Temporary Erectile Dysfunction: Possible Causes
Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Vanessa Gibbs
Temporary erectile dysfunction (ED) is exactly what it sounds like: erectile dysfunction that’s temporary.
But just because it’s short-term doesn’t mean it isn’t stressful. Luckily, it can be treated.
Ahead, we’ll dive into the causes of temporary ED, how long it lasts and the many treatments out there to help you get back to doing your thing in the bedroom.
What Is Temporary ED?
Symptoms of erectile dysfunction include:
Being unable to get an erection at any time
Being unable to get an erection sometimes
Being unable to keep an erection long enough for satisfactory sex
ED can be a long-term health issue, but you can also experience temporary or situational ED.
Situational erectile dysfunction is ED that happens in certain situations. For example, perhaps you can’t get hard when you try to have sex with your partner, but you have no problem when masturbating alone.
Or everything works great when you’re lying down, but not so much when sitting up — goodbye, fun sex positions. ED may even strike when you’ve had a drink, but it’s fine when you’re the designated driver.
Temporary ED, on the other hand, can happen in any situation. The good news is it’s temporary and — thankfully — often treatable.
You may develop temporary ED when you’re stressed and slammed at work, if you take up smoking or if you don’t get much exercise. Luckily, a few lifestyle tweaks could fix the issue.
ED can also be a sign of an underlying health issue. But when you’re battling ED, it’s hard to know if it’s temporary or not, so it’s worth speaking to a healthcare provider to determine the cause.
While it can feel embarrassing to talk about, ED is a common problem. It affects 30 million men in the United States — and it’s not just an issue for older men. You can develop ED at any age, even in your 20s or thirties.
We’ll cover the causes and potential fixes for both types of ED (temporary and long-term) below.
Causes of Temporary Erectile Dysfunction
There are many causes of erectile dysfunction. And to make things more complicated, erection problems — especially the temporary ones — can be caused by multiple things at once.
Here are the most common causes of ED.
Temporary ED can be caused by a range of emotional and psychological factors.
Fear of sexual failure or sexual performance anxiety
Guilt about sexual performance or sexual activities
Stress — both from ED itself and from day-to-day life
It’s easy to get in your head when you have ED. Unfortunately, that stress and anxiety won’t do your love life any favors. The point is, many psychological causes of ED can make ED worse, creating a vicious circle of more stress and more ED.
Explore this topic further in our guide to the common psychological causes of ED.
A few unhealthy lifestyle factors may contribute to temporary ED.
Drinking too much alcohol. Ever heard of whiskey dick? It’s a real thing — alcohol can lead to ED. Among those with alcohol dependence, 72 percent have one or more sexual dysfunction problems, with premature ejaculation, low sexual desire and ED being the most common. The more you drink, the more likely you are to have problems in the bedroom. But you don’t need to be dependent on booze to have ED — a few glasses of red wine over dinner is enough to mess with your mojo.
Smoking. A smoking habit can tank your sex life in the long run, but even a one-off cigarette could lead to ED. So if you’ve just started smoking — or had a night out with more time spent in the smoking area than on the dance floor — it could be behind your temporary ED. One small study gave 20 young men without ED either gum containing the same amount of nicotine as one cigarette or a placebo of nicotine-free gum. They chewed the gum for about 40 minutes before watching an erotic film. The men who got nicotine had a 23 percent reduction in physiological sexual arousal to the porn.
Taking drugs. Illegal drugs may physically stop you from getting an erection. They might also affect you emotionally by stopping you from feeling aroused. Drugs like marijuana may cause ED — that’s right. It’s also a thing. A 2019 systematic review and meta-analysis found that ED is twice as high in marijuana users compared to controls. Marijuana may improve sexual function in some men, though, so more research is needed.
Not being physically active. Physical inactivity is bad for your weight, blood flow and overall health. When you exercise, you increase blood flow to your penis — great news for your sex life. Research has found that aerobic exercise can treat ED in people with arteriogenic ED (ED caused by insufficient arterial blood supply). But it’s unclear if exercise could help people with ED caused by medication side effects or psychological issues like performance anxiety.
Being overweight. Being overweight is a risk factor for ED because it can cause various health conditions — like diabetes and high blood pressure — that lead to ED. Plus, being overweight or obese may affect your body image, which can add to ED issues.
Watching too much porn. One review stated that porn could change your brain’s motivational system, making it harder to, well… get hard without this type of sexual stimulation. You might become conditioned to what you’re watching and need more and more exciting material to get aroused. If you can get and keep an erection when masturbating with porn — but you struggle to without it or with a partner — this could be the reason for your temporary ED.
If you’ve just started taking medication, check the side effects. You might find sexual dysfunction is listed.
Medications that cause ED include:
Blood pressure medications
Antiandrogens (for prostate cancer therapy)
Tranquilizers or prescription sedatives
On antibiotics? Don’t panic. There’s not much evidence linking antibiotics and ED, so they’re most likely not to blame.
