See our guide containing 17 tips on how to get a strong erection and keep it hard.
Last Updated: 04/13/2023
Erectile function is key to a fulfilling sex life.
So, what happens when you have erection problems during a sexual encounter?
A variety of factors may be affecting your sexual performance and blood flow to the penis. Erectile dysfunction is common amongst men especially as they get older. Most men will experience it at some point in their life during sexual activity and are wondering how to stay hard and avoid having a weak erection.
Erectile dysfunction affects 30 million men in the United States.
According to the International Journal of Impotence Research, the worldwide prevalence of ED is projected to affect 322 million men by 2025.1
Sexual dysfunction can be caused by aging, abnormal blood pressure, prescription medications, performance anxiety, diet, or another underlying cause.
Stimulation to the brain starts the erection process either through thoughts, a physical/sensory experience, or visual pleasure. Nerve signals are then sent to the penis causing the corpora cavernosa to relax and allow blood to flow in. Pressure build-up in the corpora cavernosa causes the penis to expand into an erection.
The tunica albuginea (the membrane around the corpora cavernosa) keeps the blood trapped to keep the erection hard.2
Erectile dysfunction is when a man has difficulty getting or maintaining an erection during sexual performance. Men who struggle with erectile dysfunction are not getting enough blood flow to the penis.
Erectile dysfunction can feel very embarrassing in the moment, especially during a sexual encounter. It can lead to future sexual performance anxiety and low self-esteem if not treated swiftly.
There's nothing to be ashamed of and it's smart to take action to be able to maintain an erection during sex. It's also important to remember that erectile dysfunction could be a sign of a more serious issue.
There are several holistic and medicinal ways to have harder erections.
Erectile dysfunction could be caused by poor habits. Certain lifestyle preferences can restrict blood flow to your blood vessels and wreak havoc on your sexual health.
Leading a balanced lifestyle can drastically improve your sexual performance.
On the flip side, overindulging in vices such as smoking, alcohol, junk food, and overworking yourself can affect your ability to maintain an erection.
Sit down and do a personal lifestyle audit. Are there bad habits that may be affecting your erectile function?
Observational studies show that smokers are at higher risk for developing erectile dysfunction, independent of their age.3
Evidence suggests that cigarette smoking depletes nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is integral in proper blood flow and being able to maintain an erect penis. When your levels are low, say goodbye to your firm erection.
Cigarette smoking has also been linked to plaque build-up in the arteries. Plaque may obstruct blood flow to the blood vessels and lead to erectile dysfunction.4
Men who smoke are more likely to experience poor sexual performance. According to a study, men who smoked 20 plus cigarettes a day were at 60% higher risk of erectile dysfunction, compared to men who have never smoked. It’s a good reason to quit smoking.4
Libations are fun, and one or two drinks may even lead to better erections situationally since you're more relaxed and less nervous.
Alcohol may temporarily reduce performance anxiety but it's not a healthy way to treat erectile dysfunction.
If you drink alcohol too heavily it could affect your erection quality. There's a direct correlation between heavy alcohol dependence and sexual dysfunction.
Chronic alcohol abuse can start to affect not only your ability to get an erection but your self-esteem and interpersonal relationships.
According to the National Institutes of Health, alcohol can cause the following types of dysfunction:5
Decreased sexual desire—your desire for sexual activity could decrease due to performance anxiety and stress.
Sexual aversion disorder—avoiding any sexual performance due to distress and past failures.
Difficulty getting erections—failure to stay erect during sex.
Difficulty in achieving orgasm—the absence or delay of orgasm.
Premature ejaculation—short sexual stimulation (also caused by distress) can lead to fast ejaculation upon penetration.
Stress can also have a negative effect on your sexual health. Whether it's job-related stress, money troubles, or marital woes, this psychological factor may cause erectile dysfunction.
While stress can be a motivating catalyst when it comes to reaching a deadline or if you're working on an intense project, stress is not meant to be sustained for a long time.
It wreaks havoc on your mental and physical health when you're constantly in "fight or flight" mode. High levels of stress or anxiety can spike cortisol levels, exhaust your adrenal glands, and cause a rapid heartbeat. These factors may restrict blood circulation to the penis and cause erectile dysfunction.
Taking steps towards reducing your stress levels can help you improve erectile function.
Healthy eating habits can improve blood flow and sexual function. Recent medically reviewed studies have shown that following the Mediterranean diet, which consists of whole grains, olive oil, lean meats, and vegetables can work wonders for erectile dysfunction.6
Your sexual performance can be affected negatively by ultra-processed foods. You are what you eat, and if you're fueling your body with superfoods, you have a better chance of experiencing harder erections.
In a study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology, 2 to 3 cups of coffee per day were associated with a lower likelihood of erectile dysfunction.7
Coffee is a great source of caffeine and antioxidants. Coffee may also boost testosterone levels and initiate a reaction that leads to the relaxation of the cavernous smooth muscles and increasing blood flow to the penis. When your arteries and muscles relax, it makes it easier for your penis to get an erection.
If you're not a fan of coffee, drinking caffeinated beverages such as green tea or black tea may also help erections. If you're worried about upping your caffeine intake, talk to a healthcare professional first.
It's important to get regular exercise. Physical inactivity may lead to erectile dysfunction, high blood pressure, heart disease, and other medical conditions.
Aerobic exercise such as running, walking, cycling, and similar physical activity can improve erectile function and lead to better sex. Exercising regularly helps improve blood flow to the penis.
Physical activity needs to be prioritized just as much as brushing your teeth. Even 30 minutes of brisk walking a day combined with a healthy diet can make a huge difference and help you have harder erections.
Physical activity can improve cardiovascular health, which affects the quality of your erections.
