An estimated 10 to 15 million men in the United States suffer from impotence, also known as erectile dysfunction. Some people also use the term impotence to describe other problems such as lack of sexual desire and the inability to ejaculate or have an orgasm. While many people who suffer from impotence suffer in silence, it is a treatable condition at any age. Impotence is sometimes used to describe female sexual dysfunction, which includes the broad categories of reduced sexual desire, pain during sex, inability to become aroused, and inability to have an orgasm.

Male impotence usually has an underlying medical condition that causes nerve or artery damage. Such damage can interfere with the nerve impulses that are needed to start and sustain an erection or with blood flow that is needed to engorge the tissues in the penis to make it erect. Diabetes, surgery, injuries, vascular diseases, kidney disease, and chronic alcoholism are some medical conditions that may cause impotence. Smoking can also cause impotence by narrowing the blood vessels. Since the likelihood of having some of these conditions increases with age, older men are more likely to suffer from impotence. Impotence can also be a side effect of certain drugs such as high blood pressure drugs and antihistamines, or low levels of circulating hormones such as testosterone. As much as 20 percent of all impotence may be attributed to psychological factors such as stress, anxiety, and guilt.

A doctor makes a diagnosis of impotence by carefully examining a patients medical history, performing a psychological evaluation, completing a physical examination, and doing some laboratory tests. Depending on what the cause of impotence is in a particular individual, there are a number of treatment options to choose from. These include counseling, drugs, surgery, and vacuum devices. The right treatment depends mostly on the cause and ones age.