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Overview of male sexual dysfunction

Glenn R Cunningham, MD
Raymond C Rosen, PhD
Section Editors
Peter J Snyder, MD
Michael P O'Leary, MD, MPH
Deputy Editor
Kathryn A Martin, MD


Male sexual dysfunction has long been known to be common. Of late, knowledge of normal male sexual function and the causes of sexual dysfunction have become better understood, and more effective treatments are available.

This topic review will provide an overview of normal and abnormal sexual function in men. Male sexual dysfunction includes erectile dysfunction (ED), diminished libido, and abnormal ejaculation. The evaluation and treatment of men with sexual dysfunction and sexual dysfunction associated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are discussed separately. (See "Evaluation of male sexual dysfunction" and "Treatment of male sexual dysfunction" and "Sexual dysfunction caused by selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): Management".)


Normal male sexual function requires interactions among vascular, neurologic, hormonal, and psychological systems. The initial obligatory event required for male sexual activity, the acquisition and maintenance of penile erection, is primarily a vascular phenomenon, triggered by neurologic signals and facilitated only in the presence of an appropriate hormonal milieu and psychological mindset.

Neural influences

Psychogenic erections are triggered by neural impulses originating in discrete loci of the central and peripheral nervous systems [1]. Sexual images may originate in response to erotic visual or auditory stimuli or be generated via fantasy. The centrally perceived sensual input is relayed by neural signals to a spinal cord neural center located at T-11 to L-2 (the thoracolumbar erection center). From there, neural impulses flow to the pelvic vascular bed, redirecting blood into the corpora cavernosa.

Reflex erections are created by tactile stimulus to the penis or genital area which activates a reflex arc with sacral roots originating at S-2 to S-4 (the sacral erection center). Psychogenic erections are more common during man's early sexually active years, whereas reflex erectile activity dominates during his mature years.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Aug 16, 2017.
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