6 Facts And Myths About Erectile Dysfunction That Every Man Should Know

Here's the lowdown on this very common, very treatable condition.

This story was written in partnership with BlueChew.

There isn’t a more sensitive topic around men’s most, well, sensitive area than erectile dysfunction. The stigma around ED—that having it is somehow shameful or non-masculine—makes it difficult for many men to talk about it with their doctors. It also means that there’s a lot of misinformation floating around, as information that comes from the male hive mind is less reliable than that from medical professionals, to put it lightly.

But not believing everything you hear about ED is only one-half of the equation. The other is arming yourself with useful information that puts the symptoms of ED in context and makes it less scary if you experience them. In that spirit, here are three facts about ED that every man should know and three myths about ED that they should know to disregard.

Myth: ED is simply the inability to get an erection.

There are actually a few different situations that qualify for a diagnosis of erectile dysfunction. According to the National Institutes of Health, men have ED when they can get an erection sometimes (but not every time they want to have sex), get erections that don’t last long enough for fulfilling or satisfactory sex, or, yes, are unable to get an erection at any time.

Fact: ED is treatable.

The FDA has approved four prescription medications for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. They are available not just from urologists, but all general practitioners. Along with improving lifestyle choices like quitting smoking and exercising regularly, they are effective in helping men reduce their erectile dysfunction symptoms.

Myth: ED can be treated with non-prescription medicines.

There’s no shortage of dubious products that claim to cure erectile dysfunction, as anyone who’s ever glimpsed the “medicine” section of a gas station can attest. But the FDA-approved medications that treat ED are all available exclusively with a prescription. Over-the-counter herbal remedies like ginseng, for instance, have not met the high standard of proof required to secure FDA approval. So while buying something that promises fast results without a prescription might be tempting, taking anything that a doctor didn’t prescribe amounts to throwing away your money at best and putting your health at risk at worst.

Fact: ED is a common condition.

As of 2012, an estimated 30 million American men, including 30 percent of men with high blood pressure, are affected by erectile dysfunction. That’s a lot! The private nature of the problem means that it can have an isolating effect—wouldn’t you be more likely to discuss your bum knee than your bum penis with your friends?—but it’s actually a widespread and, thankfully, treatable quality of life disorder.

Myth: ED is only a problem for older men.

Years of commercials featuring husbands with fully salted heads of hair created the false impression that only older dudes struggle with ED. Not so, says an analysis of 2,126 surveys published in 2007. That data showed that, while ED is “highly positively related to age” (i.e. you’re more likely to have it the older you are), it nevertheless found that around 5.1 percent of men in their 20s and 30s were “sometimes” or “never” able to “attain an erection adequate for satisfactory sexual intercourse.” That might not sound like a lot, but it’s literally millions of men commonly believed to be “too young” to experience ED symptoms.

Fact: ED can be a sign of other medical problems.

According to Johns Hopkins, erectile dysfunction is a symptom of many other disorders and diseases, from chronic sleep disorders to diabetes to neurogenic disorders to depression. So while the particular difficulty presented by ED is confined to one part of the body, it’s often a sign of bigger problems, one that’s worth mentioning to a medical professional pursuing a complete evaluation of your health.