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erectile dysfunction

Impotence can be a frustrating and embarrassing problem for many men, lots of whom may feel too timid to discuss the issue with anyone - be it a partner or even a medical professional.

However, NHS figures reveal that as many as one in ten men has a problem with their sex life - be it erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation, for example. With the official 2011 census estimating there were 31 million men in the UK, that's 3.1 million men in that year time all grappling with sexual problems.

Therefore, those who find themselves struggling with impotence must remember they are far from alone. As Dr John Tomlinson of the Sexual Advice Association confirmed: "[Impotence] is much more common than people realise. In the 20-40 age group it affects around seven to eight per cent of men, in the 40-50 age group it affects 11 per cent. In the over-60s it affects 40 per cent, and more than half of men over 70."

Why do I have erectile dysfunction?

A man may be physically unable to get an erection for a number of reasons, both physical and psychological - sometimes a combination of both.

As Dr Tomlinson goes on to say, it is often psychological issues that are the problem with younger men - such as first night nerves. Fortunately, these problems can be addressed either with the help of friends and family or perhaps with professional therapy from a psychosexual therapist or psychotherapist.

It may help to talk through what could be causing the feeling of anxiety, nervousness, panic and so on - without even needing to discuss the side-effect of impotence with someone else. If you can get to the root of these problems and deal with them, you may find that gaining and keeping an erection is no longer a problem - without anyone ever needing to know it was an issue for you.

However, it may not be possible to get an erection due to physical issues - for example, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), raised cholesterol levels (which may lead to clogged arteries that aid blood flow to the penis) and a low amount of testosterone. Surgery or injury could also be to blame.

What can I do about it?

If you have impotence due to a physical condition such as high blood pressure, it may be possible to take drugs to help the situation. While you may feel embarrassed about doing so, speaking with your GP may be the best thing to do as only they can prescribe you with beta-blockers, antidepressants, antipsychotic or anticonvulsant drugs, where necessary, which may help your condition.

Low testosterone can be replaced by using a hormone replacement therapy, although it may need to be used in conjunction with other drugs and, again, you will need to speak to your GP for this.

Alcohol, recreational drugs (including cannabis and cocaine) and smoking (nicotine affects blood flow to the penis) can all worsen the situation, so if you are a fan of any of these habits, you should consider cutting them out and fast - not least because of all of the other health benefits of doing so.

However, Dr Tomlinson warns there isn't really an overnight cure for impotence. You may need to make some significant lifestyle changes and be prepared to get to the bottom of any psychological issues. However, doing so could see you back to enjoying an active and fulfilling sex life once more, which comes with a whole host of health benefits of its own.