Erections ∙ 5 minutes read

The heart and the penis: these bad habits could be softening your erection

By Joe Barnes

The symbolic connection between love and the heart goes back as far as the 1st century AD. The penis and the heart, however, is a less-celebrated relationship. While you might not see the pair on any Valentine’s cards, the penis needs a healthy heart to work properly.

For an erection to happen, good blood flow is essential. After all, erections come about when blood fills the spongy erectile tissue of the penis and gets trapped there. (That’s the basis anyway. For the finer points, you need our Book of Erections.)

It’s no surprise, then, that anything that affects the healthy circulation of blood in the body can affect your erection — but some of the ways it can happen might just surprise you.

How does blood flow affect erections?

When the arteries in your penis become narrower, it can become harder to get an erection, and harder to keep it hard. Why does this happen? One word: atherosclerosis.

In the Book of Erections, we go into a bit more detail on this process: why, how, what and where. But, for the time-poor reader, here’s a quick summary:

  • The inner lining of the artery is damaged (anything from smoking to high blood pressure)
  • LDL (bad cholesterol) accumulates at the site of injury
  • This LDL hardens as its structure is changed by excess sugar and free radicals in the bloodstream
  • This fatty plaque grows larger, causing the artery to narrow
  • The artery may then become partially or completely blocked
  • In the penis, this means there isn’t adequate blood flow for a hard erection

What causes atherosclerosis?

The positive news is that many of the causes of atherosclerosis can be managed or avoided altogether.

Not only will managing these causes make for healthier erections, but it will reduce your risk of other major nasties such as strokes and heart attacks. So check the list below — it really is worth it. Here are five bad habits to avoid...

Sneaking out for a cigarette (or three)

Smoking is a two-pronged attack on your arteries. The free radicals generated by smoke inhalation can both damage the lining of the arteries and modify the bad cholesterol within them. This means more fatty plaque and potentially, more erectile issues.

Too much ‘bad’ cholesterol

If you’re eating a diet high in ‘bad cholesterol’ foods (ie. foods with large quantities of LDL), your penis isn’t going to thank you. LDL forms a fatty plaque on the damaged lining of your arteries, and it’s prevalent in some of the foods you might expect (dairy products, fried foods, baked goods) and some that you might not — pork, lamb and fatty beef.

Late nights, lack of exercise, putting salt on everything

The causes of high blood pressure are many, some from inherited diseases and infections, others from things you probably have a little more control over: excessive drinking, for example. When your blood pressure is high, it can stretch and damage the inner lining of your arteries, initiating the development of atherosclerosis and increasing your risk of not becoming erect.

More than a spoonful of sugar

Excess sugar in your blood is a major factor when it comes to modifying LDL, making it more sticky and prone to morphing into a plaque. This makes atherosclerosis a bigger risk for people with diabetes, as they often contend with high blood sugar levels.

Letting yourself go

Being severely overweight is associated with many of the problems listed above: diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. The good news is, obesity is often controllable. Exercise and a healthier lifestyle will reduce the risk of any health complications, including erectile dysfunction.

TLDR:

For an erection to happen, blood needs to flow into the penis. Damaged and narrowed arteries can hinder this process and contribute towards ED. It pays, then, to manage the causes of cardiovascular problems.

If you want to know more about how the cardiovascular system affects your erection, take a look at our comprehensive Book of Erections.