COVID-19 Might Cause Erectile Dysfunction. What About the Vaccine?

germ cells in black background

As if there wasn’t enough negative news about the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus is giving guys something new to potentially worry about: erectile dysfunction (ED).

Recent research suggests a potentially strong link between COVID-19 infection and erectile issues. In fact, contracting COVID-19 could increase the risk of developing ED by almost six times. That data comes from a March 2021 study led by Dr. Emmanuele A. Jannini in Italy.

He and his colleagues aptly titled their study, “Mask Up to Keep It Up.”

Some medical professionals say it’s too early to jump to conclusions, noting the overlap between risk factors for ED and contracting COVID-19 (obesity, old age, heart disease, smoking, etc.) But the correlation between COVID-19 and ED is still catching the attention of doctors across the globe.

"It was a highly preliminary study,” remarked Dr. John Mulhall, a urologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. “However, it raises enough questions such that further large, more long-term analyses are required to define causation.”

So how exactly could a virus cause big problems for guys’ sexual health?

How Can COVID-19 Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

Preliminary research points to three factors that can cause ED after contracting COVID-19:

1. Vascular Issues

Erections require a strong blood supply to the penis. Unfortunately, COVID-19 can cause inflammation in the heart and other muscles, potentially interfering with the blood flow needed to get hard.

One study found that SARS-CoV-2 particles can get into penile tissue, causing endothelial dysfunction. That’s a fancy way of saying blood vessels get constricted, leading to ED.

“We found that men who hadn’t previously had these issues developed pretty severe erectile dysfunction after COVID-19 infection,” said Ranjith Ramasamy, Director of the Reproductive Urology Fellowship program at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

2. Psychological Issues

ED isn’t always a physical problem. Your sexual health and mental health are closely linked. In fact, up to 47% of people experiencing depression also have issues in the bedroom.

The pandemic has been a source of stress, anxiety, and poor mood—all of which can be related to sexual dysfunction.

3. General Health Issues

According to the Cleveland Clinic, men with poor health tend to have more severe reactions to COVID-19 and more trouble with ED.

“Erectile dysfunction can be a marker of overall health,” says urologist Ryan Berglund. “So particularly for young and healthy people who abruptly develop erectile dysfunction, and especially after having COVID-19, this can be a sign of something more serious going on.”

What to Do About Sudden Onset ED from COVID-19

Now that you’ve had a primer on the potential relationship between the coronavirus and ED, let’s explore ways to prevent and treat the issue.

How to Prevent ED Caused by COVID-19

One of the most important things you can do to maximize your natural erectile function is to stay physically fit. A two-year-long study found that men who exercised more, lost weight, and quit smoking experienced significant improvements in their ED compared to a control group.

This is especially important considering men with a history of COVID-19 are at an estimated 5.66 times greater risk of developing ED, according to Jannini’s 2021 study.

Getting fit can take months, if not years, which is why medical professionals encourage guys to get a COVID-19 vaccine in the meantime.

"When offered, men should have the COVID vaccination,” says Jannini. “It also gives a whole new meaning to wearing the mask: mask up to keep it up. It could have the added benefit of preventing sexual dysfunction."

Dr. Allan Pacey, professor of andrology at the University of Sheffield in the UK, echoes this recommendation: “I'd also argue [the correlation between COVID-19 and ED] is a good reason for men to wear a mask, practice social distancing, and take the vaccine."

How to Treat ED Caused by COVID-19

As we mentioned above, taking care of your general physical and mental health can go a long way to improving your sex life. However, for guys struggling with pandemic-related ED and want to be ready for spontaneous sex, medications can be a viable option.

If you’ve thought about using an ED medication during the pandemic, you’re far from alone. Sales of Tadalafil (the active ingredient in Cialis) and Sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra) rose 67% between February and December of 2020.

These FDA-approved medications work by increasing blood flow to the penis, which can increase your chance of getting harder, longer-lasting erections.

Quarantines and lockdowns would normally make it inconvenient to get a doctor’s prescription and fulfill it at a pharmacy. But with telehealth services like BlueChew, guys can get approved online and have their treatment shipped directly to their door in discreet packaging.

Can COVID-19 Vaccines Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

In September 2021, rapper Nicki Minaj ignited a social media firestorm after tweeting that her cousin’s friend supposedly became impotent and had swollen testicles after getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

The tweet caused an uptick in Google searches about whether vaccines can cause ED. However, fact-checkers quickly pointed out that there’s currently no evidence that the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines have any side effects that impact men’s reproductive health.

And for the part about the swollen testicles? While it’s possible for the virus itself to invade men’s testes and cause swelling, there are no documented links between the three COVID-19 vaccines and swollen testicles.

Doctor’s Orders: Mask Up to Keep It Up

As many medical community members point out, we still don’t know the long-term effects of COVID-19. But we know that the pandemic hasn’t done many favors for many guys’ sex lives.

Don’t let the virus ruin one of the few fun things you can do when you’re cooped up with your partner at home. As Dr. Jannini said, “Mask up to keep it up”—and if you need help with the latter, we’re here to help.