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Why We're Glad Times Have Changed: The History of Erectile Dysfunction

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If you are accustomed to experiencing a SPAM folder filled with junk mail detailing the latest and greatest miracle impotency treatments available, you are not alone. Whilst these claims are more likely to give you an electronic virus than improve your standing in the bedroom, they do however raise an interesting point: men across the globe are still troubled by erectile dysfunction – so much so that spammers know a proportion of those emailed will be tempted to open such suspicious emails.

Also known as impotence, erectile dysfunction has been an issue for men throughout history, and continues to be today. Many of the effective treatments used today were introduced in the twentieth century, but the mission to get and maintain an erection has led to many men resorting to some weird and not so wonderful tactics before this point.

Here we take a closer look at the causes of erectile dysfunction, the history of impotence treatments and how methods have changed in the modern day.

An introduction to erectile dysfunction

Despite being a condition rarely talked about amongst the male population, erectile dysfunction is particularly common. In fact, more than 50% of men aged between 40 and 70 years of age find it difficult or even impossible to get and maintain an erection. There are a number of reasons why impotence becomes an issue, particularly for older men.

Health problems may be the underlying cause of erectile dysfunction and there are many conditions that affect blood flow to the penis, the nervous system, hormone levels and the physical structure of the penis. For example, men with diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, hyperthyroidism (a.k.a. an overactive thyroid) or hypothyroidism (known more commonly as an underactive thyroid) may experience erectile dysfunction due to their condition.

Certain medications, such as beta-blockers, antidepressants, anticonvulsants and antihistamines, may also result in impotence, whilst depression, anxiety, fatigue, excessive alcohol intake and illegal drug usage can also cause erectile dysfunction.

The treatment of impotence throughout history

Before modern science took over, worried men had their own ideas about what it would take to get their mojo back. In fact, there are a whole host of strange remedies thought to have been used to treat erectile dysfunction historically.

In 1600 BC the go-to cure for impotent Egyptians was baby crocodile hearts, which were ground into a paste and rubbed on to the affected area – hardly the kind of solution advocated by the NHS today. The crocodile was thought to ward off evil, which was widely believed to be the main cause of erectile dysfunction.

Monkey testicles and wolf penis were also thought to have the desired effect. However, it was the 1960s that brought the most cringe-worthy fix to the forefront. The discovery that some animals had penile bones led to a number of men undergoing bone or cartilage implants, which had absolutely no success but resulted in a significant amount of pain.

Modern day treatments – just how effective are they?

Thankfully things have moved on considerably in recent years, which is great news for men, baby crocodiles, monkeys and wolves!

Today, Phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE-5) inhibitors, such as Viagra, Cialis, Spedra and Levitra, are the most common treatment and can temporarily boost blood flow to the penis. The term ‘temporary’ is an important one as none of these treatment specifically tackle the underlying lifestyle issues that may lie at the heart of a man’s impotence.

In many cases, GPs and pharmacists are able to both prescribe a PDE-5 inhibitor and recommend other forms of treatment such as increase in exercise and taking steps to reduce stress in order to achieve lasting, satisfying results.

One thing is for certain: our increased understanding of erectile dysfunction in the 21st century should leave no man in doubt that seeking help is always a better option than suffering in silence.