June 3, 2010 (San Francisco) -- Waning sexual desire may be an early sign of erectile dysfunction (ED), researchers report.
In a study of more than 800 men, those who reported fewer sexual thoughts and desires were more likely to develop ED by nine years later than those who had more sexual fantasies and feelings.
"The findings suggest that indications of reduced sexual function appear years before ED, and that there may be a time window for intervention before a more complete loss of erectile function," says researcher Susan A. Hall, PhD, of the New England Research Institutes.
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association (AUA).
While many studies have examined the prevalence of ED, there's been little research on non-medical risk factors for erectile dysfunction, Hall says.
So she and colleagues examined data from the population-based Massachusetts Male Aging Study, a study of aging, health, and sexual function among a random sample of men aged 40 to 70 living in the Boston area.
The analysis involved 814 men with minimal or no ED who filled out a questionnaire that included 23 items related to sexual functioning between 1987 and 1989.
Of the total, 178 (22%) reported having moderate or complete ED during a follow-up visit between 1995 and 1997.
Sexual Thoughts and ED
After taking into account age and other ED risk factors, the researchers found:
- Men who reported having trouble getting an erection during the past six months at the first visit were 2.33 times more likely to develop ED by nine years later than men who had no trouble in that area.
- Men who said they felt less sexually aroused than when they were teenagers at the first visit were about twice as likely to develop ED by nine years later as men who said they felt about the same or more aroused.
- Men who reported having sexual thoughts, fantasies, or erotic dreams once a week or less were about twice as likely to develop ED by nine years later than men who had more frequent sexual thoughts and fantasies.
- Men who reported masturbating to ejaculation once a week or less were about twice as likely to develop ED as men who masturbated more frequently, but that finding could have been due to chance.
AUA spokesman Ira Sharlip, MD, a urologist at the University of California, San Francisco, tells WebMD that at first glance, "it seems intuitive that you won't get an erection if you don't get very excited."
But the fact that there's such a long lag time between waning sexual desire and development of ED may help doctors to identify men at risk for loss of sexual function earlier, he says.
The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health with support from Eli Lilly and Company.
This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.