You probably have a basic knowledge of how the penis works. And that’s probably all you need to know. Unless, of course, things stop working as they should. So here is a more detailed look at how an erection occurs and some of the factors that can bring about ED.

How Erections Occur

When a man is sexually aroused, the arteries in the penis relax and widen, allowing more blood to flow into the penis. As the arteries in the penis expand and harden, the veins that normally carry blood away from the penis become compressed, restricting the blood flow out of the penis. With more blood flowing in and less flowing out, the penis enlarges, resulting in an erection.

While it may sound simple, an erection is the result of a delicate but perfectly balanced process that involves the brain, blood vessels, nerves and hormones. If one of those elements isn’t functioning, ED can be the result.

When ED is a factor

In men with ED, the process that causes an erection doesn’t take place as usual. There may be a problem with one of the links in the chain of events that enables the penis to fill with blood and trap it there.

Here are some common causes of ED and how they affect your ability to get an erection:

  • In the case of medical conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and hardening of the arteries, blood flow into the penis may simply be blocked
  • Nerve trauma resulting from spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, stroke or prostate or colon surgery can interrupt the connection between the nervous system and the penis, effectively blocking the crucial path of communication from the brain
  • Psychological conditions like anxiety, depression or stress, that can depress your brain’s response to sexual stimuli and hamper your ability to get an erection
  • Kidney or liver disease or hormonal disorders can throw off the delicate balance of the body’s systems, making it impossible for the normal erection process to occur
  • Other important factors in ED are prescription and over-the-counter medications. High blood pressure medications (diuretics or water pills, beta-blockers), antidepressants, some types of drugs used to treat cancer, and epilepsy medications are all widely used drugs that can play a role in ED
  • Lifestyle factors are also a consideration. Cigarette smoking, obesity, alcohol abuse and drug use can impede your normal bodily functions, and that can mean difficulty getting an erection