Can sexually transmitted diseases cause ED?

Different things such as medication can cause erectile dysfunction. However, one of the common questions people ask is if sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can cause ED.

A man and a woman kissing before having oral sex

Yes, sexually transmitted diseases can cause erectile dysfunction. Some common STDs like gonorrhoea, Chlamydia, viral hepatitis and HIV can cause infections that affect different parts of the male genitalia. An older 2010 study indicated that STDs are associated with sexual dysfunction.

STDs usually start as infections transmitted via sex (STIs). When a person gets these infections via sexual contact, they may not show symptoms, therefore they may not get treatments. STIs often lead to STDs. STD is the point where a sexually transmitted infection starts manifesting as a disease, in some cases causing organ damage.

ED affects an estimated 30 million people with penis in the United States. While things like health conditions, emotional state and medications can cause ED, the risk is higher in older people and people who smoke. 

In this article, we will discuss how STDs can cause erectile dysfunction, symptoms of ED, and STDs that can cause ED.

How does STDs cause erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction occurs when a person is persistently unable to achieve or sustain an erection strong enough to have sexual intercourse. ED is often caused by a combination of physiological, psychological and anatomical factors. 

When a sexually transmitted infection causes ED, it is usually an anatomical factor in play. The reason is that some STIs commonly infect the prostate gland, an important part of the male reproductive system that plays a role in producing and fine-tuning semen. 

When infected, the prostate can obstruct the proper flow of blood into the penis. This becomes a problem during sex because the penis needs enough blood flow through its blood vessels to achieve and sustain an erection. 

If left untreated, STIs can cause male accessory gland infections (MAGIs), leading to ED. Examples of MAGIs include prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate), epididymitis (inflammation of the epididymis), urethritis (inflammation of the urethra), and orchitis (inflammation of the testicles). 

STDs that can cause ED

STDs can cause ED

Below are STDs that can cause prostate infection leading to ED:

Chlamydia

Chlamydia is the most common bacteria-caused sexually transmitted infection. In 2018, there were about 4 million cases of Chlamydia in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Chlamydia affects both males and females and can lead to sexual and fertility issues. One of the most common complications linked to chlamydia is erectile dysfunction. 

The bacteria that causes chlamydia can cause ED by infecting the prostate. The infection of the prostate further causes swelling, which can obstruct blood flow to the penis. 

Also, such infection can induce chronic inflammation, which can lower testosterone hormone levels. Testosterone is also needed for optimum erectile function.

Chlamydia often doesn’t present with symptoms. Therefore someone that is infected may not know they have it. However, in cases where it causes symptoms, chlamydia can cause pain or swellings in the testicles, penile discharge, rectal pain or bleeding and pain while urinating. 

Gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea is also a common sexually transmitted infection caused by the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria. It tends to thrive in the warm moist areas of the body, such as the reproductive organs, the throat, urethra and anus.

Gonorrhoea is not only transmitted via vaginal-penile sex. It can also be transmitted via anal and oral sex. This means you can get gonorrhoea by kissing an infected person. 

Since gonorrhoea is caused by a bacterial, it can be treated using antibiotics medications. However, if left untreated, gonorrhoea can cause obstruction and infection of the epididymis1 (a condition known as gonorrheal epididymitis). This can, in turn, lead to erectile dysfunction. 

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

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HIV is a common STD that can affect both children and adults. The infection can be transmitted from infected mothers to their babies and from one infected person to their partner. 

HIV can be transmitted via blood and other body fluids like semen and vaginal fluid. This means HIV can be transmitted if you share needles with an infected person. However, it cannot be transmitted via saliva.

Nowadays, there are medications that help reduce HIV viral load. Antiretroviral medicines are now available to help reduce the risk of HIV transmission and help boost the immunity of an infected person. This translates to an increase in the expected life expectancy of people living with HIV.

HIV can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), especially if left untreated. The condition also compromises a person’s immune system, making the person’s body susceptible to other infections. One of such infections is prostatitis which can cause erectile dysfunction.

Viral hepatitis

Viral hepatitis is an infection that affects the liver, causing the damage and inflammation of the liver. The most common causes of viral hepatitis are hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. However, toxins, some medical conditions and certain medications can cause it too.

Viral hepatitis can be transmitted via blood. This means a person can contract it by having unprotected sex or sharing needles with an infected person. 

Different studies have shown a link between hepatitis infections and erectile dysfunction. A 2021 study specifically linked hepatitis C to prostate cancer.

Also, an article published by John Hopkins Medicine found that nearly all persons will experience some degree of erectile dysfunction after prostate cancer treatment.

Symptoms of ED

It is normal for people to experience weak erection or have disinterest in sex if they are worried, stressed, or their mind is occupied with other things. However, it is abnormal if this occurs persistently.

People with ED often have:

  • Trouble getting an erection
  • Trouble maintaining an erection during sex 
  • Low libido (desire to have sex)

For some people, depression and low self-esteem also tend to accompany erectile dysfunction.

It is important to note that in most cases, erectile dysfunction is caused by underlying health problems such as diabetes, cardiovascular problems and neurological issues which can interfere with sexual intercourse.

When to see a doctor

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It is often best to see your doctor if you notice you can’t get or keep erections persistently. The failure to get an erection 20% of the times you want to have sex calls for concerns; therefore, you should make plans to see your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. 

Because different things can cause ED, your doctor will have to run different tests to diagnose you and determine the cause of your condition. 

Your doctor may ask you questions regarding the medications you had used in the past, when the ED first occurred, your sexual techniques, and your psychological state. Your doctor may also ask if you have been diagnosed with an STD in the past that could cause your ED.

It will help to answer all questions honestly as that will help your healthcare provider make a proper diagnosis and put you on the right treatment. The good news is that ED can be treated and the condition resolved with the proper target treatment method.

References

  1. Ammar, T et al. (2012). Male infertility: the role of imaging in diagnosis and management.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Chlamydia - CDC fact sheet (detailed).
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). What is viral hepatitis?
  4. John Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Erectile dysfunction after prostate cancer.
  5. Ma, Y. et al. (2021). The association between hepatitis C virus infection and renal cell cancer, prostate cancer, and bladder cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
  6. National Health Service. (2021). Can you catch HIV from kissing? 
  7. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2017). Definition and facts for erectile dysfunction.
  8. Sadeghi-Nejad, Hossein et al. (2010). Sexually transmitted diseases and sexual function.