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Erectile Dysfunction Prevalence Increases with Age

  • Published: 2015-03-13 : Author: Harvard School of Public Health : Contact: rherman@hsph.harvard.edu
  • Synopsis: Study finds erectile dysfunction (ED) is common among older men and increases with age, and men who were physically active had a lower prevalence for ED.

Quote: "By avoiding the classic risk factors for cardiovascular disease, men can help maintain better sexual function and live longer."

Main Document

In the first large-scale study to assess age and erectile function, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found that erectile dysfunction (ED) is common among older men and increases with age. They also found that men who were physically active and stayed lean had a lower prevalence for ED.

(ED) or impotence is sexual dysfunction characterized by the inability to develop or maintain an erection of the penis during sexual activity. A penile erection is the hydraulic effect of blood entering and being retained in sponge-like bodies within the penis. The process is most often initiated as a result of sexual arousal, when signals are transmitted from the brain to nerves in the penis.

The researchers assessed the sexual function of 31,742 men between the ages of 53 and 90, who were enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (www.hsph.harvard.edu/hpfs/) and had responded to a questionnaire mailed in 2000 that, among other questions related to health, asked about sexual function, physical activity, body weight, smoking and marital status.

Men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer were excluded from the findings.

Thirty-three percent of the participants reported experiencing erectile dysfunction in the previous three months.

ED was defined as the inability, without treatment, to have and maintain an erection adequate for intercourse.

Fewer than two percent of the men in the study who reported that they had erection problems experienced them before age 40, and four percent had experienced problems between age 40 and 49.

From age 50 upwards, the percentage of men reporting ED increased dramatically with 26 percent between the ages of 50 to 59, 40 percent aged 60 to 69 years and 61 percent for men older than 70 having experienced ED.

Men who were physically active, equivalent to running three hours or more per week or playing five hours per week of singles tennis, reported 30 percent lower risk of ED when compared to the men in the study who reported little or no physical activity.

Other behaviors such as watching more than 20 hours per week of television, smoking and being overweight also were strongly associated with ED.

ED was also more prevalent in men with diabetes, previous stroke, or among those who reported use of anti-depressants or beta-blockers.

Risk factors for ED were found to be nearly the same as those associated with cardiovascular disease.

"The research shows that men who maintain an active lifestyle into their later years, who keep off extra weight, drink alcohol moderately, don't smoke and avoid sedentary behavior like watching a lot of TV, maintain healthy sexual function into their 50's, 60's and 70's," said Eric Rimm, senior author of the study and an associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology in the Departments of Nutrition and Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. He added,

"By avoiding the classic risk factors for cardiovascular disease, men can help maintain better sexual function and live longer."

Awareness: ED Awareness Information

November is National Impotence Awareness and Education Month, and National Impotence Day is on Valentine's Day (February 14th) and helps spread awareness of impotence or erectile dysfunction (ED).

Facts: ED

During the late 16th and 17th centuries in France, male impotence was considered a crime, as well as legal grounds for a divorce. The practice, which involved inspection of the complainants by court experts, was declared obscene in 1677.


Modern drug therapy for ED made a significant advance in 1983, when British physiologist Giles Brindley dropped his trousers and demonstrated to a shocked Urodynamics Society audience his papaverine-induced erection.


John R. Brinkley initiated a boom in male impotence cures in the U.S. in the 1920s and 1930s. His radio programs recommended expensive goat gland implants and "mercurochrome" injections as the path to restored male virility


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