these issues, meaning there’s a relationship between obesity and erectile dysfunction.
Over the years, several studies have looked into obesity as a factor for erectile dysfunction, with research showing a clear relationship.
For example, a review published in the International Journal of Impotence Research found that being overweight or obese was linked with a 30 to 90 percent increase in the risk of developing erectile dysfunction in adult men.
More recent research from the University of Adelaide shows similar findings — that men who are overweight or obese have an elevated incidence rate for erectile dysfunction, but that this ED can often be treated through improvements in physical activity and a reduction in body weight.
Our guide to belly fat and ED goes into more detail about the link between obesity and your risk of erectile dysfunction.
In addition to affecting your ability to get an erection, being overweight or obese may also affect something closer to home: your penis size.
Although a little extra fat around your waist won’t actually make your penis smaller, it can make it appear shorter. This is because fat can build up around the base of your penis, leading to the illusion of a smaller penis.
Our complete guide to the average penis size goes into more detail about what’s normal below the belt, as well as the effect that penis size can have on sexual attraction.
Beyond the negative cardiovascular health effects of being overweight, researchers also believe that the effects of obesity on testosterone could contribute to sexual issues such as ED.
Testosterone is your body’s primary male sex hormone. It’s responsible for numerous aspects of your physical health, including your muscle mass, bone strength, levels of energy and red blood cell production.
It’s also responsible for regulating your sex drive, which affects how interested you are in having sexual intercourse or engaging in other forms of sexual activity.
Obesity is closely linked with lower-than-normal levels of testosterone in men. A study published in the International Journal of Impotence Research in 2009 found that BMI (body mass index, a measure of weight relative to height) is inversely proportional to serum testosterone levels.
Other studies show a similar link between obesity and testosterone. One study from 1977 found that severely obese men had low levels of testosterone. A more recent review of medical study data from 2014 ended with similar findings.
In short, men with higher-than-average body weight tend to have lower levels of serum and free testosterone, a vital hormone for normal sexual performance in men.
Testosterone is closely linked to libido in men, with low levels of testosterone generally resulting in a reduction in sexual desire. There are also some data to suggest that a certain baseline level of testosterone is essential for normal erectile function, making it a potential factor for ED.
If you’re overweight or obese and find it difficult to get or maintain an erection, losing weight may help to improve your sexual performance.
Losing weight is also good for your general physical health. According to the National Institute of Aging, maintaining a healthy weight is associated with a lower relative risk of experiencing heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other serious health issues.
Are you overweight or obese? The first step in reducing your risk of obesity-associated ED is to check your weight and see if it’s too high for your height and muscle mass.
Most of the time, you can do this using the BMI (body mass index), which assesses your weight in relation to your height. BMI is far from perfect, but it’s a helpful general indicator of weight for the majority of people.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has a BMI calculator that you can use to work out your BMI online.
If you’re very tall, very short, or very muscular, BMI may not provide a totally accurate picture of your weight and its impact on your health. In this case, it’s always best to talk to your healthcare provider to see what they have to say about your weight and body composition.
If you’re overweight, making a few small changes to your lifestyle and diet could have a positive impact on your erections and sexual performance. Try to:
Lose weight, either through dieting, exercise or a combination of both. Weight loss is closely linked to improvements in erection quality and sexual health, making a healthy body weight an important factor for improving your sex life.
If you’re overweight or obese, try eating a healthier diet and reducing your caloric intake to lose weight. If you’re not sure where or how to begin, ask your healthcare provider for advice on the best way to start losing weight.
Focus on cardiovascular health factors. Cardiovascular issues like hypertension (high blood pressure) and clogged arteries are linked to ED, making any improvement to your heart health a positive for your sexual performance.
You can learn more about this in our guide to high blood pressure and ED, which covers one of the most common causes of erectile dysfunction.
Exercise. Even if you aren’t aiming to lose weight, exercising regularly can improve your mood and help you relax during sexual activity, lowering your risk of performance anxiety and increasing your stamina.
Try to exercise on a daily basis, even if it’s just a quick walk, jog or bike ride around your neighborhood.
Research shows that living a healthy lifestyle, and especially maintaining a healthy weight, can have a big positive impact on your erectile function and sexual health.
For example, an Italian study of overweight and obese men looked at the effects of weight loss on erectile dysfunction. The men were divided into two groups — one of which received expert help on weight loss and exercise, while the others received only minor written help.
Men that were coached on weight loss lost an average of 33 lbs over a two-year period, with the members of the control group losing an average of fewer than 5 lbs over the same period.
After two years, 31 percent of men in the group that lost an average of 33 lbs each reported restored erectile function. Only 5 percent of men in the control group showed similar improvements.
Research also shows that giving up a sedentary lifestyle and losing weight can lead to improved testosterone production.
In the Diabetes Prevention Program multicenter clinical research study, obese men were put on a diet and exercise weight loss program. Over the course of one year, men that lost weight with diet and exercise showed a small increase in bioavailable testosterone levels.
This increase in testosterone didn’t occur in the placebo or medication-treated groups, showing that weight loss and physical activity could be major factors in regulating healthy testosterone levels for men.
If you have moderate or severe ED that doesn’t improve with changes to your lifestyle, you may want to consider using erectile dysfunction medication.
Currently, the most commonly used ED medications are PDE5 inhibitors — oral medications that work by increasing blood flow to your penis. These medications can be taken around one hour before sex, making it easier for you to get and maintain an erection.
Popular ED medications include sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®), tadalafil (Cialis®), vardenafil (Levitra®) and avanafil (Stendra®).
We offer several ED medications online, following a consultation with a healthcare provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate for you.
Being overweight or obese can significantly increase your risk of ED. Not only can excess body fat affect your physical performance and quality of life — it’s also linked to several cardiovascular risk factors that may reduce blood flow to your penis when you feel sexually aroused.
The good news is that erectile dysfunction is treatable. You may be able to improve your erectile function and sexual performance by losing weight, keeping yourself physically active and eating a healthier, more balanced diet.
In addition to maintaining a healthier lifestyle, ED medications can make getting and keeping an erection easier.
Interested in learning more about treating ED? Take part in an online consultation for ED to find out more about your options for treating this common condition, or learn more about popular ED medications in our guide to the most common forms of ED treatment.