Erectile Dysfunction

How to Stay Hard

Key Takeaways

Odds are, you’re reading this alone. Maybe you’re on your phone, with the screen tilted in such a way that someone else can’t see what you’ve pulled up. You might even delete your search history after getting the answers you seek about your sexual health.

All of this is okay. We understand — maintaining an erection is a sensitive topic that comes with a lot of stigma if you don’t feel like you’re “succeeding” at it. 

Erectile dysfunction is common

But it’s a little-known secret that erectile dysfunction, whether mild or severe, is common among people with penises. According to a 2020 study by researchers for the International Society for Sexual Medicine, erectile dysfunction can see prevalence rates as high as 48.6%

If you’re having some difficulty maintaining an erection, at least take comfort in knowing you’re not alone.

So … how can I actually stay hard?

Now for the real question — what can you do to maintain harder erections? 

Keep reading to find out what you can do to improve sexual performance. We’ll break down solutions to erectile dysfunction in three categories:

  • Psychological and interpersonal: How you can improve your relationship to sex 
  • Lifestyle: How your day-to-day lifestyle choices can improve sexual health
  • Medication: Prescription medication that can improve your erections

Psychological and interpersonal shifts that can improve sexual health

Sex isn’t just physical — it’s psychological, too. 

If you’re dealing with severe, chronic erectile dysfunction, see a doctor. 

But if you’re looking to add some extra oomph to your erections, start here. Sex is deeply personal, and building intimacy with other people can seem daunting. Fear of intimacy and anxiety about sexual performance can affect your ability to get and maintain an erection. 

The good news is that you can take steps to address any psychological and interpersonal roadblocks that may be standing between you and a harder erection. Here’s how to address some common barriers. 

Define and re-examine your sexual preferences

No two people have the exact same sexual needs. Some people are kinky, others are satisfied with more vanilla sex (both are okay!). Due to stigma, we’re rarely encouraged to question whether or not the kind of sex we’re having is really the type of sex we want to be having. 

According to a Quebec study by researchers Christian Joyal and Julie Carpentier, 45.6% of people have considered “abnormal sexual behaviour” –– meaning (consensual) sex that falls outside the mainstream. On top of this, 33% of people have already engaged with some type of kink, such as BDSM, voyeurism, exhibitionism, etc. 

Whether you’re assessing your sexual orientation (asexual people exist, too!) or discovering a new preference, give yourself permission to explore –– as long as it’s consensual. 

Communicate with your partner(s)

Talking about sex is … hard. And if you’re not communicating with your sexual partners, misunderstandings can make you less hard. 

Start by diagnosing any problems. Are you bored with your sex life? Is your relationship going through a rocky period? Is there resentment that needs to be addressed?

Maintaining an erection is difficult when emotional barriers are coming between you and your sexual partners. To address these issues, write down the points you want to address and talk to your partner. Consider relationship counselling if problems seem insurmountable. 

Try toys with your partner(s)

Some sex toys can help you maintain an erection, and other sex toys can help you think about sex differently … which can take some of the pressure off your penis. 

If you can get hard but you have some difficulty staying hard, you could try a cock ring. A cock ring is an O-shaped toy that fits around the base of your penis and keeps blood in the shaft for longer. If used correctly with a good amount of lubrication, they’re safe and shouldn’t cause pain. 

Other toys such as vibrators and dildos can also help reframe sexual pleasure for you and your partner. Sex toys remove some of the emphasis on penetrative sex with your penis, which may (ironically) help stimulate an erection by alleviating performance anxiety. 

Assess your porn consumption

We’re not here to talk about the ethics of porn consumption. But we encourage you to think about whether or not your porn consumption is healthy. More specifically, are you replacing intimacy with porn?

According to a 2014 study in JAMA Psychiatry, porn consumption can negatively affect the brain’s reward sensitivity. For some people, porn can become a barrier to intimacy because real sex just doesn’t cut it anymore. The brain wants the quick hit of dopamine, not the complex process of building trust and intimacy with a sexual partner. 

If you’re struggling with overconsumption of porn, seek a therapist who specializes in sex addiction.  

Get help for depression and anxiety

Depression and anxiety are common mental illnesses that can contribute to erectile dysfunction. According to one small study, almost a quarter of men with ED also have depression, anxiety, or both. 

