Why Can't I Get a Full Erection? List of Potential Causes

Reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Geoffrey Whittaker

Updated 29/03/2023

We’ve all had it happen: a late night or early morning, the opportunity for some intimacy presents itself. Things seem like they’re going to happen, but like the first few attempts by the Wright brothers, it doesn’t quite get off the ground. 

Maybe your ship makes it all the way out of port, but try as you might, you just can’t seem to get to full mast, leaving you and your partner feeling self-conscious and shrugging. 

Failure to achieve a full erection is a common problem. In fact, some research indicates that 30 million men in the United States experience symptoms of erectile dysfunction. 

It’s also something you can fix. 

We’re going to get into the blood vessels and other viscera of the issue and address the following questions below:

  • Why can’t I get or stay hard?

  • What are the mental and physical health problems that could be responsible?

  • Why do some guys get harder than others?

  • What should I do if I can’t get a full erection?

But before we do, let’s consider this question at its most basic: why no erection?

Why Can’t I Get Hard?  

Despite what your old-school grandpa might say about it, this isn’t a question of masculinity or manhood. It’s about the mechanical process of getting an erection — and right now, you’ve got a mechanical issue. 

Erections are about two things: blood flow in, and no blood flow out. After all, your penis is basically a water balloon filled with blood (actually, it’s two water balloons called the corpora cavernosa, but we digress). 

When you become aroused, these “balloons” fill with blood, and muscle tissue seals off the exit, trapping that blood inside your penis. Erections fail to happen only when something interrupts this process, and there are a few things that can do that.

Physiological Reasons

No matter how talented the athlete is, nobody can play their best when they’re injured.

And even if your penis didn’t sprain its Achilles at baseball practice, right now, it could be underperforming due to a variety of physical causes, including:

  • Chronic inflammation associated with diabetes

  • High blood pressure

  • Metabolic syndrome

  • Cardiovascular and neurological diseases

  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS) 

Parkinson’s That’s just to name a few. One form of ED — arteriogenic ED — is caused by inefficient arteries which are associated with heart disease, too. There are even neurological causes of erectile dysfunction to consider, too. If you suspect any of these health conditions may be holding you back in the bedroom, talk to a healthcare professional.

Psychological Reasons

One unexpected culprit that can cause you to go soft is your own brain (that traitor). Things like hormonal imbalances can throw off your libido, as well as performance anxiety, where you’re so worried about being able to perform that you give yourself stage fright of sorts. Bed fright?

Depression and low self-esteem can also adversely affect your ability to get hard, primarily due to stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety might cause a loss of interest in sexual activity

And there are more possible culprits for your relative softness. Your porn habit can even be responsible, for instance.

Other Reasons

It’s important not to rule out things like lifestyle choices and habits as potential causes of ED, too.

The underlying cause of ED could be anything from poor diet and exercise habits to unknown medication indications. 

It could even just be really, really cold outside.

If you’re experiencing partial erections or are unable to maintain a full erection, you’re likely suffering from one or more of these conditions. 

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Why Do Some Guys Get Harder than Others?

Whether physiological or psychological, partial erections are health issues, as well as warning signs for erectile dysfunction. While they’re not as severe as a complete lack of firmness, they represent a problem that needs to be tackled before it gets worse. 

There's a very wide spectrum of severity that can affect different men to different degrees — your medications, underlying health issues, age and other factors may weigh on your erectile firmness, so it’s best to ask a professional to assess these possible ED causes.

Your healthcare provider will check you out for things like: 

  • Blood pressure issues

  • High cholesterol 

  • Side effects or interactions of medications (particularly, medications for hypertension and antidepressants)

  • Low testosterone levels

  • Prostate cancer

They may also inquire about not-so-physiological things like relationship problems, and habits like your smoking, drug, alcohol and eating habits — those are ED causes you can address yourself.

These factors are on the men’s health radar because they can all be factors in reduced erectile firmness.

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What to Do If You Can’t Get a Full Erection 

By now, you probably have a good idea of whether or not you might be suffering from ED. But if you’re still not sure, it’s a good idea to take the ol’ farm truck into the shop, so to speak, and see a healthcare provider. 

They’ll be able to help you figure out the right treatment for you. In many cases, they’ll suggest one or more of the following:

  • Lifestyle-Based Treatments

  • Medications

  • Therapy

Lifestyle-Based Treatments

When we discuss treatment options for sexual dysfunction, there’s one straightforward solution to ED that you should know about first: take better care of yourself. 

Before you start popping pills, The good news is ED is very treatable, with a variety of proven options available. Everything from diet and exercise, to medications and healthy lifestyle changes, can help you regain firmness. 


Your healthcare provider may also prescribe FDA-approved erectile dysfunction medications. There are currently four prescription ED pills available:

These drugs belong to a class of medications called phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitors (PDE5 inhibitors for short) and work to increase blood flow to the penis to help you get and maintain an erection when you want one.


But don’t assume the cause is physical. Low self-esteem, performance anxiety and a slew of other mental health disorders can cause ED, and those should be treated with the help of a therapy professional. 

There are various psychological treatments and approaches to dealing with the ED problem. 

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Getting The Full Erection: Next Steps

Real talk here: we know that pumping up your erection from floppy to full is priority numero uno for many of us — sexually active or otherwise. It’s important. 

So if you haven’t been achieving full liftoff recently, remember these key facts:

  • It’s a whole-body issue. Erections are about more than your penis. Your whole body and your mind also contribute to the health of your erections.

  • Your mind may be holding you back. Your body can be ready, but if you’re anxious, depressed or self-conscious, it may be holding your full length at half-mast.

  • This is a fixable problem. Like an electric crew doing pole work, medication and healthier living can restore your penile power, as can talking to a therapy professional if your erection problems are in your head.

Here’s the best part: we can help. 

We offer a variety of solutions, from the very ED medications we’ve mentioned, to mental health support on our therapy platform

So consider reaching out while things are down. We’ll point you in the right direction to get upright again. 

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment or medication.

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