Popularly linked with male virility, the truth on testosterone is a little more complex
From libido to muscle strength, this key male hormone plays an important role in our sexual health
What do you picture when someone says ‘testosterone’? An over-sexed man angrily bursting out of a tight white vest? Possibly.
This male hormone has become somewhat synonymous with the less-palatable aspects of masculinity over the years but — bad press aside, including its part in the 2007 banking crisis — it’s important to appreciate its positive role in healthy sexual functioning, including erections. You can read about it in detail in our Book of Erections.
The great testosterone mystery
Largely produced in the testicles, testosterone promotes sperm production, libido, bone and muscle strength. While low levels can cause erectile dysfunction, it’s still not known exactly why.
Hormones are key to sex. If out of balance, issues with your erection might follow suit.
Whether you call them gonads, balls, testicles or nuggets (and we’d probably advise against the last one), if your reproductive organs don’t produce appropriate amounts of sex hormones — a condition termed hypogonadism — your testosterone levels will drop, which can lead to ED.
There are lots of theories as to how and why this happens, and researchers hope that further study will lead to innovative new treatments for ED. What we know for certain is that testosterone is highly involved in libido and sexual drive, which are essential for an erection, with or without ED medication.
How to boost your testosterone levels
The causes of low testosterone fall into two categories: congenital and acquired.
Congenital means you’re born with it. A hereditary condition such as Klinefelter syndrome can affect men with an extra X chromosome.
More commonly, low testosterone is acquired after birth. For example, developing mumps during childhood or abusing opioids or anabolic steroids as an adult. Age too can result in a slow decline in the production of testosterone.
So what can be done to keep your T-levels in check?
Hit the gym
Several scientific studies have linked increased exercise to higher levels of testosterone. Just steer clear of anabolic steroids — even if they make your muscles bigger, they can reduce T-levels to such an extent that your testicles shrink.
Go to bed earlier
You don’t need us to expound the many benefits of getting a good night’s sleep, but you can add improved testosterone levels to the list. This isn’t to be underestimated — one study demonstrated that men’s testosterone levels can fall by up to 15% if sleep is restricted to five hours or less.
Reduce your stress levels
Stress doesn’t just affect your mental health. Traumatic events can take a very physical toll on how your body produces testosterone. The stress hormone cortisol seems to be the culprit as higher cortisol levels mean less testosterone. Stress-reduction techniques could help curb your cortisol and lead to healthier erections in the process.
Balance your diet
What you eat can have a massive effect on your testosterone, which is why a balanced diet is your best bet. The Italians have their Casanova reputation for a reason — the Mediterranean diet contains the perfect mix of whole foods and healthy fats to keep your testosterone in check while sunlight has a proven beneficial effect too.
Lay off the hard stuff
You probably saw this coming: alcohol is a big factor when it comes to maintaining healthy testosterone levels. Several studies have linked the two together, and not in a good way. Drug use, whether medical or recreational, can also have a detrimental effect — they call it ‘pilly willy’ for a reason.
The bottom line
Testosterone is highly involved in libido and sexual drive which are essential for erectile functioning, with or without ED medication. You can keep your T-levels — and your erection — in check with the aid of a healthy lifestyle.
If you want to know more about erections, from start to finish and everything in between, take a deep dive into our Book of Erections.