A man is considered to have erectile dysfunction when he has regular difficulty in getting or maintaining a firm enough erection to be able to achieve sexual penetration, or which interferes with non-penetrative sexual activity. Most men have occasionally experienced some difficulty with their penis becoming hard or staying firm, but this is not normally cause for a diagnosis of erectile dysfunction. This condition is only considered a concern if satisfactory sexual performance has been impossible on a persistent number of occasions for some time.

Broadly, two forms of erectile dysfunction can affect men’s sex lives – the main cause is either medical or psychosocial.

Here, psychosocial refers to the psychological effects – including the effects of social relationships – on sexual performance. Medical conditions can also affect psychological wellbeing, meaning that, while the primary cause of sexual impotence is typically either medical or psychological, there is often overlap between the two. Erectile dysfunction used to be known more widely as ‘impotence’ before the causes became better understood and successful treatments came into use. Impotence is a term that is still in use, however, although it can be seen as pejorative.

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