ED can be caused by an underlying health condition such as:
Type 2 diabetes
Heart disease and blood vessel disease
Hypertension (high blood pressure)
Chronic kidney disease
Atherosclerosis (clogged arteries)
Injury from prostate cancer treatments
Surgery for bladder cancer
Injury to erectile tissue or the penis, spinal cord, prostate, bladder or pelvis
Neurological problems, like injuries that cause damage to the nervous system, diabetic neuropathy (diabetes-induced nerve damage) or epilepsy
Reach out to a healthcare provider to get screened for underlying conditions that may relate to sexual function issues.
How Long Does Temporary Erectile Dysfunction Last?
There’s no set time for how long ED lasts. How long you experience erectile dysfunction symptoms will depend on what’s causing them, your lifestyle and your body.
If your temporary ED is caused by one too many drinks, sobering up can fix the issue. If it’s caused by medication, switching meds may make a difference. But if you need to lose weight, this is obviously a longer journey.
As one example, working out for 160 minutes a week for six months has been shown to decrease ED caused by physical inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular diseases.
A healthcare provider might be able to offer personalized insight into when you can expect your ED to improve.
How to Treat Temporary ED
The good news about temporary ED is that you can treat it. Yay.
The first step is getting medical advice. We know this can feel a little awkward, but remember: erectile dysfunction is common. And believe us — the experts have seen it all before.
Reach out to your primary care provider or a urologist, or book an online medical consultation with a licensed healthcare provider.
A healthcare provider will probably start by asking a few questions about your medical and sexual history. This could include questions about your symptoms, lifestyle habits and any meds you take. They may also run medical tests, such as a physical exam or blood tests.
All this information will help your provider figure out the underlying cause of your ED so you can get the best treatment to fix it.
Here are the treatment options for temporary ED.
Phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitors (or PDE5 inhibitors) are the first-line treatment for ED. These oral medications work by dilating blood vessels in your penis, helping you get hard and stay hard.
FDA-approved PDE5 inhibitors include:
Avanafil (generic for Stendra®)
Vardenafil (generic for Levitra®)
Another option is our Hims hard mints. These chewable ED meds contain the active ingredients in the erectile dysfunction drugs Cialis, Levitra and Staxyn®.
ED meds aren’t available over the counter, so you’ll need to speak with a healthcare provider to get a prescription.
Want to learn more? Our guide to PDE5 inhibitors covers everything you need to know about these ED drugs.
ED treatments, delivered
No matter the treatment plan, the best place to start is somewhere.
Therapy for Psychological ED
If psychological issues are raining on your penis parade, therapy can help.
If you’re suffering from guilt, performance anxiety or relationship problems, sex therapy can help to improve these issues specifically.
Online therapy means you can work through the psychological causes of ED from home.
Habits and Lifestyle Changes for ED
Your ED might be a result of unhealthy habits, in which case a few lifestyle tweaks could fix the problem. Even if your ED is caused by something else, it’s worth taking a look at your lifestyle to make sure nothing else gets in the way of getting hard.
Here are some lifestyle changes you can make to improve ED:
Cut down on alcohol consumption. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends men stick to two drinks or fewer a day. Drink more than this? Try cutting down. Start by swapping one or two alcoholic drinks for soft drinks or alternating between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
Do more aerobic exercise. Add more cardio to your routine with activities like running, swimming or cycling. One paper concluded that men with ED should do 40 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise four times a week. The win-win here is that exercise can help reduce stress, keep weight in check and improve overall mental health — all of which can elevate your performance in the bedroom.
Stop watching porn. If you can’t get hard without porn, you may have porn-induced ED. Try giving it up to see if that helps.
Quit smoking. If you’re a smoker, take steps to quit. Try nicotine products like gum, patches or sprays and avoid triggers that make you want to smoke, like drinking alcohol.
Lose weight if you’re overweight. Getting down to a healthy weight can increase your testosterone levels, boost your self-esteem and help prevent medical conditions that can turn temporary ED into a long-term problem. Focus on eating a healthy diet, exercising and getting eight hours of shut-eye. Talk to a healthcare provider if you need to lose a lot of weight — they can recommend the best ways to do it.
Reduce stress. Stress can cause ED — but ED can also be stressful. In any case, it’s worth trying to keep your stress levels low. Get out in nature, spend time with friends, make time for a relaxing hobby and get enough sleep. You know the drill. Reach out for help from family, friends or a therapist if you need more support with your mental health.
Want more tips on how to treat ED? We’ve covered natural ways to maintain an erection in our blog.
The Final Word on Temporary Erectile Dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction is never fun — even when it’s a temporary problem.
Here are the key takeaways:
ED has many, many causes. They include everything from stress and performance anxiety to diabetes and alcohol. Temporary ED is usually caused by an unhealthy lifestyle.
Temporary ED is reversible. We can’t tell you how long your temporary ED will last, but we can say that, in most cases, it’s reversible. Phew.
Lots of ED treatment options are available. Get back to regular erections by cutting down on stress and drinking, losing weight, trying therapy and taking ED medication like Viagra or Cialis.
Whether you’ve been hit with sudden ED, seemingly out of nowhere, or ED is an issue that comes and goes, it’s best to discuss it with a healthcare provider.
They can make sure nothing more serious is at play and recommend the best erectile dysfunction treatments to get you back in the game.