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Male and female lying in bed in winter, depicting erectile dysfunction.. An illustrated eggplant is in the corner.

January 13, 2023 • read

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Can winter cause erectile dysfunction?

Let’s cut to the chase: plenty of Canadian men experience erectile dysfunction (ED) — 40% of Canadian men over 40 to be exact. Despite this, many men are too embarrassed to talk to their healthcare providers about it.

But, not getting treatment is never the answer when something is affecting your day-to-day life. A number of different factors can cause ED, including an underlying health condition, which makes addressing the issue with your healthcare provider a must.

Before you start to worry, know that ED doesn’t automatically mean a scary, mystery diagnosis. Lifestyle choices like smoking, alcohol, or drug use can sometimes be at the root of it. Even seasonal changes can contribute, which means that winter can sometimes be the underlying cause of ED.

Whatever the root cause, however, treatment is available. Here’s the lowdown on erectile dysfunction and how winter plays into it.

You’re not alone

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is incredibly common. While a little less than half of men in their 40s report experiencing it under certain circumstances, that increases by about 10% a decade. Worse, the severity and frequency of these erectile issues increase along with age.

Common knowledge seems to dictate that drugs like Viagra and Cialis are your only option for ED. But, some find that although these drugs make it possible for them to have sex, they have a hard time enjoying it the way they used to.

Because sexual issues are rarely talked about, however, many men struggle with the stigma that accompanies discussing their sexual health. This can keep them from broaching the subject, particularly where sexual and mental health meet.

“This shame and secrecy around an experience that is near-universal only serves to intensify the problem,” says Jessica O’Reilly, a noted sexologist and relationship expert.

It’s a problem that can put you at risk for depression and a variety of other issues, including self-confidence and relationship problems. Despite the silence, however, the vast majority of Canadian men are dealing with this issue.

“The reality is that all men will lose an erection at an inopportune time at some point in their lives and it doesn’t have to be the elephant in the room,” continues O’Reilly. After all, not talking about it does nothing to dispel these issues.

Why does my sex drive decrease in winter?

The first thing to understand about ED is that it’s not your fault. There are a variety of physical and psychological conditions that make it a lot more likely to occur. Everything from the effects of many medications to the aging process can trigger erectile changes — even winter’s cold weather can be a factor.

The hormone testosterone is crucial in sexual functioning. And, it just so happens that testosterone levels peak between August and October. From there, they start to slide, reaching their lowest point in March. As a result, many men experience erectile dysfunction at a higher frequency in the winter months.

However, testosterone levels don’t crater by themselves — low testosterone production is linked to low levels of vitamin D. Since sunlight provides vitamin D and winter ushers in shorter days, scientists attribute this decline in testosterone, at least in part, to a lack of adequate sunlight.

Vitamin D isn’t just linked to testosterone, it also encourages serotonin production. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which means it passes messages from one nerve cell to another. In addition, it functions as a hormone, playing a role in erection and ejaculation.

As a result, low levels of vitamin D and erectile dysfunction go together — vitamin D, it turns out, is necessary for maintaining adequate erectile function.  In fact, the lower your levels of vitamin D, the more likely you may be to experience erectile issues like loss of erection, difficulty reaching an orgasm, or a decrease in your erection’s firmness.

How does winter affect my penis?

Decimating your vitamin D levels isn’t the only effect winter has on your penis. You’ve long known that your penis shrinks in the cold. And, while penis shrinkage can be uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing, it’s actually an adaptive behaviour.

In response to the cold, your body constricts your blood vessels to stop your blood from flowing as freely. The function of this vasoconstriction is to conserve heat in the core of your body by keeping warm blood there. This protects your organs and reduces blood from pumping into your penis and other limbs as robustly. Luckily, it’s only temporary.

Seasonal affective disorder and erectile dysfunction

Seasonal changes in mental health aren’t uncommon. Many people experience winter blues, a period of low mood that comes with the shorter, darker days that winter brings. If these feelings start interfering with your ability to live your life, however, you may be experiencing seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

SAD is a form of depression brought on by the change in seasons. While it can happen in the spring and summer, it’s more typically a winter phenomenon. Scientists don’t fully understand what triggers the condition, but it seems to be tied to a change in your exposure to sunlight.

Like other forms of depression, SAD may result in a lack of energy and a loss of pleasure in activities you formerly enjoyed. It’s important to know that depression can also affect libido, and SAD is no exception — erectile dysfunction and seasonal affective disorder often go together.

Can you prevent erectile dysfunction during winter?

Proactive health practices can reduce your likelihood of developing all sorts of chronic conditions. Since many long-term health issues like obesity and heart disease can also impact your sexual health, practicing preventative measures can help support a healthy sex life.

This makes engaging in practices like eating well and exercising crucial. And, given the research on vitamin D, taking a vitamin D supplement and making time to get outdoors every day will help to keep both you and your penis in tip-top shape. Alternatively, you can incorporate vitamin D-rich foods like salmon, sardines, and eggs into your regular menu.

Sunlight is seemingly so important that a small study in Italy showed that treating certain forms of erectile dysfunction with light therapy resulted in a tripling of sexual satisfaction. If you think that your ED is tied to the lack of winter sun, then light therapy might be a possible avenue of treatment as well.

But, while it might be tempting to try and address erectile dysfunction yourself, it’s important to speak to your healthcare provider about it. The condition might signal a more profound issue. Plus, your provider likely has a lot of experience treating ED and can offer a number of different strategies.

Strategies for dealing with erectile dysfunction

Canadians have been taught to be embarrassed about personal issues like ED. However, there are a lot of available options for an issue like ED and talking about it can lead to developing different strategies. Many men end up considering their difficulties maintaining an erection to be blessings because of the new things they try. As O’Reilly puts it,

“Talking to your partner can certainly help, and though you certainly don’t need an erection to have sex, research indicates that erectile issues may be an indication of a medical condition, so it’s essential to check in with a doctor too.”

In the moment, adjustments to pace or sexual position can maintain enjoyment for you and your partner. And, above all, relaxation is key. Stress is a big factor when it comes to loss of erection, and if you’re enjoying yourself, there’s a chance of it coming back on its own.

Lifestyle factors are also important when dealing with sexual response, and practical changes to how you exercise and eat can positively impact your sex life in general.

A balanced diet and regular exercise also help with another important factor — stress. Stress plays hell with desire and sexual response at the best of times. If you tend to lose erection, intrusive thoughts can ruin even the most enjoyable sexual encounter. Relaxation exercises, meditation, or yoga can be incredibly helpful in this respect.

The most important thing, though, is to talk about it. Your partner should be aware of what’s happening because it’s not your fault, and it’s not their fault either. Take advantage of this opportunity to explore other options for the two of you that you may have been missing out on by previously adhering to conventional sexual positions or acts.

How Maple can help with erectile dysfunction

Whether you’re dealing with erection problems, a sexually transmitted infection (STI), or anything that affects your sexual health, Maple can help. Maple is a telehealth platform that connects you with Canadian-licensed doctors and specialists from your phone, tablet, or computer.

Sexual health is private, and it’s natural to want a comfortable and quiet place to talk about it. That’s why talking to a doctor online can be invaluable — it takes place wherever and whenever you want it to. During your appointment, the doctor can provide a diagnosis, order additional testing, or prescribe any necessary medications to a pharmacy of your choosing.

If you’re experiencing erectile dysfunction, speak to a doctor today. No judgment, no awkwardness, just help.

This blog was developed by our team and reviewed by a medical professional.

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