What is normal erectile behaviour?

Is there such a thing as normal erections?


Any answer to this question is going to be subjective and will depend on a person's belief system, opinions and taste. Everybody’s ‘normal’ is likely to be different but it is when the erectile function changes from a person’s normal it may be an early warning that there is something going on in either your physical or mental health.

A normal erection can be described as one which can be achieved and maintained long enough for satisfactory sexual performance.  

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Phases of the sexual response cycle

There are four phases of the cycle:

  • Excitement - this phase can last for a few minutes up to several hours and may include increased muscle tension, heavy breathing, increased heart rate, flushing of the skin, erect nipples and increased blood flow to the genitals; it is this which results in the erection of the penis.
  • Plateau - during this phase the changes which have begun in phase one become more intense, the testicles are drawn up into the scrotum, muscle spasms may begin in the hands, feet and face and general muscle tension increases.
  • Orgasm - this is the climax of the sexual response cycle.  It is the shortest phase and it only lasts a few seconds.  This phase will include involuntary muscle contraction, blood pressure and heart rate are at their highest, there is a sudden, forceful release of sexual tension and the rhythmic contractions of the muscles at the base of the penis causing a release of semen.
  • Resolution - as the name suggests, during this phase the body returns to normal, blood pressure drops, heart rate and breathing return to normal and swelling and flushing subside.  The person is left with a feeling of well-being and sometimes fatigue.

If any of these phases are disrupted in any way, this can result in erectile dysfunction. This is a very common condition but there are many people who find it a difficult subject to discuss. On the whole, erectile dysfunction is largely treatable and it is recommended that a sufferer seek advice from his GP.


Causes of erectile dysfunction

There are a number of causes and contributory causes which can contribute to erectile dysfunction. They include:

  • Narrowing of the blood vessels which may be related to high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Hypertension itself may be the cause
  • Heart disease
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Thyroid problems
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney disease
  • Peyronie's disease
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Hormonal issues
  • Surgery
  • Injury to the spinal cord, prostate gland, bladder or pelvis
  • Injury
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Relationship issues
  • Stress
  • Drug taking, both prescription and recreational

There are also some lifestyle and behavioural factors which may contribute to erectile dysfunction:

  • Smoking
  • Not taking regular exercise
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Being overweight

When there is an underlying cause if this condition is treated it is probable that the erectile dysfunction will subsequently correct itself. If a man experiences erectile dysfunction it is very important that he seek medical advice because some underlying conditions are very serious and may even be life-threatening.


Treatment for erectile dysfunction

Correcting the lifestyle and behavioural factors is a good place to start, don’t smoke, lose weight,  don’t drink too much and start exercising!

As mentioned above, if there are any underlying physical causes, your doctor will be able to help with this and once treated it is likely that the erectile dysfunction will return to normal. When the underlying cause is narrowing of the blood vessels, high blood pressure or high cholesterol your doctor may prescribe hypertension medication and statins to lower cholesterol.  If the cause is hormonal then hormone replacement therapy may be suggested; testosterone may be required.

In the case of psychological factors, sex counselling with your partner or individual counselling may be helpful. Your doctor will be able to advise and recommend the sort of practitioner that may be the most useful.


Treatment with medication

There is, of course, the wonder drug Viagra (active ingredient sildenafil) which can be given by your doctor to treat erectile dysfunction. This can now be purchased over the counter but must be under the supervision of the pharmacist who can ensure that it is safe to take.

In addition, there are other similar medications which include Cialis (active ingredient tadalafil), Levitra (active ingredient vardenafil) and Spedra (active ingredient avanafil); these medications are not however available without a prescription.

All of the drugs above are part of a group of medicines called phosphodiesterase 5 (PDE5) inhibitors.  These drugs help to treat erectile dysfunction by temporarily increasing the blood flow into the penis during sexual excitement; this in turn results in an erection.



So we asked ‘what is normal erectile behaviour?’ There is no definitive answer to this question. What is definite is that if you find your own ‘normal’ erectile behaviour changing in some way it is very important that you ask your doctor to investigate. It won’t necessarily mean that there is an underlying medical issue but it will mean that you can be advised on the best way to return to ‘your own normal’.

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