Erectile Dysfunction Drugs May Not Make Men Happier

erectile dysfunction
ED is the inability to get or maintain an erection long enough for sexual intercourse. (Image credit: Lucky Business | shutterstock)

Erection drugs won't actually improve a man's relationship, a new study suggests.

Researchers reviewed information from about 40 clinical trials of men with erectile dysfunction to see how men's quality of life and relationships changed if they received standard medications, known as PDE5 inhibitors.

Before the treatment, men who participated in clinical trials reported their quality of life and relationships as relatively good, but reported poor sexual relationships and satisfaction. Prior to treatment, they also reported low self-esteem, and many showed some symptoms of depression, the researchers found.

After treatment, the participants saw significant improvements in many aspects of their condition, including better sexual satisfaction and higher confidence, but they didn't report an improvement in their overall life satisfaction or their overall relationship satisfaction, according to the study, which was published Nov. 21 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

The study "raises the attention that people with erectile dysfunction and relationship issues should probably see someone for relationship psychosocial issues and someone for physical issues," said Dr. Andrew Kramer, a urologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center who wasn't involved in the study.

"It's simplistic to think that fixing an erection issue would solve relationship issues. Happiness is very complicated, and erections are just one small piece of it," he said. [7 Surprising Reasons for Erectile Dysfunction]

Erectile dysfunction(ED) is a condition in which a man is often unable to achieve or keep an erection for sexual intercourse. It affects an estimated 20 percent of U.S. men, and is linked with many causes, ranging from physiological and emotional reasons to habits such as excessive drinking.

There is growing evidence that the negative effects of ED extend beyond the inability to have sex, and impact men’s emotional and psychological well-being, the researchers said. 

A better life and improved relationships are seemingly touted as benefits of ED drugs, but experts warn that such claims are not based on scientific studies and could be inaccurate. Psychological causes or consequences of ED may need treatments other than drugs that solely target men's physiology, the researchers said.

"Treatments that target both physical and psychosocial aspects of ED are likely to be the most effective treatments for men with ED," the researchers wrote in their study.

However, doctors' practices are not always set in a way to address different aspects of ED, and fixing one part of the problem is likely to be beneficial, Kramer said.

"I've seen that when relationships are hurt by erectile dysfunction, they are helped by fixing the erection problem," he said. "But a lot of couples still need additional therapy."

The researchers noted that it is possible that studies didn't find an improvement in men's overall life and relationship satisfaction because the participants may have been relatively pleased with their lives at the study's start, or because the trials didn't follow up long enough to see changes in psychological outcomes of treatment.

Email Bahar Gholipour. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

Bahar Gholipour
Staff Writer
Bahar Gholipour is a staff reporter for Live Science covering neuroscience, odd medical cases and all things health. She holds a Master of Science degree in neuroscience from the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris, and has done graduate-level work in science journalism at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She has worked as a research assistant at the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives at ENS.