Treatments for Erectile Dysfunction

photo of an older couple

The New York Times recently published an excellent article by Lesley Alderman about treatments for erectile dysfunction (ED) that went beyond the basics in ways that I hope will be helpful and informative for many men and their partners. I appreciated it for a few reasons:

1. It makes clear that prescription meds for ED (i.e., Viagra, Cialis, Levitra) don’t work for all men. Men who have certain health conditions (such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease) don’t respond to ED medications as well as the rest of the male population. When I teach human sexuality classes, I like to point this out not as a message of doom and gloom but to illustrate that lifestyle and general health matter. If you take care of yourself through healthy eating, exercise and not smoking, you will be less likely to experience ED later on in life. And if you do develop ED, you may be more likely to find that prescription medications will be of benefit.

2. Speaking of lifestyle changes, they’re not just good prevention – they’re good treatment. Ms. Alderman wisely drew attention to research that suggests that men with ED can experience improvement with getting or maintaining erections if they start eating a healthier diet, exercising and making other healthy lifestyle changes.

3. Cost may be an issue. We don’t often get enough information on this but ED meds can be pricey. However, I would disagree with the frequency of sex rates used to calculate annual costs in the article. An example was given that if one is hoping to have Viagra-aided sex two times per week for a year then the cost would hover around $1500. Given that ED is most prevalent among men in their 50s or older, and that the average frequency of sex is significantly lower in these age groups (let’s say 4-5 times per month for men in theirs 40s and 50s rather than 2 times per week) then the cost at $15 per pill would be more around the $780-$900 range for a year of ED-med used sex. For men in their 60s and 70s, the average frequency of sex is often lower (and thus so is the average cost). Is it still pricey to use ED meds for sex? Sure. Then again, so are birth control pills but many health insurance companies still don’t effectively cover those costs either even though pregnancy protection is a significant sexual and reproductive health issue for many women and men.

4. Meds aren’t the only path. Before Viagra emerged on the market in the late 90s, sex therapists long treated men with ED – quite successfully, by the way – with talk therapy which addressed some common causes of or contributors to ED (such as performance anxiety and relationship problems). Aside from therapy and lifestyle changes, vacuum pumps (think penis pump sex toys but clinically tested and shown to work) are helpful for many men, too.

Anyway, it’s a good article with plenty more to learn from than I’ve mentioned here, so check it out.

To learn more about ED and effective treatments for it (including medications, vacuum pumps, talk therapy, lifestyle changes and more) check out Coping with Erectile Dysfunction: How to Regain Confidence and Enjoy Great Sex by Dr. Michael Metz and Dr. Barry McCarthy, a book that many men and their partners have found to be quite helpful.

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Related MSP articles:
- Sex in a Slanket, Snuggie, Freedom or Blankoat: They’re Not Just for Sitting on the Sofa
- How to flirt: tips for even the most seasoned lovers
- The art of sex and being an attentive lover

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at

  • Natalie

    If you are ever in doubt about the safety and effectiveness of certain treatments, discuss them with your doctor first. If you're uncomfortable with talking to your doctor in person, find an online community with medical professionals that can help answer your questions.