Aside from one night when he had a “bit too much wine,” Ben has never had any erection-related issues. That’s to be expected of a perfectly healthy 24-year-old, which is why it’s particularly concerning that he hasn’t been able to maintain an erection since recovering from COVID back in April.
Shortly after his partner was exposed to the virus at work, Ben tested positive and cycled through relatively mild symptoms — body aches, congestion and loss of taste and smell — most of which cleared up after three weeks. But during that time, he also noticed his sex drive was “way down from what it was before,” and he had trouble staying erect. Erectile dysfunction, however, never entered his mind. “After all, I’m 24,” he says. “So I chalked it up to my body taking a while to recuperate and that it would resolve itself naturally.”
The problem is, that’s yet to happen. “It’s been eight months, and my ability to stay erect is still way off,” he confides. “The worst part is that my overall sex drive has returned, so the erection issue no longer lines up with that. It’s very frustrating.”
According to a recent report in the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation, ED should be added to the growing list of long-term COVID effects. “Despite being a trivial matter for patients in intensive care units,” the report concludes, “erectile dysfunction is a likely consequence of COVID-19 for survivors.”
While there haven’t been any specific clinical studies on COVID and ED, urologist Christopher Kyle says the connection between the virus and vascular issues that cause erectile trouble is strong. “Erectile dysfunction largely stems from issues with blood flow, so it’s no surprise that the two may be aligned,” he explains. “If it turns out that COVID-19 does have an effect on cardiovascular health long-term, it’s very possible that it could lead to ED issues.”
So far, the evidence of COVID wreaking such cardiovascular havoc is strong. For example, many lifelong runners report being unable to run much further than a block for months after contracting even a mild case of coronavirus. And it’s why researchers theorize many COVID survivors struggle with brain fog long after they’ve recovered.
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Though Kyle isn’t aware of any previous viruses or upper-respiratory diseases that help trigger ED, he says there is evidence that “COVID-19 can lead to a cardiovascular disease called endothelial dysfunction, which can also be caused by several other conditions, like diabetes, hypertension and smoking — all of which also lead to erectile dysfunction.”
When it became clear to Ben that his inability to achieve an erection was more than a fluke, he began researching what might be at the root of his problems. “I first ran through any possible underlying psychological symptoms — depression, anxiety or possibly being unhappy with my sex life and not knowing it,” he tells me. After ruling all of this out, he tried eating healthier, working out more and cutting back on booze. “Unfortunately, none of those things seemed to matter,” he says. “I started trying different supplements such as horny goat weed, ginseng and niacin,” but still, no wood.
“At this point, I decided to consult my doctor, who told me that he’s been hearing about this issue in other COVID survivors,” Ben explains. “Since there’s still so much they don’t know, he advised me that while it could be temporary, it also may not be.” For now, Ben’s doctor prescribed him a generic ED medication. “It should be delivered this week,” he says, “so here’s to hoping it works!”
As to whether or not this will move the proverbial needle for those who aren’t taking precautions against the virus, Kyle is hopeful. “Cardiovascular or respiratory issues are harder to put into context for an otherwise healthy adult man. But when you put the danger into a much more personal space — like his ability to achieve an erection — it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the seriousness take hold,” he tells me.
“Men make life-changing decisions all the time to improve their sexual health and wellness,” he continues. “They’ll start eating better, exercising, improving their mental health — anything that helps them regain the ability to achieve an erection. Tell a man that smoking can cause bladder cancer, lung cancer, esophageal cancer, and it doesn’t change their habits. Tell them it will impact their erections, though, and they immediately look to quit. It’s sad to say that may also be the case with some men taking COVID-19 seriously. But if that’s what it takes, so be it.”
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