While erectile dysfunction has a huge impact on your sex life, it could be an indicator of a bigger issue for your man.

By Marie Gartee
January 09, 2015
Corbis Images

When you think of erectile dysfunction (ED), there are two assumptions that often come to mind: first, that ED only happens to old men and, second, that your sex life or appearance is to blame. We're here to put both of these myths to rest.

Recent research published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine found that one in four men seeking help for erectile dysfunction is younger than 40. What's more, 50 percent of men over 50 are struggling with some variation of ED, explains Charles Walker, M.D., assistant professor of urology and cofounder of the Cardiovascular and Sexual Health clinic at Yale University.

Clearly, this is a common issue-so what's causing the lack of lust below the belt?

"Men prefer to believe it's all in their head, and women often put the blame on their sex life (speaking of which, Is Your Guy Normal When It Comes to Sex?)-i.e. ‘it's me' or ‘he's having an affair'-but these excuses are often never the cause," says Walker.

The actual culprit: his health.

Vasculogenic erectile dysfunction-which means his lack of erection is due to a blood flow issue, as opposed to erectile issues caused by neurological, psychological, or endocrinological complications-is a huge predictor for major health concerns your partner may not even know he has, like heart disease, diabetes (keep an eye out for these 7 Silent Symptoms of Pre-Diabetes), and high blood pressure.

"The arteries in the penis are just like the arteries all over the rest of the body, only slightly smaller," says Walker. So if there is a blood flow issue happening here, perhaps to due to plaque buildup, then it's only a matter of time before he starts noticing issues with his heart, Walker notes.

ED is really just the tip (ha!) of the iceberg when it comes to crumbling health. So if someone suffering from ED wants to treat the issue, some lifestyle changes will have to be made. Here's what you can do to help:

Suggest he sees a men's health specialist

Primary care doctors and urologists don't always have familiarities with the penis and may not understand the physiology as much as they should, says Walker. What's more, a primary care doctor will likely just prescribe him Viagra-which ultimately does nothing for his health. "The user eventually builds a resistance to the pills and they do nothing to reverse the process," says Walker.

Step up your physical activity

As couples get older and their schedules become more hectic, going for walks often become the primary source of exercise. And while walking may help relieve stress, it's not going to improve ED. "You really need to work up a sweat and get your heart pumping to improve your cardiovascular health," says Walker. Transition some of your walks together into runs, and incorporate 2-3 strength-training sessions into your weekly routine, he suggests (and why not flip a coin and try this Fun 5 Minute Workout with him).

Develop better eating habits

"Abdomen fat is a big predictor of poor health," says Walker. It's a major red flag because it leads to ED, diabetes, high blood pressure, and issues with the heart, he adds. Simply put: if your partner's diet consists of meat, potatoes, and beer, this has to change. "Spouses are often enablers of lifestyle changes, which is why the woman's workout and eating habits matter to his ED improvement," explains Walker. So if you're looking for a diet that promotes good heart health, it should be packed full with fish, fruits, and vegetables. These 9 Ways to Help Your Guy Eat Healthier are a great place to start!