Stronger, longer, better: Tips for achieving harder erections

It's possible! Here's how.

Written by
Gemma Kaczerepa
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
April 22, 2024
min read
Stronger, longer, better: Tips for achieving harder erections
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Struggling to get hard? Know that you’re not the only person to experience this. In fact, trouble achieving and maintaining an erection affects lots of men — around 1 in 2 according to research [1].

But now for the good news: harder erections are most definitely possible, and often it’s not that difficult to achieve them. Here’s how.

How do erections work?

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that an erection is when your dick gets hard. You might also hear it referred to as a hard-on, stiffy, boner or wood.

But what you may not be familiar with is how erections happen. They actually begin with your brain, which sends a signal to your penis if something causes your brain to become stimulated. (Usually feelings of arousal through mental or physical sexual stimulation, but not always. In fact, lots of erections happen while you’re asleep.)

Once you’re stimulated, your body releases nitric oxide, which helps do 2 things. First, it prompts your blood vessels to dilate. Second, it activates a chemical reaction that makes the muscle cells in your penis tissue relax. When these cells are relaxed, they’re able to let more blood into your penis. 

Your penis then works to allow plenty of blood flow in, and not much blood flow out. This compression effectively traps blood in your penis and leads to an erection.

Once you’ve orgasmed or your erection has ended in some other way, the blood from your penis flows out to the rest of your body and it returns to its normal (flaccid) state.

How long can the average male stay erect?

Remember that there’s a huge range of what’s considered normal when it comes to erections. This is because erections vary from bloke to bloke and depend on lots of different factors, like your age, health status, and even psychological reasons like stress and depression.

That being said, there has been some research on the average duration of a male erection. A study assessing 500 couples across 5 countries found that erections lasted anywhere from 0.55-44.1 minutes, with a median duration of 5.4 minutes. 

What causes weak erections?

Weak erections are often down to a lack of blood flow to the penis. They’re also known as erectile dysfunction (ED) and it refers to when you're only able to get an erection sometimes, when you can get one but it doesn't last long or when you can't get hard at all.

when you can only get an erection sometimes, when you can get one but it doesn’t last long enough, or when you can’t get hard at all.

There are medical and physical causes of ED, including [2][3][4]:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • MS
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Injury of the penis, pelvic area, spinal cord, bladder or prostate
  • Obesity
  • Hormonal problems

Psychological reasons can also lead to erectile dysfunction, such as:

  • Anxiety, including around sexual performance
  • Stress
  • Sleep disorders and tiredness
  • Depression
  • Guilt
  • Relationship problems
  • Poor self-esteem

Lifestyle risk factors for ED include:

Certain medications can trigger erectile dysfunction, too, like some antidepressants, sedatives and blood pressure medicines.

Why is my erection not as strong as it used to be?

It could very well come down to your age. While it can affect anyone, and ageing isn’t a guarantee of having erectile problems, ED typically becomes more common in older men [3].

For example, that same study we mentioned earlier found that erections typically got shorter in duration as the men got older, going from a median of 6.5 minutes in men aged 18-30 and 4.3 minutes in men older than 51.

It’s also worth noting that it’s pretty normal to not be able to get hard from time to time — especially if you’re going through a stressful period or if you’ve had a lot of booze. 

However, if it becomes a regular thing, it could be a sign of something you’re not aware of, like heart disease or a hormonal issue. This is when it’s worth chatting with your doctor to figure out the underlying cause. 

Why do I have a firm erection when I masturbate but not with a partner?

This is a common problem. It can come down to a few different reasons, one of which is that sex with a partner may not ‘match up’ to masturbation. For example, sexual activity with a partner might not be as aggressive or put as much pressure on your penis as when you use your hand. This can lead to delayed ejaculation, where you take a long time to come or don’t come at all.

You might also have some performance anxiety around sex, which can cause a weaker erection. For some men, the pressure is totally off when they don’t have to ‘perform’ for a partner.

Relationship problems can also contribute to erectile dysfunction, especially if you’re feeling stressed or anxious around your partner.

How to get harder erections

Now for the good stuff: how to get harder erections. Your first step should be to chat with your GP or a sexual medicine specialist for a full health assessment to see if there’s a medical reason behind your sexual dysfunction. You might find that by addressing this cause, you can consequently fix up your ED, too.

However, there are also some lifestyle changes you can make to treat erectile dysfunction and improve your ability to get (and stay) hard.

Check your mental health

If you suspect there’s a psychological reason behind your erectile dysfunction, it’s definitely worth confronting it. 

It could be down to something like work-related stress, chronic sleep issues leading to tiredness, or anxiety around your performance in bed. Stress and anxiety trigger the release of epinephrine, a chemical that restricts blood flow to the penis.

There are loads of methods designed to beat stress and sleep problems (including meditation), but you may also find that the lifestyle changes below also reduce your stress levels and better your sleep.

Issues like performance anxiety, relationship problems, generalised anxiety, depression and low self-esteem can be worked through with a psychologist or sex therapist. They can support you in getting to the root of the issue and recommend techniques and approaches to help you overcome it.

Get your partner involved

Chatting with your partner can also help if you’re struggling with relationship problems or performance anxiety. Be open and honest about what you’re going through, and ask your partner for support.

You could also take a fresh approach to your sex life to see if that improves your erections. Try some new positions, a few sex toys or even different ways of touching each other.

Implement some diet changes

Food can have a huge impact on your overall health, especially because diet is one of the biggest contributing factors to ED-causing medical problems like heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. This means what you eat can also affect erectile function.

Focus on nutritious foods like vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, and healthy fats like fish, olive oil and avocado. If you can, try to avoid red and processed meats. Doing so has been linked to a lower risk of developing erectile dysfunction [5].

And given weak erections are often caused by a lack of blood flow to the penis, you could also include foods known to boost circulation. These include leafy greens, beetroots, citrus fruits, onions, garlic, chilli, cinnamon and fatty fish.

Move your body

Exercise has a tonne of benefits, not least its ability to support your sexual function. Erectile dysfunction is closely linked to physical inactivity, and research has shown that regular exercise can actually help to improve ED. This is because it encourages blood flow, and regulates blood pressure and hormones.

One study recommended that men do 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise 4 times per week to decrease erectile dysfunction [6]. This could be anything from a brisk walk to a long run, cycle or swim [7].

Cut back on alcohol

You know how your brain is responsible for sending signals to your penis, telling it to get hard? Unfortunately, alcohol slows down these signals, leading to erection problems. And, it's commonly referred to as 'whiskey dick'.

Keep in mind, you’re unlikely to experience problems after a drink or 2, but heavy drinking on a regular basis may very well lead to ED. Try to curb your drinking — particularly before sex — to see if it improves the situation.

Quit smoking

You probably already know that smoking isn’t great overall, but it also isn’t great for your erections. Nicotine narrows your blood vessels, resulting in less blood flow to your penis. 

It’s also linked to other problems like heart disease, which we know is one of the factors behind ED.

Try clinical treatments

There are a bunch of ED treatments that can help improve erectile function — and they can be seriously effective. In fact, 78% of men achieve lasting erections through proper treatment.

With unlimited GP access, automatic ED medication top-ups and discreet delivery across Australia, Pilot’s erectile dysfunction treatment lets you get and stay hard with absolute ease. You simply need to undertake an online consult, and your practitioner will create a personalised treatment plan, which is delivered to your door.

You can also access either an on-demand or ongoing solution, resulting in stronger, longer and better erections no matter your sexual situation.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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