How to Manage Losing an Erection
It’s normal and very common. Here’s how to respond when it happens to you
Last reviewed: 10 Jan 2019
Losing an erection is normal. It’s not necessarily linked to your sex drive, and you may or may not need to do anything about it.
Find out what could be causing you to lose erections, and whether making lifestyle changes, or getting treatment, could help you.
Why do men sometimes lose erections?
There are a lot of reasons why people lose erections. Erection problems affect most men at one time or another, and often disappear on their own:
- Sometimes people have an erection problem if they’re tired, anxious or have drunk too much alcohol
- Some men, especially if they’re young, can lose an erection when using a condom during sex or soon after using it. This might be because the condom makes them lose their concentration or their arousal. We always recommend using condoms, so if you’re worried that condoms are causing you to lose erections we recommend you talk to a healthcare professional for advice. We don’t recommend you avoid using condoms
An ongoing situation
For some men, getting or maintaining an erection may start to happen regularly. This is called erectile dysfunction (ED).
It’s important to speak to your online doctor or GP if this becomes a persistent problem for you. There might be underlying health issues that are playing a part in your ED, and these may be either emotional or physical causes. Getting treatment for these issues as soon as possible could help a lot.
In general, emotional causes are more common in younger men, and physical causes are more common in older men.
Emotional causes can be triggered by any life event that upsets your emotional well-being. This usually happens quite suddenly. Some of these emotional causes might be:
- anxiety or low self-esteem. Relationship problems can also cause these feelings
- performance anxiety. This happens for men of all ages, but is more common in younger men. If you develop fear about your performance, it could make any erection problems worse. This could then trigger even more feelings of anxiety, resulting in a negative cycle
Physical causes of ED tend to occur more gradually, but are continuous over a period of time. Physical causes of ED include:
- heart disease
- high blood pressure
- clogged arteries (atherosclerosis)
- hormone imbalances, such as thyroid problems or low testosterone (this can lead to a low sex drive)
- nervous system disorders, such as Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease
- prostate surgery
- spinal cord injury
- drinking too much alcohol
- using recreational drugs, including cocaine, marijuana, and others
- using anabolic steroids for non-medical purposes, like bodybuilding
ED can also be an unwanted side effect of some medicines. These include:
- blood pressure medicines, particularly some beta-blockers and water tablets
- some medicines that are used to treat heart conditions
- antidepressants and medications that are used to treat mental health conditions
- medicines that affect hormone levels, including some that are used to treat different forms of cancer
- Parkinson’s disease medications
- steroid treatments
Does losing an erection mean I have erectile dysfunction?
Not necessarily. It’s very common and normal to occasionally lose an erection.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a specific condition. You could be experiencing ED if you lose erections repeatedly. ED can be treated with lifestyle changes, or medications called ‘PDE5 inhibitors’, which include Viagra.
It’s important to speak to your doctor if you have concerns about your erections, as it can be difficult to find the exact cause. For some people, ED may be caused by a combination of both emotional and physical causes.
Does losing an erection mean you are not aroused?
Not necessarily – you can still be aroused and lose your erection. This could be due to performance anxiety or the effects of too much alcohol for example.
You can get an erection and then lose it when you are not aroused. You can also lose your erection when you stop feeling aroused.
Even if you are able to get erections when you’re alone but not during sex, that doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t aroused in that situation. Erectile dysfunction can be situational and doesn’t definitely mean there’s no attraction.
However, losing an erection can be linked to a lack of arousal, but there’s no easy way to separate the erection problems and arousal problems.
Does losing an erection mean I’m not aroused?
Not necessarily. You can be aroused and lose an erection. This could be down to a number of reasons, like performance anxiety, or the effects of too much alcohol, or stress.
Even if you’re able to get erections when you’re alone but not during sex, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not aroused in that situation. Erectile dysfunction can be situational and isn’t a definite sign that there’s no attraction.
But, losing an erection could be a sign that you’re not aroused. You’re in the best position to know if this is the case for you – there’s no easy way for someone else to separate emotional causes from a lack of arousal in your case.
What should you do if you lose an erection?
The best thing to do depends on your situation:
- If you’ve lost an erection once, you may not need to do anything. You may find that you can get and keep your erection the next time you try
- Some people find that losing an erection once knocks their confidence. It’s important to try and address this as soon as you can. This is the type of thing that can lead to performance anxiety
- Losing an erection may or may not be a sign that you need to change partners, but it can help to communicate with your partner if you have one
- If you’re finding it difficult to get or maintain erections on a regular basis, you should think about whether treatment could work for you. You can order treatment online or speak to your GP in person
It’s important to remember that you can do something about erectile dysfunction. The sooner you seek treatment, the sooner you can help yourself get back to normal.
How can I avoid losing erections in the future?
Mental stimulation is a good place to start – although the penis is sensitive to touch, this alone does not always provide an erection. Your brain is the most important organ to bring about arousal needed for an erection:
- You can be sexually stimulated through sight, sound, touch or thought. Trying different ways to gain arousal can help you maintain or avoid losing an erection during sex
- Trying to stay relaxed and not worry about getting an erection before and during sex is also important. Being anxious will only make you feel worse and cause performance anxiety
- Discussing your expectations with your partner before sex and knowing their expectations may also help in reducing your anxiety
Lifestyle changes – you can also make long term adjustments to your lifestyle so you are less likely to have problems in the future. These include:
- Eating a healthy balanced diet – this will help maintain your blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar levels within the normal range
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Looking after your emotional health
- Stopping smoking
- Reducing your alcohol intake
Blahd, W. (2017). Drugs linked to erectile dysfunction. WebMD. [online] Available at: https://www.webmd.com/erectile-dysfunction/guide/drugs-linked-erectile-dysfunction [accessed 14th June 2018].
DerSarkissian, C. (2017). Understanding erectile dysfunction -- the basics. WebMD. [online] Available at: https://www.webmd.com/erectile-dysfunction/understanding-erectile-dysfunction-basics [accessed 10th January 2019].
Janssen, E. et al (2014) Patterns of sexual arousal in young, heterosexual men who experience condom-associated erection problems (CAEP). J Sex Med; 11(9): 2285-2291.
Joint Formulary Committee (2016). British National Formulary, 70 ed. London: BMJ Group and Pharmaceutical Press.
Joint Formulary Committee. Erectile dysfunction. BMJ Group. [online] Available at: https://bnf.nice.org.uk/treatment-summary/erectile-dysfunction.html [accessed 14th June 2018].
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