Though a few years have passed since the arrival of Covid, our understanding of the long-term impacts of the virus is – frustratingly – still in its early stages.
The data on the long-term effects of the virus is still being collected and studied by teams of doctors and researchers across the globe - but preliminary findings indicate a strong connection between Covid and erectile dysfunction (ED).
If you’ve been exposed to Covid and are experiencing ED, then Covid may be the culprit or a strong contributing factor. We've rounded up the ways Covid may affect erectile function and tips to treat Covid-induced ED.
How can Covid cause erectile dysfunction?
A 2021 study found that men exposed to Covid were five times more likely to experience erectile issues than those who were not. That said, our understanding of the effects of long covid is still developing as new research is published and new findings are discussed. To date, researchers have identified three main ways Covid can contribute to erectile dysfunction.
1. Vascular issues
One of the more common symptoms of Covid is damage to the cardiovascular system – the system of organs, including your heart, arteries, and veins, which is responsible for pumping blood through the body. Covid affects the cardiovascular system in many different ways, but with regards to erectile function, it boils down to this: erections are caused by blood pumping into the penis, causing it to inflate – and if your cardiovascular system is struggling to pump blood, it can be much harder to get or maintain an erection.
2. Psychological issues
Mental health conditions can be difficult on their own, but what is extra frustrating is how psychological conditions can cause erectile dysfunction. Nearly 40% of all erectile dysfunction cases are found to have psychological or situational causes. Factors like depression, anxiety, traumatic stress, and low self-esteem can contribute to ED – all of which can be exacerbated by the stress of the pandemic.
Two studies on the mental health impacts of Covid found that those who contracted Covid or had loved ones contract Covid exhibited high levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms, as well as dramatically increased levels of depression and anxiety. People with preexisting mental health concerns reported a worsening of their symptoms, along with new symptoms, including difficulty sleeping and heightened anxiety.
3. Decreased testosterone
While ED can be caused by many factors, evidence suggests that low testosterone levels can result in difficulty maintaining an erection.
A 2022 study found that among the damage Covid inflicts to the vascular system, it can target cells in the testes and reduce testosterone levels in men. The preliminary research suggests that testosterone levels can recover over time with over 50% of those studied showing improved testosterone levels after six to seven months of contracting Covid.
5 ways to treat erectile dysfunction after Covid
Erectile dysfunction can often feel like a low blow but most cases of ED can be treated, and there are various ways of addressing the ups and downs of ED.
Here are a few suggestions to try if you are experiencing ED due to Covid. Note that it’s also important to speak to a medical professional, as ED can often be a sign of a larger issue in the body. A doctor’s consultation is recommended in all cases related to physical and mental health.
1. Change your lifestyle
There are a number of simple changes that can be made to an individual’s lifestyle that can improve cardiovascular health, mental health, and even testosterone levels.
Exercise and physical activity improve circulation and vascular function, which helps combat ED. Getting enough quality sleep has been shown to improve overall mood and gives you the mental and physical energy to handle the stressors of life or the pandemic.
Lifestyle changes are typically the first line of defense to treat ED naturally before turning to other methods like oral ED medications.
2. Try male erectile aids
Devices like penis pumps, cock rings, and male vibrators can help combat erectile dysfunction, many of which are also extremely fun to use. Each of these erectile aids works in different ways to improve blood flow and keep blood in the penis to maintain an erection. A 2022 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that the male vibrator, Tenuto 2, even improved ED in a colorectal cancer survivor who developed ED as a consequence of surgery. So, regardless of your situation, there’s likely a solution out there for you.
3. Take prescription medication
Oral ED medications, more commonly referred to by their brand names, like Viagra or Cialis, are another option for treating ED. Oral ED medication requires a prescription from a doctor, but they are discreet and easy solutions to increasing circulation and maintaining erectile function. However, oral medication may not be suitable for everyone, like people with certain pre-existing health conditions due to its effect on the vascular system. Make sure to discuss your health history with your doctor when deciding if this is the right option for you.
While oral medication is an extremely useful tool it’s also worth remembering that they treat the symptoms of erectile dysfunction not the root cause.
4. Explore testosterone replacement therapy
Before oral medications came into the scene, the go-to treatment was testosterone therapy. Testosterone is a naturally occurring male hormone responsible for sex drive, energy, mood, and more.
However, the link between testosterone levels and ED is often misunderstood. Low testosterone levels are not always directly responsible for ED as much as decreased sex drive, but lack of libido can negatively affect erectile function.
Depending on your particular symptoms testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) can provide a viable solution for addressing ED. To determine if this is a good option for you, speak to your doctor about checking your testosterone levels.
5. Get mental health support
As previously discussed, ED can often arise as a result of low points in our mental health – something which can often make us feel even worse.
If you or someone close to you is struggling with erectile dysfunction arising from mental health issues, speak to a trained professional or therapist who can help you work through any trauma, stress or depression that might be causing or contributing to ED.
Can Covid cause male fertility issues?
In addition to erectile dysfunction, Covid has also been linked to decreased male fertility. The effects, however, were mostly short-lived with a small minority experiencing long-term reduction in fertility.
A 2021 study among men with a confirmed Covid diagnosis saw a significant drop in sperm efficiency and motility. Although in the vast majority of men, a noticeable improvement began within a month of recovery, with fertility rates returning close to normal after approximately three months.
With what we currently know, male fertility issues might be a concern among couples trying to conceive within a few weeks after a Covid diagnosis, but more research is needed to definitively say.
While the science behind how Covid can affect erectile dysfunction, testosterone levels, and fertility is still evolving, the key takeaway is that there is a connection. However, if there’s one takeaway to focus on from these findings, it’s that although Covid can cause erectile problems, there are more than a few ways to fix them. If you’re struggling with erectile dysfunction – you can still have an active sex life with our tips on how to have great sex with ED!