No penis is an island. Or so Dr Stephen Jones, a urologist with the Cleveland Clinic, likes to tell his patients. If your penis were an island, it would be tempting to think of it as a hot spot in the Caribbean – calm and tranquil during the day, throbbing with activity at night, and the destination of a constant rotation of bikini models.
As much as that sounds like paradise, Jones says a more precise urological/geographical parallel would be your penis as peninsula – a bodily extension that shares a supply of blood, oxygen and nutrients with all your other organs. Unfortunately, that means if a natural disaster strikes the mainland, it's likely to affect any protruding landmasses too.
"ED stands not only for erectile dysfunction but also for 'early diagnosis', because you can use ED to predict a heart attack, potentially by years – arterial damage from cardiovascular disease affects the small arteries in the penis first," says Dr Christopher Steidle, a clinical associate professor of urology at Indiana University medical centre. That's one reason it's a mistake to let Levitra, Viagra and Cialis lull you into an I'll-fix-it-when-it-breaks mindset.
Here's another: take steps to safeguard your sex life now and you may never need to pop the little blue pill. Or any other shade of erection aid. In other words, follow our advice and every woman who visits your peninsula will leave with a smile.
Eat Blackberry Jam on Your Toast
Dark fruits like blackberries, bilberries and elderberries contain high levels of anthocyanins, ultra-powerful antioxidants that could act as erection insurance.
Quick science lesson: your penis's ability to rise and shine depends, in part, on the availability of nitric oxide, a blood-vessel-dilating chemical. When too many free radicals are present in your bloodstream, nitric oxide goes down – and so does your penis. Enter anthocyanins. These potent antioxidants attack free radicals before they have the chance to lower nitric oxide levels.
Here's proof of their power: Indiana University researchers found that arteries treated with anthocyanins retained high levels of nitric oxide even after being flooded with free radicals. "Antioxidants help keep free radicals under control so nitric oxide can do its thing," says Dr David Bell, the study's lead author. And that "thing" is giving your penis the blood it needs to turn excitement into an erection.
Shut Down the Smokestack
If you still light up, you've probably accepted your increased risk of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and bladder cancer. But how about dying young and impotent? A study published in the Journal of Urology found that smoking causes arterial damage that doubles a man's risk of total erectile dysfunction. The good news: "If men quit in their fifties or earlier, we can usually reverse the damage," says Dr Andre Guay, director of the Lahey Clinic for Sexual Function.
When Guay measured nighttime erections in 10 impotent smokers (average age 49), he noted a 40 per cent improvement after just one smoke-free day. Swap the cancer sticks for fish sticks: researchers at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland discovered that taurine, an amino acid found in fish, helps heal smoke-damaged arteries.
Become a More Sensitive Guy
Everyone knows stress is a psychological cold shower. But untamed tension also works in a more insidious way – by releasing epinephrine, a type of adrenaline that goes straight to your arteries and slowly wreaks havoc there. "Stress in the long term can contribute to hardening of the arteries," says Jones, who is author of Overcoming Impotence: A Leading Urologist Tells You Everything You Need to Know.
In a great medical irony, being hard in the arteries can leave you soft in the shorts. The fix: force yourself to concentrate on each of your five senses for a few minutes every day – the feel of the steering wheel in your hands, the sound of the engine revving to redline, the sight of the hot brunette in the next car . . .
"Obsessing on stressful thoughts will increase your epinephrine," says Dr Jay Winner, author of Stress Management Made Simple. "On the other hand, if you focus on current sensations, it decreases the epinephrine and ultimately improves your ability to have an erection."
Stop Sawing Wood
Snoring can sabotage a night of sex, and not just because it's difficult to engage in foreplay from the couch. "All of your tissue needs oxygen to be healthy, and the penile tissue is especially sensitive," says Jones. "When you snore, you're depriving your tissue of that oxygen."
