If a person wants to get harder erections, making lifestyle and dietary changes, taking supplements, and trying medications may all help. Communicating with a sexual partner and addressing any psychological and emotional factors can also help.

In some cases, persistent erectile problems may be a symptom of an underlying emotional or medical condition.

This article will look at some options to help improve erectile function and when to see a doctor.

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Making certain lifestyle and dietary changes may help a person get harder erections.

Eating a diet that supports heart health may also help support penile health.

According to a study in the Central European Journal of Urology, following the Mediterranean diet could help maintain erectile function.

The same risk factors for heart disease, such as obesity and high blood pressure, can also increase the chance of erectile dysfunction. Adopting a Mediterranean diet may help reduce these risk factors.

A Mediterranean diet consists of:

  • plenty of fruit and vegetables
  • nuts
  • whole grains
  • legumes, such as lentils, peas, and beans
  • olive oil
  • a moderate intake of fish
  • a moderate amount of alcohol, such as a glass of wine with a meal
  • a low intake of dairy and meat
  • a low intake of candy

Learn more about foods for better sex here.

Foods to avoid

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommend avoiding the following items to support erectile function:

  • foods high in saturated fat
  • foods high in sodium
  • excessive amounts of alcohol

Research suggests that exercise can improve sexual responses, while a lack of physical activity can negatively affect erectile function.

Exercise increases blood flow to the penis, as well as to the rest of the body. People should aim to get a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise every day.

Learn more about exercises that may help treat erectile dysfunction here.

Emotional and psychological factors can affect sexual performance. If there is no underlying health condition affecting erectile function, mental and emotional factors may be the cause.

These could include issues such as:

  • unhappy or traumatic previous sexual experiences
  • a lack of attraction to a partner
  • feeling anxiety or a pressure to perform well sexually

Sexual performance anxiety is a common cause of sexual problems. Although there has not been much research into potential treatments, cognitive behavior therapy, mindfulness, and meditation may all help.

Talking to a sexual partner about any issues may help improve erectile function and relieve the pressure a person may be feeling. Seeing a sex therapist, with or without a partner, may also help people resolve any issues.

Anecdotal sources suggest that exploring new approaches to sex may have a positive effect on erections.

For example, the following things may help a person get and keep harder erections:

  • using a penis ring
  • focusing less on sexual performance and more on pleasurable sensations
  • trying role-play or foreplay to increase arousal

Alcohol reduces sexual sensitivity and makes it more difficult to get and keep an erection. Excessive alcohol consumption can reduce sexual response. Over time, this may lead to erectile dysfunction.

Limiting or avoiding alcohol may help improve erectile function. A person may wish to consider planning a romantic occasion without alcohol or increasing the period of time they go without alcohol.

Research suggests that disrupted sleep, a lack of sleep, and sleep disorders can all affect sexual function. Sleep may affect erectile function, and there are links between erectile dysfunction and sleep disorders.

A small-scale study from 2011 looked at the link between testosterone levels and sleep. The study showed that sleep restriction reduced testosterone levels, which play an important role in sexual behavior and libido.

Ensuring good quality sleep may help reduce the chance of erectile dysfunction and improve sexual function.

Stress causes the release of cortisol, which is a hormone that helps regulate blood pressure and circulatory systems. Chronic stress can affect the male reproductive system and may lead to:

  • changes in testosterone production, causing a reduction in sex drive or desire
  • erectile dysfunction
  • impotence

Managing and reducing stress may help improve erectile function. A person may find that the following can help:

  • getting regular physical activity
  • having a social support network
  • getting good quality sleep each night
  • trying relaxation and mindfulness techniques

Smoking can reduce blood flow to the penis and increase the chance of erectile dysfunction. Smoking can harm the blood vessels, and it has a link to heart and blood vessel disease, which can also affect erectile function.

Reducing or quitting smoking may help improve erectile function and reduce the chance of experiencing problems.

Taking certain supplements may help improve erections. According to one 2020 review, the following may help improve sexual function:

  • sage, passionflower, l-theanine, and bitter orange, to reduce anxiety (if that is affecting erectile function)
  • l-citrulline, l-arginine, and Panax ginseng, to boost nitric oxide and potentially increase erection size and lubrication
  • yohimbe and Citrus aurantium, to help sexual arousal

Learn more about herbs for treating erectile dysfunction here.

Some medications can help people get and keep an erection by increasing blood flow to the penis. These medications include:

  • sildenafil (Viagra)
  • vardenafil (Levitra, Staxyn)
  • tadalafil (Cialis)
  • avanafil (Spedra)

However, people should avoid taking any of the above if they are also taking nitrate medication or alpha-blockers.

Certain drugs, such as illegal substances, may have a negative effect on erectile function. Erectile dysfunction may also be a side effect of some medications, such as:

  • antiandrogens
  • antidepressants
  • blood pressure medications
  • sedatives or tranquilizers
  • appetite suppressants
  • ulcer medications

Maintaining a moderate weight by getting regular exercise and eating a healthful diet can play a part in maintaining healthy erectile function.

Having overweight can be a risk factor for diabetes, and uncontrolled blood sugar levels from diabetes can cause damage to the nerves and blood vessels. Nerve damage and poor circulation can reduce blood flow to the penis, making it more difficult to get a hard or long-lasting erection.

People with diabetes can help treat erectile dysfunction by managing their blood sugar levels and blood pressure.

Losing weight may help prevent erectile dysfunction by:

  • reducing inflammation
  • increasing testosterone levels
  • increasing self-esteem (if that is an issue)

Testosterone levels can play a part in erectile function and sex drive. If a person has a testosterone deficiency, they may have the following symptoms:

If a person has low testosterone levels, they can discuss treatments and any potential side effects with a doctor. The doctor may prescribe testosterone for people to take by mouth, through the nose, or under the skin.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only approve testosterone medication for people with both low testosterone levels and an associated medical condition.

If the above suggestions are not effective and a person is not able to get or keep satisfactory erections, they can talk to a doctor.

In some cases, erectile dysfunction can be a symptom of an underlying health condition, such as heart disease or diabetes.

Seeking treatment may also help prevent potential complications of erectile dysfunction, such as:

  • an unfulfilling sex life
  • a loss of intimacy in a relationship
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • low self-esteem
  • an inability to conceive

A person may be able to get harder erections by making certain dietary and lifestyle changes, as well as having open conversations with their sexual partner. Taking certain medications or supplements may also help.

If a person is experiencing persistent erectile problems, they can talk to a doctor to determine the cause.

In some cases, erectile problems could indicate an underlying condition. Treating or managing that condition can often help treat erectile dysfunction.