Happy, Healthy, and Hard
Experts explain the connection between a man's overall health and his sexual health.
Heart Health and Sexual Health continued...
"There are pretty strong suggestions that those things are true," he
One persuasive piece of evidence appeared in the April 2004 issue of the
Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Between 1972 and 1974,
researchers in California surveyed 1,810 men about their risks for heart
disease. In 1998, researchers contacted 844 of them who were still alive and
asked them about their erectile function. The men who had risk factors for
heart disease in the '70s were much more likely to have ED 25 years later.
If men with heart disease are more likely to develop ED, it stands to reason
that having ED could be a warning sign for heart disease, too.
The Erectile Continuum
ED becomes more common as men age, but aging itself is not the cause.
"We never expect a healthy man to develop ED as a result of aging
alone," Montague says.
A very healthy octogenarian can have erections. But Montague says even in
the fittest men, some changes occur with age. An erection is still possible,
but it may take some coaxing.
"As men get older they require direct genital stimulation from their
partner or from themselves. A young man can just daydream and get an
erection," he says. "Those changes by themselves, though, don't prevent
By definition, having ED means a man cannot get an erection hard enough for
penetration or one that lasts long enough for him to reach orgasm. But in
Lamm's opinion, there are shades of gray between normal sexual performance and
"You don't go from being 'normal' to having ED. What you end up having
is a transition," he says.
Usually doctors assess erectile function by the International Index of
Erectile Function, a set of five questions such as, "How do you rate your
confidence that you could get and keep an erection?" A patient's answers
are scored, and that score determines whether or not he has ED.
Lamm says he thinks a better way to measure erectile function is with a new
tool called a rigidometer. A man presses the head of his erect penis against a
sensor attached to the digital device, which measures the precise hardness of
his penis in grams of pressure. According to the manufacturer, 400 grams is
limp; 400-500 is "borderline," and 500-1,000 is sufficient for sexual
activity. A number over 1,000 is considered optimum.