by Zachary Levin
My old friend Jake told me recently that hes under constant pressure to keep things up. I assumed he was referring to his law school grades, but he lowered his voice and confessed he was suffering from what he called the limp noodle syndrome. The poor guy sounded so defeated, youd think hed just failed the bar exam for the fourth time.
At 27, Jakes had a healthy, problem-free sex life for the past ten yearsmaintaining an erection has never been an issue. In fact, if memory serves, he was the priapic jock in tenth grade algebra who was always embarrassed to stand up when the teacher called on him to solve an equation on the blackboard. Trust me, it wasnt because he didnt know the answer.
Just Cant Get It Up
Impotence, also known as erectile dysfunction, occurs when the penis does not become firm enough for vaginal penetration or loses firmness following penetration. It affects the sex lives of up to 30 million American men and their partners and may happen at any age, although its more common in older men. In men of middle age and beyond, common causes of impotence are removal of the prostate and chronic disease of the lungs, kidney, heart, nerves, arteries, or veins. But a host of other causes that are not age-related can also cause the dreaded limp noodle, including the following:
Alcohol and marijuana use can also be the culprit. Their use dulls the senses, diminishing the sensation a man feels during sex. Take it from Shakespeare, who said, Drink provokes the desire but takes away the performance. Cigarettes are no aphrodisiacs, either. They contain nicotine, which causes the narrowing of blood vessels and thus prevents maximal blood flow to the penis.
What About Jake?
But what about Jake, who doesnt fall into any of the above risk categories and just got a clean bill of health from his general practitioner? Most likely, its in his mind. In the young age group, under 35, the most common cause is psychologic, says Jed Kaminetsky, M.D., clinical assistant professor of urology at NYU School of Medicine. And while the Mayo Clinic reports that psychological factors account for 10 to 15 percent of impotence cases in all age groups, this may be a conservative estimate.
Like many other men suffering from impotence, Jake was reluctant to discuss the problem with his doctorits still a taboo (especially for young men, who dont necessarily identify with Viagra pitchman Bob Dole) and a source of shame. Had Jake mentioned his condition to his doctor, he most likely wouldve been referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist with experience in treating sexual problems, where theyd be able to examine the underlying sources of his impotence.
How Does Woody Work?
Sporting serious wood is not the simple process one might assume that it is. In fact, its about as complex as a NASA rocket launch. Kaminetsky explains the inner workings: Within the penis are two spongy cylinders that run parallel to the urethra. When a man becomes sexually aroused, his nervous system communicates the arousal to his penis. Blood vessels that supply the penis relax, allowing more blood to fill the spongy cylinders. That produces an erection. In other words, for an erection to work, it has to be all systems go, from your head to your toes.
Outside stress can also negatively affect your performance. Kaminetsky notes that when the stock market is low the rate of impotence rises. (Urologists must have made a killing in the early 90s.)
Rising to the Occasion
In this boom economy, some young men are coming to Kaminetskys private practice in New York City under false pretenses. I see a lot of young guys in my office who tell me theyre impotent, and I know theyre not, he says, They just want a Viagra prescription. Have we entered a brave new world in which healthy young men wish to transform themselves into biologically engineered marathon lovers? Actor Ben Affleck recently told Playboy that he uses Viagra. It was unclear, of course, as to whether his usage was out of necessity or a desire to copulate like Dionysus.
Im happy to report that Jake is doing the right thing. He has begun to see a therapist, and although the impotence hasnt completely gone away, he reports that he and his girlfriend are making a lot of umheadway.
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