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Can condoms cause erectile dysfunction?

While there's many reasons why you can't keep it up, condom-associated erection problems could play a part in the problem for more than a few men.

Written by
Joe Cutcliffe
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
April 22, 2024
min read
Can condoms cause erectile dysfunction?
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Though taboo and unwanted, erectile dysfunction is something that many Australian men face. It's so common that studies have shown it affects up to 52 per cent of men at some point in their lifetime.

So what exactly is erectile dysfunction (ED)? Also known as impotence, it refers to a wide range of erection problems — including obtaining and keeping an erection during sex.

It can be chronic or come and go, and it usually has a higher rate of occurrence in older men, although it can also affect young men.

While there's a whole range of physical and psychological reasons why you might not be able to keep it up during sexual intercourse, condom-associated erection problems (CAEP) could play a pesky part in the problem for more than a few men.

Let's get into the nitty-gritty.

Can condoms play a role in erection problems?

The short answer is yes. The association between erectile dysfunction and condoms is common — but it's important to note right off the bat that condoms can't cause chronic ED.

While run-of-the-mill ED can affect men of all ages (with a special grievance for men over 40), CAEP rears its head predominantly in young men who are more likely to be new to the world of condom use.

Condoms can cause psychologically-induced erection problems. For some men, putting one on can be stressful and nerve-wracking.

Nerves can cause ED in a couple of different ways:

Although condom-associated erection problems are largely psychological, it doesn't mean your experience of it isn't real. A 2014 questionnaire involving 479 heterosexual men between the ages of 18 and 24 found that condom-associated ED is a problem for most men at some point.

Around 14 per cent of participants agreed that they lost their erection while putting on a condom, and another 16 per cent said they had problems staying hard during sex.

Almost a third of the study's participants noted they had had erection problems in both of these scenarios.

Condoms are also known to limit penis sensation, which can cause men to lose their erections during sex because of underlying psychological factors. If it doesn't feel good, your mind may start to wander and your penis may have a little trouble staying hard.

Many men also feel like putting on a condom takes the spontaneity out of sex. When the foreplay stops and you're left to fumble around in the dark for a condom, it's easy to get distracted and lose your hard-earned hard-on.

It's also worth noting that performance anxiety can also be a big buzzkill in the downstairs department. If you've had issues with condom-associated erection problems before, you could fall into a perpetual cycle of condom-induced anxiety.

In fact, the study mentioned above also found that distraction and worry about condom use is among the biggest risks for condom-associated ED. What a catch-22!

The most common causes of erectile dysfunction

Condoms can certainly be a contributing factor when it comes to ED, but they're not the main culprit in any way, shape or form. There are three main cause categories for ED in young adults:

  • Stress or emotional issues
  • As an early warning sign of a disease or a co-factor of a current disease
  • The physical issue of the blood flow to the penis being limited

Psychological and physical issues go hand in hand, so your erection issues could be caused by one or more of the issues above.

In terms of the health issues that cause ED, watch out for depression, stress, Parkinson's Disease, high blood pressure, sleep disorders, hypothyroidism, prostate disease or conditions like hypogonadism where the testicles don't produce enough testosterone.

General ageing is also a common cause, and sometimes, certain medications for conditions like high blood pressure or high cholesterol can even cause issues down there.

Substance abuse and alcoholism are also at the root of many men's erection issues, which is without a doubt both psychological and physical.

The good news is that ED is treatable with a combination of approaches. Tackling ED with Pilot means you'll be accessing discreet and personalised treatment plans designed by Australian practitioners.

The Pilot approach includes a treatment plan that can include medications that have been used to treat ED successfully in over 80 per cent of cases over the last 20 years, as well as methods to improve lifestyle factors that can cause ED including weight, exercise, smoking and alcohol consumption.

How to conquer condom anxiety

No matter the cause, erection issues aren't fun. But with condom-associated ED, you'll be happy to know there's a wide range of accommodations and steps you can take to make your lucky time even luckier.

