I'm in my 30s, and almost all my friends of similar age have, on at least one occasion, experienced some form of erectile dysfunction.
It happens when they're drunk or when they've taken coke or when the invoice they submitted three months ago still hasn't been paid yet. Usually, they get sober, they get their money, and it passes. But not for all of them—according to 2013 data from the Journal of Sexual Medicine, one out of every four new erectile dysfunction diagnoses is in someone under the age of 40.
The primary objective of meditation is to set a person free from the cycle of life's suffering and bring them to a place of bliss, wisdom, and boundless perception. One of the side effects on this path to boundless perception is, for many, boundless boners. To serious meditators—I mean those who seek to unlock the secrets of the universe—this is pretty inconsequential. But for anyone who's struggled with erection issues, it's pretty great.
I suffered from sporadic limp dick in my 20s. It was usually when I was nervous because I was with a girl I actually liked. A doctor prescribed me Viagra. When I took it, my whole body went bright red, my nose became so congested that I had to breath through my mouth—almost impossible to do while kissing—and I stayed hard for an uncomfortably long nine hours.
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Erectile dysfunction in younger men, unless they're diabetic or have suffered some unusually cruel injury, is generally caused by stress, rather than any physical condition. High levels of cortisol or adrenaline (both byproducts of stress) in the body stymie the supply of oxygen to the organs, thereby decreasing blood flow to the penis. And the penis without blood has as much chance of getting up as a balloon without air. Which is why I found it easier to have sex with people I wasn't emotionally invested in: Once the fear of rejection is removed, sex is no big deal.
Wolfgang Krüger is a German psychotherapist and author who has written extensively on the ups and downs of the male erection. "In men under the age of forty, erectile dysfunction always has a psychological component," he told me. "And it has increased at an alarming level in recent years."
Despite how many men want to think that their dick has some autonomous powers of decision making, it all comes back to the brain, and if your brain is firing off stress signals, then your penis is going to need more than just mucho volition to come to life. Erections start in your head. Be it something you smell, feel, or see, it's all about the chemicals up top sending signals down there.
I started meditating about three years ago. I jumped in at the deep end. After a month of goofing around with apps, I signed up for a Vipassana—a ten-day silent retreat, where you sit cross-legged and meditate for about ten hours a day and spend the remaining 14 questioning everything you've ever done. After the retreat all sorts of changes took place: My anxiety disappeared, and my decision-making improved; but one of the most pronounced changes was my sex life. For the first time, I could have sex while thinking about sex rather than how broke I was or how quickly my career was imploding. And I'm not alone; meditation forums are full of people who have had similar experiences.
To find studies on the link between meditation and erectile dysfunction (ED) you have to go way back. A 1977 study by Gerard V Sunnen at New York University on nine men with a mean age of 32 found that as little as two 15 minute sessions of meditation a day transformed the men so that all but two of them could achieve "erectile competence." The study worked by training the men how to deflect negative thought patterns from their mind through meditation.
Meditation is known to lower the heart rate and regulate blood flow around the body, which bodes well for ED sufferers, as what's an erection if not a big gathering of blood? Meditation has also been shown to reduce anxiety and change negative thought associations. Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Harvard, was one of the first people to scan meditators' brains and discovered that the amygdala, the part of the brain where anxiety calls home, was smaller for meditators than the control group.
However, since that 1977 study, there's been precious little scientific research done on how it impacts the male erection.
I spoke to Barry McGuire, of the Irish Society of Urology in Dublin, to see if he felt meditation could potentially be used as a treatment for ED.
"Yes, absolutely," he said. "Psychosexual ED is a major issue, especially with young men. And when other causes are ruled out, it is the way to treat them. Of course, there are organic reasons for ED such as arterial disease, trauma, surgery, congenital issues, sickle cell disease, complications of black market ED drugs, etc."
Meditation, and you hear this so often it sounds like a platitude, keeps you present, and sex when you're actually there is much easier than sex where you're wondering how best to reply to an email.
ED drugs like Viagra and Cialis function by flooding your crotch with blood, giving your dick no other choice than to get hard. I've had sex on Viagra before where my dick felt so full it might burst but was less sensitive than a chair leg. It was one of the most alienating and lonely sexual experiences I've ever had.
Another side-effect of meditation that I've noticed—for me at least—is that you can't help but become a nicer, more sensitive and compassionate person who cares less about their dick and more about not being a dick.
And while the last thing the world needs is more healthy, stable erections, that shouldn't be such a problem so long as the men attached to the erections are healthy and stable too.
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