Can Antibiotics Cause Erectile Dysfunction?
Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Antibiotics are a scientific marvel that have collectively saved millions — if not billions — of lives. In less than a century, they’ve turned a number of diseases from life-threatening to minor inconveniences. Unfortunately, that’s come at a price.
Overprescription has caused problems of its own, and the side effects of antibiotics can wreak havoc on many bodily functions. See our guide answering "can antibiotics cause depression". And once we start talking about bodily functions, many men out there may start to wonder — can antibiotics cause erectile dysfunction?
If you’re having trouble producing an erect penis during game time, there are a number of potential causes and risk factors that might be at work. Antibiotics might secure a spot on that list, with caveats.
The relationship between sexual function and antibiotics is complicated. To understand how antibiotics may affect your penile function, let’s first examine how they affect your body as a whole.
How Antibiotics Affect Your Body
Simply put, antibiotics are compounds designed to target and fight off bacteria that cause infections in your body.
Antibiotics do this in one of two ways: they either destroy the bacterial cell itself by damaging the cell and its normal functions, or they prevent the cells from reproducing, causing the spread of infection to cease and the infection itself to disappear over time.
Those are the basics, but in reality, antibiotics are much more complicated compounds, and with that comes the danger of adverse effects for your health.
Research shows that approximately one in five hospital patients who use antibiotics experience some sort of complication.
Antibiotics can cause toxicity in neurological and blood pathways, rashes and necrosis of the skin, kidney failure, fever, diarrhea, seizures and even death, just to name a few potential side effects.
Studies show that half of the antibiotics prescribed in the U.S. were incorrectly prescribed in some capacity, a third were deemed unnecessary and the overuse or misuse of antibiotics has become so bad that the CDC considers it a public health issue. At the same time, antibiotics save lives, prevent possibly fatal infections and lessen the effects of nonlethal but severe infections, so we can’t jump to calling them totally unnecessary.
Of course, you’re not here for all of that — you’re here to figure out if they can keep your penis from getting hard.
Let’s look at the details.
Can Antibiotics Cause Erectile Dysfunction?
As much as it seems like there could be a link between antibiotics and sexual performance, there’s not much in the way of evidence.
In fact, there are some suggestions that antibiotics can do good things for your penis, like help treat premature ejaculation caused by prostate infections. Adverse effects though? The science just isn’t there.
Now, could side effects that affect your blood and circulatory system eventually affect your sexual arousal? Sure, as could the cardiac and neurological effects of antibiotic misuse we mentioned earlier. But chances are that in these cases — where your main problems are things like kidney failure and seizures — you’re going to be more concerned with death than getting hard (maybe—we don’t know where your priorities are).
In any event, serious side effects are fairly rare. But if you’re having side effects of antibiotics, you should absolutely report them to a healthcare provider immediately.
But chances are that you’re more likely to see those adverse sexual function side effects from other common medications known to cause erectile problems, like antidepressants, antihistamines, diuretics, blood pressure medications, chemotherapy, analgesics and coke, alcohol, amphetamines and heroin.
ED treatments, delivered
No matter the treatment plan, the best place to start is somewhere.
How to Treat ED
If sexual dysfunction has gotten bad for you for any reason, it may be time to treat it as a health condition. Management of erectile dysfunction is an active treatment process, not a “leave it alone and see what happens” kind of process.
While we are all about male enhancement products, it’s important to use them safely and under the direction of a healthcare professional, particularly when it comes to treatment for erectile dysfunction.
ED medications need to be used properly, so stick to the FDA-approved stuff and avoid the gas station supplements for sexual dysfunction. Using that unregulated stuff can lead to all sorts of side effects, from allergic reactions to a heart attack or heart failure.
Prescription drugs like Cialis® (which goes by the generic name tadalafil) or Viagra® (which goes by sildenafil in the generic world) can give you the chemical boost you need to perform if you’re struggling. Historically phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors were originally tested to treat hypertension, but nowadays are used to sustain erections by preventing an enzyme that relaxes the muscles that keep you hard, giving your erection sufficient blood supply to stay up and work hard.
We also need to talk about performance anxiety, because sometimes psychological conditions and the symptoms of mental health issues can cause sexual side effects.
If the psychological causes of ED are at play, you might benefit from therapy or antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) to increase your sexual desire.
Likewise, it may be time to look at what you’re doing with your body and what you’re putting into it: lifestyle modifications like dietary changes, upping your exercise, cutting back on your smoking and moderating your alcohol use can all have positive effects on sexual health in addition to the whole body kind. You might also want to cut back on recreational drugs (you know, the mostly illegal kind) and stop any misuse of prescription medication.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you’re taking beta blockers or other medications for cardiovascular disease — treating blood pressure issues and heart disease can sometimes affect your performance.
If things get really bad, you might consider a variety of less-proven treatment options, like vacuum devices or implant surgery — you can learn more about penile implant here.
Erectile Dysfunction and Antibiotics: The Big Picture
Antibiotics aren’t always the safest thing we put in our body, there’s not a lot of evidence that they cause ED. So if ED symptoms are impeding your sexual intercourse plans while you’re taking antibiotics, your body may just be a little too preoccupied with infection or other health issues to get you ready for game time.
In this case, it’s best to let your body heal and recover rather than trying to run game while battling an infection.
If the problem persists though, it may be a sign of vascular disease or other issues.
This is really something you should talk to a healthcare provider about. Get a physical exam and talk about your medical history and your symptoms, and they can decipher the possible reasons for your erectile dysfunction and prescribe treatment if necessary.
Whatever the cause of ED, we’re here to help with resources, support and professional consultations to get your questions answered and your dick back on the road to wellness. Rest up, finish your course of antibiotics and if things are still sedentary downstairs, then we can talk.