Losing an erection during sex can be alarming, but it is actually very common. It occurs when you cannot maintain the pressure on your penis and is a common symptom of erectile dysfunction.
Various things can cause a loss of erection and just as many options to manage it.
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Firstly, you need to know how an erection works. Erections involve your brain, blood vessels, nerves, and hormones. An erection typically starts with excitement in your brain or sexual arousal.
This causes an increase in blood flow into the penis and a decrease in blood flow out of the penis. The change in blood flow increases the pressure and causes the penis to go rigid.
You are losing your erection because you cannot maintain this pressure buildup, i.e., the blood flow. You may be losing your erection because something is going wrong during this process.
Potentially yes, but maybe not. Not being able to maintain an erection during sex is just one presentation of erectile dysfunction (ED). The issue might resolve if it has only happened a few times.
If you have been losing an erection quite frequently during sex, there is a high chance you have ED. Another possible symptom of ED is the inability to produce an erection in the first place. If you sometimes experience the loss of erection or the inability to get one, you may have ED.
In any case, if the loss of erection is concerning you or affecting your sex life, speak to your doctor.
Multiple things could be causing you to lose your erection during sex:
If the excitement in your brain¹ stops, then the signals to increase blood flow to your penis might stop, causing the loss of an erection.
Many factors can cause decreased blood flow to your penis, resulting in reduced blood pressure¹ in your penis and the loss of an erection.
The veins in your penis are responsible for blood flow out of the penis back to the heart. During an erection, these veins are compressed to restrict blood flow, allowing pressure to build in your penis. If this compression reduces, it will cause you to lose your erection.
Many things can cause erectile dysfunction. It has multiple risk factors, many of which can cause underlying blood vessel damage.
Chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes, increase your ED risk. These conditions affect the vascular or nervous physiology that your erections depend on.
These include lifestyle factors such as high body weight, low physical activity levels, and excessive long-distance cycling. These conditions can all cause blood vessel damage.
You have a higher chance of ED if you have multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, or Peyronie’s disease. Trauma to the groin area can also cause ED, potentially due to nerve damage.
There is a complex relationship between alcohol consumption and ED. Regular consumption of alcohol, including at least eight standard drinks² per week, with no more than two per day, can be beneficial if you have ED.
This is thought to be secondary to lower inhibitions and increased sexual arousal that come with drinking. It’s also possibly due to the beneficial effects³ of long-term moderate alcohol intake on cardiovascular health.
However, long-term excessive alcohol consumption of more than 30 standard drinks each week and binge drinking (consuming more than three standard drinks in one sitting) can cause ED to develop. Alcohol can damage your blood vessels.
All in all, alcohol consumption in moderation seems to be associated with a lower risk of ED, most likely in a J-shaped dose-response curve.²
If you are a smoker, you are at an increased risk of ED. Smoking causes damage to your blood vessels, which can impact blood flow.
Historically ED was thought to be psychological. However, psychogenic ED is now separate from organic ED, with a lower prevalence. Organic ED typically develops over time, with a constant, chronic inability to become erect.
Psychogenic⁴ ED is more acute and situational. The psychological issues behind ED in this context can include:
Lack of stimulation
Various medications can cause ED as a side effect.⁵ The symptoms of ED caused by medication should disappear once you stop taking it. Sometimes your doctor may not warn you about this potential side effect. If you suspect your ED may be due to a medication, do not just stop taking it; please consult your doctor.
Common medications with ED as a side effect include:
Some recreational drugs, such as cocaine and heroin
First things first, don't stress out; it's no big deal. It is far more common than you might think, with most men experiencing some form of ED in their lifetime.
If you lose an erection during sex while using a condom, it is important to withdraw and put a new condom on⁶ if you regain an erection. This ensures safe sex.
If this happens while you are having sex and you are unsure whether any semen escaped the condom, you need to inform your sexual partner. They may need to take necessary contraceptive or testing precautions.
In most cases, you will not be able to control whether you lose an erection or not. The good news is there are many medications you can take, including PDE-5 inhibitors,⁷ also known as Viagra, Silvasta, or Levitra.
If you suffer from alcohol-related ED, limiting the amount of alcohol you drink and staying hydrated should help you avoid the temporary ED symptoms.
Lifestyle changes are often the first thing you can do to ease your ED symptoms. Quitting smoking and reducing your alcohol intake if you are a heavy drinker or a binge drinker are two ways to try and reduce any further damage to your blood vessels and any ED progression.
Other lifestyle modifications that could help ED include:
Improving the quality of your diet
Increasing your physical activity level.
There is evidence that following a diet high in fruits and vegetables, such as the Mediterranean diet,⁸ can improve your chances of avoiding ED. This diet lowers inflammation in the body, and it’s beneficial in managing other conditions such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Along with diet, activity levels and body weight improvements will help these conditions.
Medications are another option to help with your ED symptoms. As mentioned earlier, medications for ED include PDE-5 inhibitors, which increase the blood flow to your penis to produce and maintain an erection.
Mental health support can also help your ED if a psychological factor is causing it. Plenty of support is available to help you cope with a high-stress load, relationship problems, past trauma, or anxiety. If something is happening in your life or you have things on your mind, try talking to someone supportive; it may ease your ED.
You should visit your doctor as soon as you feel that your loss of erection or ED is impacting your sex life and your mental, emotional, and social wellbeing.
You should reach out to your doctor if you feel like you are experiencing ED as a side effect of your medication. Lastly, contact your doctor if you are experiencing any side effects from an ED drug, such as Viagra or Levitra.
You can lose an erection during sex for multiple reasons, all related to erectile dysfunction. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Erectile dysfunction is common, and there are many things you can do to manage it.
A variety of factors may be causing your ED. These include your lifestyle, alcohol intake, some medications, diseases, disorders, and psychological stress. Depending on the cause, several effective strategies and treatments exist.
Erectile dysfunction (2013)
What happens if you lose your erection during sex? | Planned Parenthood
PDE5 inhibitors | National Institute of Health: National Library of Medicine
Erectile dysfunction (2020)