Temporary Erectile Dysfunction – What Causes a Sudden Loss of Erection?

Erectile Dysfunction Isn’t Always Permanent. Learn About the Possible Causes and Treatments for Temporary Impotence
temporary erectile dysfunction

erectile dysfunction is a real problem that affects men of all ages. The International Consortium of Sexual Medicine defines erectile dysfunction as the “consistent or recurrent inability to attain and/or maintain penile erection sufficient for sexual satisfaction.” ED occurs in about 16% of all men, but increases to 54% in men between 40 and 70 years old.

So, does erectile dysfunction have to be permanent? Most studies look at men who complain of consistent erectile problems for at least six months. If you are like many men and have only occasional experiences of trouble in the bedroom— take a deep breath— you may have temporary erectile dysfunction.

Is my erectile dysfunction temporary?

Temporary erectile dysfunction is an occasional inability to attain or maintain a penile erection. Healthy men may experience difficulty with sexual performance as much as one in four times! It’s a natural part of life and nothing to worry about.

It’s essential that men understand how their bodies work so they don’t get overly alarmed— or even depressed— if they lose an erection. Temporary erectile dysfunction tends to occur suddenly, and may be accompanied with a low sex drive. Affected men will often notice that they still get spontaneous nighttime erections. In some cases, such as with performance anxiety, they may still have an erection while masturbating.

Normal male sexual response has four stages1:

  • Desire—Before getting a physical erection, psychological or physical stimulation causes excitement and makes men receptive to sex.
  • Excitement or arousal—Physical erection occurs and reaches its peak (or plateau). Men will notice an increased heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing.
  • Orgasm—This is the height of sexual pleasure and often (but not always) includes ejaculation.
  • Resolution—The body and penis return to their normal state. Men also have a normal refractory period that makes getting another erection impossible.

A problem in any step can cause sudden erectile dysfunction. By understanding the different stages, men can take control of their physical and mental health to learn to manage situational erectile dysfunction.

What are the common causes of temporary erectile dysfunction?

There are a host of reasons a man experiences temporary erectile dysfunction:

1. Performance anxiety

Intercourse can be a bit stressful. Men may equate their “manhood” with their ability to perform in the bedroom, leading to anxiety. Unfortunately, men who’ve experienced a lost erection are more likely to be anxious, which may lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If this is the case for you, read the article we wrote about how to overcome performance anxiety and erectile dysfunction.

2. Psychological factors

Stress at work or depression and anxiety can directly impact your ability to progress through the four stages of sexual response. Adrenaline, the stress hormone, blocks men’s ability to achieve or maintain an erection. You’re also less likely to feel desire if you have these psychological factors weighing on your mind.

To learn more about how to deal with psychological erectile dysfunction, read the article we wrote on this topic.

3. Medication side effects

Many medicines can hinder the sexual response; in fact, sudden erectile dysfunction may be medication related in 25% of cases. That’s why it’s so important to talk with your doctor about the side effects of your medicines; changing a prescription could be a quick fix to treating situational erectile dysfunction.

Common culprits include medications for depression, pain, high blood pressure, and prostate issues. These include medicines like Prozac, Valium, Lotensin, and Proscar. Over-the-counter medicines can also cause occasional erectile dysfunction— the common heartburn medicine, Tagamet, is a known trigger.

4. Alcohol and drugs

It’s vital that you are aware that recreational drugs can cause temporary erectile dysfunction. Alcohol and marijuana are readily available drugs that slow down men’s libido as well as block specific stages of the sexual response. Besides, street drugs like heroin and cocaine can cause occasional erectile dysfunction to become irreversible.

5. Excessive porn watching

We’ve discussed Porn Induced Erectile Dysfunction (PIED) and its relationship to erectile dysfunction. While not a diagnosed psychological condition, like depression, studies suggest that PIED can cause temporary erectile dysfunction. Over time, PIED may decrease men’s ability to feel desire and may increase performance anxiety from unrealistic expectations about sexual encounters with their partner.

To learn more about porn induced erectile dysfunction, read this comprehensive article Daniel Sher, our clinical psychologist wrote on the topic.

6. Bad lifestyle choices

Heart disease and stroke are leading causes of death and disability, and problems in the bedroom can be an early sign of a problem. Poor lifestyle choices cause damage to the small penile arteries an average of three years before affecting the larger ones in your heart and brain. Men who notice more than occasional erectile dysfunction should take a critical look at their health.

Commit to losing weight, exercising more and quitting bad habits like smoking, which all contribute to artery disease in the penis— and the heart. When artery disease progresses, temporary erectile dysfunction can become permanent.

7. Low sex drive

Relationship problems, as well as medical issues like low testosterone, can lead to a drop in your sex drive. It’s important to distinguish a lack of desire (a crucial part of normal sexual function) from a lost erection in the face of normal desire. If the issue is a low sex drive, men will need to determine the underlying problem which will likely allow treatment and cure.

8. Fatigue

Being overly fatigued and exhausted can and interrupt the stages of the sexual response. Some research suggests that elite athletes, such as marathon runners or cyclists, who train intensively during the week may have lower sex drive, both after a long workout and perhaps even over the long term. Also, since sex boosts your heart rate and counts as a form of aerobic exercise, men may be less likely to get or maintain an erection if they’re physically exhausted.   

9. Sexual Exhaustion

All men have a period after sex, called the refractory period, when they just can’t have another erection, regardless of stimulation. The period varies widely among men— from minutes to hours or even a day— but has little to do with hormone levels or an ability to get an erection. Men should be aware that this period does tend get longer as they age. Besides, men have a refractory period after all forms of sex, so if you masturbate right before sex, you may find it difficult to have an erection and orgasm with your partner immediately afterwards.

Can I treat temporary erectile dysfunction, or should I see my doctor?

If erectile dysfunction is rare, you’re healthy, and there’s a consistent trigger, like exhaustion or a big fight with your partner, getting rest or talking with your partner may be all you need (you can find some suggestions here). If the issue runs deeper, like depression or a possible medication side effect, seek help from your doctor or another health care professional.

If you have situational erectile dysfunction, don’t try medications like Viagra or Cialis, as overusing them—when there is no medical reason— can ultimately lead to performance anxiety and psychological dependence. These medicines also come with real side effects.

Men should be cautious of over the counter herbal supplements that claim to treat erectile dysfunction. Many have no substantial evidence behind them and can cause serious side effects like seizures and heart attacks.

If erectile dysfunction is recurrent, ask your doctor to check your cholesterol and blood sugar levels to make sure they are in a healthy range and to rule out heart disease. If you’re less than 40 years old and none of these temporary causes apply, it’s best to talk with your doctor as erectile dysfunction can signal an underlying medical condition that needs treatment.

Men who have lost their night time or masturbation-induced erections are more likely to have an underlying medical condition. If a lost erection is causing significant stress to you (and your partner), then talk to your doctor.

In Summary

If you notice problems once in a while or only under certain circumstances, it’s likely you have temporary erectile dysfunction. Remember its normal to lose an erection once in a while, so don’t be alarmed and deal with any triggers that worsen occasional erectile dysfunction. On the other hand, be informed about the concerning signs that indicate an underlying problem and be prepared to see your doctor so you can treat them.

About Dr. Oreoluwa Ogunyemi

Urologist and Health and Wellness Coach

Dr. Ogunyemi is a medical doctor, trained urologist and a health and wellness coach. She received her medical degree from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. As a urologist, she counsels and treat genitourinary disorders. As a Wellness Coach, she counsels individuals on best practices to reach their health goals.

She serves as a medical writer for the Between Us Clinic.