Guys, we might now be more open than we’ve ever been, but there are still some things we just don’t want to talk about. Like penises and erection problems. We’ve all had doubts and it’s common to worry. Is it big enough? Does it look weird? Do I stay as hard as other men? Am I the only one who’s ever had problems getting or keeping it up? Why do I lose an erection during intercourse? Why can I only get semi-erect?
While these questions might be running through your head, it’s not necessarily something that’s discussed between friends. You also might not feel that comfortable talking to your doctor either.
What you need is scientifically-correct and actionable advice. Here we’ll talk about what’s normal, we’ll cover problems with erections, and let you know what you can do about it.
We might claim we don’t care, but most men want to know how they stack up. Let’s look at penis size, shape, and how long most men stay hard for:
Despite what you might see in porn, large penises are rare. A study of penis size from 2014, which measured 15,521 men’s private parts, found the average length when erect was 5.2 inches, with 95% of men between 3.9 to 6.4 inches. The average circumference when erect (the distance around the penis) was 4.6 inches, with 95% of men between 3.7 to 5.5 inches. Basically, the average erect length is about 5 inches, and the majority of men are within an inch or so either side of that.
There’s been less research on shape, although one expert in the field claims they’ve identified four different types of penis, ranging from 'the big head' to 'the curve'. The truth is that penises come in a wide range of shapes, and you really shouldn’t worry about it, unless the shape of your penis stops you from getting an erection or having sex, like if you have a condition like Peyronie's disease. You should speak to a doctor if this is the case.
Like penis size, the truth may be less imposing than porn or your mate’s tall tales would have you believe. A study of 500 straight couples from across Europe and the US found the average duration of erections during sex was 5.4 minutes. This varied by age, with younger men lasting longer, but not massively so. Men 18 to 30 years old lasted an average of 6.5 minutes, whilst men over 51 lasted an average of 4.3 minutes.
This might surprise you too. The truth is no one knows exactly how many men have problems getting or staying hard, as different research approaches have come up with widely different numbers, from as few as 3% of men, up to 76.5%. It’s established that older men usually have more issues with erections, but more and more younger men are reporting problems too. It’s probably safe to say that most men experience some sort of erection problem every now and again. The medical term for erection problems is erectile dysfunction. Let’s look at that next.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is when a man can’t get or maintain an erection firm enough for sex. This can include not being able to get an erection at all, getting semi-erect, or not being able to maintain an erection for long enough to finish sex. This used to be called impotence, but that’s a loaded word. Erectile dysfunction is more neutral, and appropriately medical sounding, as it is a recognised medical condition. We’ll explore ED a bit more, but first, let’s look at what happens when you get an erection, as this helps you to understand ED a little better.
It all begins in your head. Something turns you on - a sight, a touch, a smell - and this causes your brain to release a particular cocktail of chemicals and hormones. These trigger messages to be sent from your brain through your nerves to the blood vessels in your penis.
Despite what you may have heard or think, your penis isn’t a bone or a muscle, it’s more like a sponge that’s filled with blood vessels. The nerve messages cause these blood vessels to relax and widen and fill with blood. At the same time, the vessels that carry blood away from your penis tighten, so more blood flows in and stays inside than leaves. This increase in blood pressure causes your penis to rise and harden.
There are a range of causes of ED, but in summary, anything that interferes with the flow of blood around your body, how your nerves work, or alters your hormone levels can cause ED. And psychology obviously plays a role too. You might feel turned on, but anxiety, or mental health conditions like depression, can affect your thinking and throw a spanner in the works.
If you’ve experienced ED, then there are plenty of things you can do to help. It’s also worth talking to a doctor about it, as although it might be embarrassing, ED can be a sign you have a serious health condition, so it’s not something to ignore.
If you’re questioning how to maintain an erection, the good news is there are changes you can make to your lifestyle to improve the quality of your erections:
Aerobic exercise like running, swimming, and boxing can help strengthen the heart and improve the flow of blood around your body, including the flow of blood to your penis. Research has shown that 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise four times a week can help reduce erectile dysfunction.
Being overweight can put you at risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, all of which can cause ED. Too much weight around your belly can reduce testosterone levels too. Keeping your weight down should help stop these conditions from affecting your erections.
A healthy diet has been linked to a lower risk of ED, and there’s even evidence that certain foods can help with erections.
There’s growing evidence that bad sleep can contribute to ED too. A good night’s sleep has a whole host of benefits, so make sure you get enough sleep to wake feeling refreshed in the morning.
Smoking damages the heart and blood vessels, harming your circulatory system and increasing your chances of ED. There’s even evidence that smoking damages the tissues inside your penis. Getting better erections is just one of the many benefits of giving up smoking.
Research has shown that light to moderate drinking can temporarily help with ED, but that excessive and regular drinking can cause it. A couple of drinks might help you relax and calm any nerves, but any more is likely to lead to ‘brewers droop.’ Illegal drugs like heroin, ecstasy (MDMA), and speed (amphetamine) can all cause ED too.
There are a lot of myths and misunderstandings around penises, as well as how to get an erection in the first place, and how to keep an erection, so hopefully we’ve dispelled a lot of that.
Experiencing erection problems can be really distressing, particularly if you haven’t got anyone to talk to about it. Remember it’s something that can and does happen to most men, but that doesn’t mean it’s something to ignore.