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Your question, answered: Why can I only get a semi-hard-on?

It can be quite concerning when your hard-on is not as well, hard, as it should be.

Written by
Bailey Petts
Medically reviewed by
Dr Darran Foo
Last updated
May 15, 2024
min read
Your question, answered: Why can I only get a semi-hard-on?
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It can be quite concerning when your hard-on is not as well, hard, as it should be. And, you probably have a number of questions and concerns about this.

Some factors that can influence a semi-erect or semi-hard penis are psychological. While it can be difficult to not stress, stressing about a soft penis isn't helping either. In some cases, physical illness or sexual dysfunction can also play a role.

It's important to know that sexual dysfunction, like a semi-hard penis, is incredibly common with one study finding around 55% of Aussie men reporting a form of sexual dysfunction [1].

If you're trying to set sail and failing to meet a stiff breeze, there might be something going on. The good news is, erectile dysfunction is treatable. It's just about figuring out the causes and what treatment options are best suited to you.

Let's get into the long and short of why a penis doesn't always get a rock-hard erection.

How do erections work?

When you get an erection, what exactly is going on? Well, an erection is when your penis hardens and lengthens (sometimes, depending on whether you're a grower or a shower).

It does this through an increase in blood flow into the penis, causing it to change from a soft, flaccid thing just chilling, into something more stoic, more regal. Blood flow to the penis can occur when you're sexually aroused as well as moments you might not be — hello, puberty.

Inside your penis, you have spongy tissue called the corpora cavernosa and corpus spongiosum [2]. Within these 2 chambers, you have many blood vessels that can constrict and contract so there are a few gaps when your penis is flaccid and just hanging loose.

When the blood vessels open, blood flow increases and the spaces are then filled. This allows the penis to 'fill up' and this is what creates an erection.

There's a membrane around the corpora cavernosa to maintain the blood where it is so that your penis stays hard. Your brain should also be telling your penis muscles to relax to let the blood in.

What is erectile dysfunction?

Okay, so then why won't your penis get fully hard and rigid? Good question and the answer might be erectile dysfunction (ED).

ED is the inability to maintain an erection during sex or to get an erection [3] and it's more common than you might think. In fact, it affects around 40% of men in Australia [4].

But, if it's happening way more than you'd like it to or it's getting more frequent, you should check in with your healthcare provider for a review to find the best ED treatment or combination of treatments.

If maintaining an erection is especially difficult for you, or you struggle to get a full erection, then there's something going on. Medical help will determine what's causing it and what you can do to get completely hard and stay hard.

What are the symptoms of erectile dysfunction?

Common symptoms of erectile dysfunction include:

  • Being able to get an erection only sometimes, but not each time you want to have sex
  • Not having satisfying sex as you can get an erection, but it doesn't last during sex
  • Being unable to get an erection at all [6].

Erectile dysfunction can vary from person to person. More severe cases of erection problems can include not being able to get an erection at all to being able to achieve an erection but it quickly disappears.

Why can't I get all the way hard anymore?

Seeking professional medical advice should be the first course of action when experiencing erectile problems. We want to figure out exactly what's affecting your sexual activity and confidence as soon as possible.

It's important to know what is causing you, personally, difficulties with getting, or maintaining, a full erection. Many men can experience changes in their sexual activity, sexual arousal and sexual performance with lifestyle changes.


It's probably time to say goodbye to cigarettes if you're still smoking (and vaping!). A study from 2014 found that "smokers are at even higher risk of developing ED independent of age and comorbidities" [7].

Smoking affects blood circulation in your body and this can affect your erectile function as it disrupts the blood vessels in the penis, preventing it from fully engorging. It also increases your blood pressure, so if you're looking to improve your overall health and reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction, stop smoking.


If you exercise regularly, you will reduce the risk of experiencing erectile dysfunction caused by physical inactivity, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and high blood pressure.

A healthy body and healthy mind is the best practice to make sure everything's ticking over just fine.


Your age can play a part in your ability to get or maintain an erection but it's not just because you're getting older. Usually, if you're experiencing erectile dysfunction at a later date, there's an underlying condition, or it's connected to trauma or other psychological factors.

So, while many people think getting older is the main cause of erectile dysfunction, it's actually related to other factors that are associated with getting older, like certain health conditions.

Causes of erectile dysfunction

There are a number of factors that can cause erectile dysfunction, including:

  • Blood flow into the penis is reduced or the nerves are damaged
  • Emotional and psychological reasons such as stress, low self-esteem or performance anxiety
  • Lifestyle changes such as drinking more alcohol, new medication or taking recreational drugs
  • Physical causes such as high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes or kidney problems [5].

Erectile dysfunction treatment isn't going to be a one-treatment-fits-all approach. As there are many factors that can be the cause of erectile dysfunction, some of which are more concerning than others — such as kidney disease or heart disease — it's best to reach out to a healthcare provider as soon as possible.

You might also be able to pinpoint the emotional or psychological changes that could be contributing to your erectile issues when discussing your experiences with your doctor. With medical help, a healthy sex life is within your reach.

How to treat issues with erections

Once you understand how erections work and how important healthy blood vessels and healthy blood pressure is for a fully rigid erection, you can start to see how your overall health needs to be considered.

Making sure you don't have any underlying health problems, you're physically fit, eating a balanced diet and not smoking or taking recreational drugs, are the first steps alongside your doctor's advice or treatment for stronger erections.

Your doctor might suggest trying any of the below treatments:

Talking to a doctor for sexual medicine can feel uncomfortable, which is why Pilot's erectile dysfunction treatment is conducted all online with our Aussie practitioners. And, our clinical treatment options can cater to your individual needs.

Pilot's Big Night In treatment can be taken one hour before you're ready and it lasts for 4-6 hours. Our Always Up For It treatment, on the other hand, should be taken daily and means you're ready to go at any time. Your Pilot doctor will help decide which plan is right for you.

Don't let a semi-hard penis dictate your sex life — speak to one of our Aussie practitioners today and we can help take the stress out and put the fun back in.

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