Erectile dysfunction (ED) is incredibly common among men. About 52 percent struggle with it at some point during their lives, and the risk of developing it increases by roughly 10 percent for every decade a guy’s kicking. Younger men deal with it, too — in one recent survey, 18 percent of men ages 18 to 24 struggled to maintain erections, and many of them leaned on pharmaceuticals like Viagra and Cialis for support.
If you’re one of the countless men who struggles with this, ED really can feel like a death sentence. And for some, it actually might be. According to a growing body of research, ED can be a predictor of untimely death, and if you’re having it all the time, it might be more than your sex life that’s in danger.
Previous studies have shown that erectile dysfunction significantly increases the chances of having cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease and stroke, independent of typical risk factors. And per The Cleveland Clinic, 57 percent of men who’ve had bypass surgery and 64 percent of men who had been hospitalized for a heart attack have also experienced some form of ED.
Clearly, then, there’s some correlation between healthy boners and healthy hearts. But could other items of male sexuality — like testosterone levels, morning wood and libido — also affect mortality? Scientists have begun to study this question lately, particularly with regards to testosterone. Low T is often cited as a cause of ED, and men who take synthetic testosterone are at double the risk of heart attack.
Still, the hormone’s effect on mortality is still unclear. “Some observational studies show an increased mortality risk in men with low testosterone levels, while this link wasn’t observed in other studies,” explains Leen Antonio, lead researcher and assistant professor of endocrinology at University Hospitals Leuven in Belgium. “So it remains debated if low testosterone is a risk factor for disease and mortality.”
In one of the largest studies on the topic to date, Antonio and her team followed 2,736 men, ages 40 to 79 years, tracking their ED and its related symptoms. By the end of the roughly 12-year study, about a quarter of participants had died, leaving them with 1,788 surviving men. Further analysis on these men confirmed that erectile dysfunction was strongly linked with an increased risk of death for any reason, but that testosterone, morning erections and low libido were not. In other words, it’s not your sex hormones that might kill you — it’s just your boner that might.
Again, this is because erection quality speaks volumes about your cardiovascular health. “It’s well-known that ED is a predictor for the development of cardiovascular disease and mortality,” Antonio says. With that in mind, if you have persistent or severe ED, you might want to see a doctor and get checked out for other conditions, too.
Unfortunately, this means that anyone interested in not dying — or having ED — should focus on the two most annoying preventative strategies: diet and exercise. “Implementing a healthy lifestyle and treatment of cardiovascular risk factors like cholesterol and blood pressure can certainly be beneficial to improve general health and reduce mortality risk in men suffering from erectile dysfunction,” Antonio says.
And no, drugs like Viagra and Cialis won’t help, either. As Antonio cautions, they will just mask cardiovascular issues and make the problem easier to ignore. In fact, men with certain cardiovascular conditions should avoid dick drugs altogether. Their life might even depend upon it.