Have you lost your mojo recently in the bedroom? There might be one thing—rather virus—to blame for it: COVID-19.
While loss of smell and taste, fatigue and difficulty breathing are some of the hallmark side effects of the respiratory virus COVID-19, erectile dysfunction (ED) is one that’s hitting men below the belt.
Researchers and doctors, such as Rahul Mehan, MD, a urologist at Banner Health in Mesa, AZ, are seeing a connection between the virus and ED. In fact, Dr. Mehan’s practice has seen a significant increase of new patients with ED during the pandemic—particularly, younger men in their 40’s and 50’s with sexual dysfunction.
“The virus causes a very strong inflammatory response throughout our entire bodies, from our hearts to our brains, so it’s not surprising sexual dysfunction could be connected too,” Dr. Mehan said. “We’re still learning more about what the long-term sexual repercussions of COVID-19 are, but as a urologist, I’m definitely concerned about what we’ve learned so far as it pertains to erectile dysfunction.”
The link between COVID-19 and erectile dysfunction
If you’ve recently had COVID-19 and are struggling in the bedroom, Dr. Mehan indicated the ways COVID-19 could have impacted your libido.
1. Damaged blood vessels in penis
Did you know that some of the smallest and most fragile blood vessels are in the penis? In addition to supplying blood to the lower half of your body, they are also crucial in supplying blood flow to your reproductive organs and aiding in erections.
In some men, COVID-19 can trigger hyperinflammation in the body, which can cause small blood clots to form as well as inflammation in the lining of the blood vessels. The blood supply to the penis can become blocked or narrowed, making it more difficult for you to get an erection.
2. Damaged cells in the testicles
Testosterone, which is also crucial for erections, are also not immune to the effects of COVID-19. Recent studies suggests COVID-19 may deplete testosterone levels and fertility in males.
“The COVID-19 virus enters cells with the help of a protein called ACE2, which is prevalent in the testes,” Dr. Mehan said. “The virus uses the ACE2 to infect the testes. Because this is where testosterone and sperm are made in men, it can be suggested that the virus can affect erections and your fertility.”
Specifically, one study out of Italy found lower levels of testosterone in men who had recovered from COVID-19. Dr. Mehan said this is a reminder for men who are experiencing new onset ED to have their hormones checked to ensure their testicles are functioning well.
3. Mental health impact
There is no doubt that most people have experienced some degree of emotional distress following isolation, social distancing, loss of relatives and friends, and economic challenges. These alone could destroy your sex drive. Beyond this, however, the mental toll on those recovering from the virus—especially “long-haulers” who are still experiencing symptoms or side effects—could be particularly at risk for ED.
“Sexual activity is strongly associated with mental health,” Dr. Mehan said. “To have good sexual function you have to have your head in the game.”
4. Burden on overall poor health
ED is typically a symptom of a larger underlying problem. If you’re already in poor health, you may be more likely to experience ED and be at greater risk for severe COVID-19 and additional lingering health problems as a result. COVID-19 can affect the heart and worsen underlying cardiovascular conditions, such as myocarditis, arrythmias and acute cardiovascular events, and a plethora of other complications. In some cases of these, men may be started on new medications that can also negatively impact their sexual function.
Treating erectile dysfunction
With COVID-19 already impacting so much of our daily lives, adding ED as a possible side effect can be a crushing blow for some men. If you’ve recovered from COVID-19 and are experiencing ED, it’s a good idea to chat with your doctor or urologist first before reaching for a blue pill or other aids. Your doctor can help determine the cause of your ED and offer some potential solutions.
“Simply ordering a pill online may not be the right answer and we really need to dig deeper and look at all the variables,” Dr. Mehan said. “Just because you’re experiencing erectile dysfunction, doesn’t mean it’s game over. We can definitely help and have amazing new treatment options to address all men regardless of the severity. If you want to improve your sexual function, we can help!”
Best way to prevent consequences of COVID-19: Get vaccinated and mask up
One way to lower your risk for side effects of COVID-19 is by getting vaccinated against it. There’s no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine causes ED (or worsens it), so that alone should be enough to get your shot when it becomes available. “Remember the Benjamin Franklin axiom, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’” Dr. Mehan said.
In addition to getting your vaccination, continue to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Preventation (CDC) guidelines and do whatever you can to prevent the spread of the virus.