Kegel exercises, also known as pelvic floor exercises, strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. The pelvic floor muscles also play a role in getting blood to the penis and maintaining an erection.
Doing Kegel exercises strengthens and tones the pubococcygeus muscle. When this muscle is weak, it affects blood circulation, thus making erections difficult.
In a clinical trial conducted by the National Institute of Health, the assessment showed that 40% of the men regained their erections and 35.5% showed improvement.8
A quote from the study:
This study suggests that pelvic floor exercises should be considered as a first-line approach for men seeking long-term resolution of their erectile dysfunction.
A trim waistline can work wonders for your penis. Obesity or being overweight may lead to high cholesterol, higher blood pressure, and a variety of other health conditions that hurt your health and your erectile function.
Losing weight is great for your body and your ability to get an erection. You don't have to have the body of a Greek god, but you do have to keep an eye on your blood pressure and heart health.
If you're having trouble losing weight, seek counsel from your doctor or a nutritionist.
Testosterone is the male sex hormone responsible for a healthy sex drive and erectile function. Low testosterone levels could affect your erections and libido and lead to low sexual desire.9
Low testosterone levels may also be a sign of a chronic underlying health condition such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, or obesity.
If your levels fall below the normal range, your doctor may advise hormone therapy such as testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) or prescribe you an ED medication.
The same way your heart health can affect your erectile health, so can your mental health.
Erectile dysfunction caused by "psychological impotence" is a condition where a man struggles to keep an erection due to psychological factors such as anxiety, stress, depression, guilt, shame, or low self-esteem.
Neglecting your mental health can affect your penis. Making sure that you prioritize your mental health by living a balanced life is important for sexual function.
Yoga, meditation, and counseling are great ways to ease the mind. Other forms of mental health include setting personal relationship boundaries and ensuring your workload isn't unmanageable.
It's impossible to stay hard and enjoy a healthy sex life if there is no emotional intimacy between you and your sexual partner.
Unresolved issues weigh heavily on relationships and could cause physical and emotional intimacy to deteriorate your sexual performance if they're left ignored.
It's important to calmly reach resolutions together, squash disagreements, and work on your communication.
When you both feel safe and heard by each other, it leads to a more fulfilling relationship in and out of the bedroom.
Bored in the bedroom and tired of the same old positions? Spice it up. Certain positions may dull your senses and lead to a reduced interest in sex, making it harder to get or maintain an erection.
You can try a cock ring, special lubricants, sex toys, or different positions. As human beings, it's normal to get into a routine but adding more novelty to your sex life can help your penis stay hard longer.
Porn-induced sexual dysfunction can happen when a man indulges in too much porn.10
According to Psychology Today, 17%-58% of men who identify as porn addicts struggle with getting or maintaining an erection.
In a study published in 2020, 90% of men fast-forwarded to the most arousing fantasy porn scenes.10 Watching these scenes triggers an intense dopamine and adrenaline rush that becomes difficult to replicate during real sexual activity with a partner. Heavy porn users experienced low sexual stimulation when it came to real-life intimacy.
The best thing you can do for your love life (and to improve erectile function during sex) is to get out of the fantasy world and into the real world.
Too much porn trains your penis to only become aroused when you're watching porn.
Sleep allows your body to restore itself and perform optimally. Sleep deprivation can lead to stress, fatigue, mood instability, anxiety, and depression.
Your sex drive and desire to have sexual intercourse can decrease if you're always sleep deprived.
Not getting enough sleep or sleep disorders may also cause you to have a low libido, produce less sperm, and struggle with ED.
Consider working better sleep habits into your night time routine. No screen time before bed, choose a relaxing wind down activity, and make sure your room is dark and noise proof.
Certain prescription drugs and over the counter medications may affect sexual function.
Common drugs that cause ED are:
Diuretic and high blood pressure medications,
Parkinson's disease medications
WebMD published a long medically reviewed list showing the common drugs that can cause ED.11
If you're taking any of the drugs listed, there may be alternative treatment options.
Talking to a health professional about the medications you're taking can help you uncover potential side effects.
If you've tried many of the tips listed and you're still unable to stay erect, it may be time to talk to a medical professional to discover your best treatment options for sexual dysfunction.
You may need a more in-depth check up fo find out why you're having trouble staying hard and to treat ED. Your doctor may want to prescribe medication or suggest medical treatments.
ED can be caused by both physical and psychological factors such as:12
Increased blood pressure
Peyronie's disease (erectile tissue damage)
Poor prostate health caused by prostatitis
How long does the average male stay erect? A natural erection can last anywhere from one to 13 minutes.13 An erection assisted by real or generic Viagra-type medicines can last 2 to 5 hours depending on the dosage and metabolism.
Making lifestyle changes such as eating a diet full of heart-healthy foods that promote nitric oxide production, exercising regularly, reducing stress, and keeping your body healthy are just a few of many factors that can contribute to better blood circulation to the blood vessel.
ED medications are a popular ED treatment and enhance the effects of nitric oxide in the body. Combined with sexual arousal, these oral medications amplify the signal sent to the penis and treat erectile dysfunction. Talk with your doctor to find out if an ED medication is a good choice for you.
Common ED drugs to treat ED are:
Tadalafil (Adcirca, Cialis)
Vardenafil (Levitra, Staxyn)
It's possible to boost your love life and erection quality naturally. Lifestyle changes, supplements and herbal remedies may do the trick. The Mediterranean diet is especially useful for improving erectile dysfunction.
It's best to discuss your plans with a naturopath or other medical professional if you're looking to take a holistic route rather than take ED medication.
Your preferred treatment when it comes to staying hard and having a more fulfilling sex life is personal to you.