That said, don't waste your money on OTC snore stoppers; research by the US Air Force shows that these products aren't effective. Instead, try placing bricks under the bedposts at the head of the bed. "Snoring has a lot to do with gravity," says Dr Phillip Westerbrook, founder of the sleep-disorders centre at the Mayo Clinic. "If you elevate the torso without bending the neck, it changes the effect of gravity on the soft tissues of the throat."
Eat a Bar of Dark Chocolate
It's erection medicine. Dark chocolate contains epicatechins, flavonoids that trigger the release of dilating chemicals in the inner, or endothelial, layer of the arteries. How much should you munch? A University of California at San Francisco study shows that those who ate a 45-gram bar of dark chocolate each day increased their blood-vessel dilation by more than 10 per cent.
While the study wasn't done specifically on erectile tissues, anything that benefits your body's endothelial system will likely benefit your erections, since the penis is made up largely of endothelial surfaces. "Keeping those surfaces healthy is crucial to good arterial flow," says Dr Kevin McVary, a professor of urology at Northwestern University.
Lower Your Oestrogen
Calculate your body-mass index. If your BMI comes in close to or over 25, you may be carrying just enough lard to drag down your erections. "We know that heavier men convert testosterone to oestrogen, and that a lower level of testosterone and a higher level of oestrogen are not good for erectile function," says Dr Larry Lipshultz, chief of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Baylor College of Medicine.
Fortunately, even moderate weight loss can rid you of excess oestrogen and put your sex life back on track. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that one-third of clinically obese men – BMI 30 or higher – with erectile dysfunction showed improvement after losing 10 per cent of their body weight.
If you think the problem is that you, well, think too much, see an acupuncturist. The results of a study published in the International Journal of Impotence Research suggest that acupuncture can help treat psychologically induced erectile dysfunction. (Relax – the prick points are all in your back.)
"In psychogenic erectile dysfunction, the patient has trouble with the balance of his sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems," says Dr Paul Engelhardt, the study author. "Traditional Chinese medicine tries to restore that balance." Sure, it sounds like using feng shui for your underwear drawer, but it works – 64 per cent of the men who underwent six weeks of acupuncture regained sexual function and needed no further treatment.
Build a Stronger Floor
Go figure – one of the best ways to treat erectile dysfunction is to pretend that you suffer from premature ejaculation. British researchers at Somerset Nuffield Hospital discovered that the traditional treatment for a hair trigger – strengthening the pelvic-floor muscles – is also a remedy for men who can't point their pistols. In the study of 55 impotent men, 40 per cent of those who practiced pelvic-floor exercises, aka Kegels, every day for six months regained normal sexual function.
Apparently, the same muscle contraction that's used to stop peeing midstream can also prevent blood from escaping during an erection. "Unless they have severe back pain, all men with ED can perform pelvic-floor exercises," says Dr Grace Dorey, the study author. Here's the workout plan: contract and relax your pelvic muscles anytime you're sitting, although you can also do them lying down. Work up to doing 18 contractions daily, holding each one for 10 seconds.
Open Your Medicine Cabinet
And make a list of all the prescription pills you're popping. "A lot of prescription drugs may be associated with sexual dysfunction," says Dr Taylor Segraves, co-author of Sexual Pharmacology. One possible culprit is the cholesterol-lowering drug simvastatin. If you're taking one of them, talk to your doctor. Often a similar pill, sans side effects, is on the market.
Still Not Able to Defy Gravity?
At this point, it makes sense to consider taking Viagra, Cialis or Levitra to stimulate bloodflow to the penis, says Steidle. And who knows what miracles might happen once you prime the pump a few times? "What a lot of men find is that once they restart these medications, they may not need them for every episode of sexual activity – they may need them only now and then," he says.
Similarly, if you suffer from performance anxiety, a drug-assisted romp or two may be just what the urologist ordered to restore confidence. And while all three erection medications have the power to prevent you from psyching yourself out in the sack, Cialis's ability to work for up to 36 hours may provide an advantage, says Dr Julian Slowinski, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania school of medicine. "This gives a man and his partner a lot of time over the weekend to be more spontaneous."