What is erectile dysfunction?

What do physicians understand by erectile dysfunction? How many men suffer from erectile problems? And when do they speak of erectile dysfunction at all? Here you will find the answers to these and other questions on erectile dysfunction.


Definition and frequency of erectile dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction is the medical term for pathological erectile dysfunction. In common usage, erectile dysfunction is also referred to as potency disorder or impotence. Medical practitioners do not use these terms as they have a derogatory connotation. Another technical term for erectile dysfunction is impotentia coeundi. This term is derived from the Latin words for inability (Impotentia) and converge (coeundi). Coeundi is also the origin of the term coitus as an intimate sexual intercourse.


Primary and secondary erectile dysfunction

The European Association of Urology (EAU), defines erectile dysfunction as the inability to have and maintain an erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual intercourse. The definition of the German Association of Urology is a little narrower. It reads as follows: “Erectile dysfunction describes a chronic clinical picture of at least 6 months in which at least 70 percent of attempts to have sexual intercourse are unsuccessful.” Medical practitioners differentiate between two types of erectile dysfunction:

  • The primary erectile dysfunction is characterized by the fact that from birth respectively with the onset of sexual maturity there have not been sufficiently firm or lasting erections. The penis of men with primary erectile dysfunction usually does not harden at all without any aids.
  • Secondary erectile dysfunction is the generic term for lasting erectile dysfunction that develops with the onset of sexual maturity. These men were previously able to have a satisfying erection.

Frequency of erectile dysfunction

Persistent erectile dysfunction are far more common than most men think. A great number of studies have come to the conclusion that in the course of their lives on average about 20 percent of all men suffer from erectile dysfunction that requires treatment. The proportion strongly increases with advancing age. In Switzerland, according to estimates about 300,000 men are affected by erectile dysfunction. Globally, experts assume that there are least 150 million - and rising.

Frequency by age group

According to “Massachusetts Male Aging Study” (MMAS) erectile dysfunction is an exception for men under the age of 40 with a share of 2 percent. In the age group between 40 and 70 though more than half (52 percent) report erectile problems. In a German study on the frequency of erectile dysfunction, almost one in five (19.2 percent) of the 4,500 participants reports erectile dysfunction. Besides, the participants were asked whether they assumed that they themselves had erectile dysfunction that requires treatment. The following table shows the results:

Age group (years)

Erectile dysfunction
in total (percent)
Share of erectile
dysfunction (percent)
40 to 499.54.3
50 to 5915.76.8
60 to 6934.414.3
70 to 7953.47.7

Test erectile dysfunction

Do you have occasional or recurring erectile problems? With our test you can quickly find out whether it is a matter of serious erectile dysfunction requiring treatment. The test is based on the “International Index of Erectile Function”. In medicine, the IIEF-score is not only used for the diagnosis of erectile dysfunction, but also for the success monitoring of therapies.

Your partner for the therapy of erectile dysfunction

Six questions for Dr. Diehm:

Prof. Dr. Diehm answers eight frequently asked questions about erectile dysfunction (German)

Do you have any questions?

At the Institute for Erectile Dysfunction you find qualified dialog partners for all questions on erectile dysfunction. If you have any questions or would like to make a consultation appointment: Call us: +41 62 824 02 42 or write an e-mail to info@erectiledysfunction-treatment.com