Yet men aren’t socialized to seek help for mental illness. According to Dr. Michael Myers, a psychiatrist and clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia, “In men, mental illness can be masked. We’ve known for decades that women are more apt to recognize illness of any sort and go to their doctor. This doesn’t mean women are healthier, but that some men just repress it.”

If you’re depressed or anxious, talk to your doctor. They may be able to prescribe medication (which, unfortunately, can exacerbate ED) or refer you to a therapist who can help. 

Lifestyle changes that can improve your sex life

Before you start comparing ED meds, you may want to take stock of lifestyle factors that could be making it hard to stay hard. Here are five of the most common contributors to erectile dysfunction and what you can do about them. 

Reduce stress

Stress is a leading cause of erectile dysfunction. When your body is stressed, stress hormones like cortisol rise and the sympathetic nervous system is activated. Even at low levels, stress hormones can send the body into varying degrees of fight or flight, which then deprioritizes sexual performance.  

Stress reduction isn’t easy when external factors like job uncertainty, relationship strife, family troubles, or other problems are nipping at your heels. But here’s what can help:

  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Exercise
  • Talking to a friend or therapist
  • Reducing caffeine intake
  • Journaling
  • Reducing time commitments and responsibilities
  • Spending time with animals

Eat a balanced diet that reduces blood pressure

There’s no one food that will give you a harder erection, but a balanced diet teeming with healthy fruits, veggies, protein, and healthy fats can contribute to better overall sexual health.

But erectile dysfunction has been linked to heart disease caused by high blood pressure; when plaque builds up in your arteries, it reduces blood flow to your heart and your penis. 

ED is also linked to diabetes. Over time, high blood sugar can damage blood vessels and nerves that feed an erection. One U.S. study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that almost 50% of men with ED also had diabetes. 

So what can you do about it? Try to avoid eating too much sugar and processed foods. Keep your sodium in check. Greens and fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, can also help lower your blood pressure over time if you remain consistent. 

Quit smoking

Similar to your diet, smoking can affect your erections over time because nicotine can cause your blood vessels to narrow. One study published in Prostate International also showed a link between erectile dysfunction and atherosclerosis, which is a buildup of plaque in your arteries caused by smoking. 

Plaque and narrow blood vessels do not create a great environment for strong erections. Quite the opposite. 

If you want to quit smoking, you’ll need to combine prescription medication with behavioural therapy. One study from the UK found that over-the-counter smoking cessation aids actually reduced success rates, so you’ll want to see your doctor for help. 

Decrease your alcohol consumption

Mild to moderate alcohol consumption can affect your erection when you’re drunk, but the alarm bells really start to go off when you’re consuming more than three standard units of alcohol (12g of ethanol) on a daily basis. 

A 2007 study in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry found that 72% of men who suffer from alcohol dependence also experienced sexual dysfunction, most commonly ED, premature ejaculation, and low sexual desire.

If you’re struggling with alcohol addiction, consider finding an Alcoholics Anonymous group near you. According to researchers from Stanford, AA can be more effective than therapy because of its social component. 

Get some sleep to avoid low testosterone

Sleep deprivation is associated with lower testosterone. According to an American study by the University of Chicago Medical Center, skipping sleep reduces testosterone levels in young men as if they had aged by 10–15 years. After just one week of getting five hours of sleep per night, their testosterone levels were decreased by 10%–15%.

If you want to get more sleep, try:

  • Avoiding screen time one hour before bed
  • Avoiding caffeine late in the day (everyone reacts differently)
  • Establishing a relaxing bedtime routine, such as reading and/or meditation
  • Sticking to a sleep routine by getting up and going to sleep at the same time every day, even on weekends
  • Get regular exercise, but avoid it two to three hours before bedtime

Medication that can treat erectile dysfunction

If you need some prescription help with staying hard, there are several drugs on the market you can try. Some last longer than others and work in different ways, so it's important to consult with your healthcare practitioner to determine what options are best for you based on your needs.

There are lots of options when it comes to dealing with erectile dysfunction, it’s up to you to decide where you start and which treatment makes the most sense for you. If you want to explore your options, start an online visit with Felix today.

Medically reviewed by


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