Condom use is an important part of safe sex (they stop sexually transmitted infections in their tracks and help curb unplanned pregnancies) so before kicking them to the curb in a bid to solve your erection problems, try our tips below:

Use the right condom

First off the bat, condom fit is a big deal. Are your condoms constantly falling off during intercourse? You may be wearing condoms that are too large for your penis and this is a common cause of erectile issues.

On the other side of the spectrum, condoms that are too small can stop blood from flowing to the penis, inevitability leading to erectile problems.

There's a lot more to finding the right condom than just the size though — lubrication is a whole different ballgame! While some condoms come with lubrication, others don't and this is where the trouble could start.

If you're using a lubricant-free latex condom, here's a word to the wise — using lube can make a world of a difference for your penis and the way it functions during sex.

Know how to put on a condom properly

New to condom use, or never learned the right way? Well, condom application could be the driver for your erection issues. As a taboo topic that most of us don't feel confident speaking about with our friends, most men learn how to use a condom through trial and error.

ED and the misuse of condoms go hand in hand. In fact, bad condom techniques are more common than you think.

From putting it on upside down, to unrolling it before trying to put it on, there's a right way — and a very wrong way — to use condoms. Putting on condoms correctly could make or break your sex life!

New to the game and need a hand with making condoms work? It might sound laughable, but experts say to start by reading the instructions on the box. Another hot tip is to take your time and practice putting it on your penis before getting down and dirty.

It's also important that you store condoms in the right way — if they're stored in your wallet or in a drawer for months prior, they lose their efficacy and furthermore could lead to a flaccid penis. Condom breakage is a big, hard no!

Bust your condom anxiety

Condom-associated erection problems can be easier to manage if you confront your anxiety face-first.

Recognising the triggers for your sex anxiety is a great way to start, and if you're in a supportive relationship, it might be time to chat to your partner and the issues niggling away at your brain.

From expectations of erection duration to body insecurities and overall stress, condom nerves can play a big role in erection issues.

Another way you can make a move to conquer condom anxiety is to masturbate using a condom. While this doesn't sound super sexy, this is an incredible way to get up close and personal with a condom without the added anxiety of another party.

A solo pleasure session can help you navigate different sensations, different types of condoms and even different methods for using them. This is a brilliant way to stop condoms from triggering sex nerves and has the potential to help you curb your condom-associated erection problems.

How to treat the root cause of erectile dysfunction

Treating ED can involve a multi-step process depending on what the root cause of your issue is. Stuck on what could be the cause? Ask yourself the following questions:

1. Are you healthy?

As ED is commonly caused by underlying medical conditions, the first step to tackling erectile problems is analysing your health.

Have you got a medical issue that's known to cause erection difficulties? Talk to your healthcare provider about how it's affecting you and what they can do to help.

Aside from chronic diseases and medical conditions, your overall wellness is also a huge factor in erectile function. Make sure you're getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, and eating as well as you can be. If you're a heavy drinker or smoker and have repeated issues with erectile function, it's worth looking into how you can conquer these habits for a healthier hard-on.

2. Are you having sex with the right person/people?

As nerves are a majorly underestimated factor related to erection difficulties, it's important to make sure you're comfortable with who you are sharing a bed with. Sometimes our bodies can tell that we're not happy before our brains catch up, so any sexual activity that doesn't feel right could result in erection loss.

Definitely in the right relationship? Let's move on to the next factor.

3. How are your stress levels?

Stress and anxiety go hand in hand, but sometimes we can't see how stressed we are until we take a step back. Our sex drives are heavily affected by our stress levels, so it's no wonder that having too much on our plates can lead to erection difficulties.

To get out of your head and more into the bedroom, try engaging in meditation or light exercise before sex.

4. Is it time to seek help?

No matter where your issues stem from, there's help on the horizon. Pilot has dealt with erection issues since day dot, and proudly provides men all across Australia with solutions to help them stay hard.

Discreetly delivered, Pilot can create a clinical treatment plan that you'll be able to tweak and talk out with your healthcare provider. Let's put the pep back into your step!

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