If your partner has trouble getting — and staying — erect for intercourse, you probably have some concerns. Not only do you want to make sure he’s not experiencing any serious, underlying health concerns but you want to know how his erectile dysfunction (ED) could affect your chances of conception. Obviously, not having intercourse pretty much guarantees that you won’t get pregnant but what does ED mean for his fertility?

Read on for answers to common questions about how erectile dysfunction can affect male fertility and the steps you and your partner can take to get back on track toward adding another member to your family.

What causes erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction (or ED) — when a man can’t get or keep an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse — is a type of sexual dysfunction. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to have sex; it simply means his body is not responding to that desire in the way that it should.

There’s usually not just one reason that a man experiences ED. It could be an underlying health issue, a psychological issue, or a combination of the two.

The Mayo Clinic lists these physical problems as potential causes of erectile dysfunction:

  • Heart disease
  • Clogged blood vessels (atherosclerosis)
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Metabolic syndrome — a condition involving increased blood pressure, high insulin levels, body fat around the waist and high cholesterol
  • Certain prescription medications
  • Tobacco use
  • Peyronie’s disease — development of scar tissue inside the penis
  • Alcoholism and other forms of substance abuse
  • Sleep disorders
  • Treatments for prostate cancer or enlarged prostate
  • Surgeries or injuries that affect the pelvic area or spinal cord

In addition to physical factors, mental health concerns like anxiety or depression, stress, or relationship problems can also contribute to erectile dysfunction. When it comes to a discussion about fertility and ED, it’s important to address this.

While trying to conceive, it’s normal for couples to find themselves stressed. This is especially true if they’ve been trying for a long time — the emotional rollercoaster of hoping to be pregnant only to be let down each month can take its toll. All of these things can contribute to your partner having trouble getting or maintaining an erection.

Does erectile dysfunction mean that he’s infertile?

The short answer to this is: no, dealing with erectile dysfunction doesn’t automatically mean he’s infertile. Erectile dysfunction, or impotence, means he is unable to achieve and maintain an erection to have intercourse.

Male fertility describes his body’s ability to create enough high-quality sperm that can move through a female’s fallopian tubes and fertilize an egg.

While male fertility can result from not being physically able to ejaculate semen (which is the case if he can’t stay erect for sex), this doesn’t necessarily mean that he has other symptoms of infertility — like not producing sperm, having low sperm count, poor quality of sperm, or poor sperm motility.

Can erectile dysfunction to be treated?

Like most other health concerns, erectile dysfunction can — and should — be treated. Especially as you try to become pregnant, it’s important for you and your partner to notice and address any and all concerns that could be impacting your success.

The treatment his doctor recommends will be largely based on the reason he’s having difficulty with erections. The underlying cause (there usually is one) will be identified and treated. If that doesn’t correct the erectile dysfunction, his doctor may prescribe medication or pumps as treatment. There are also natural options for treating ED, such as acupuncture and certain supplements.

If your partner does see his doctor about ED, it’s important that he brings up that you’re trying to conceive. One of the most popular prescription drugs for treating erectile dysfunction is Viagra. While popular, studies have found that the drug can negatively impact fertility by causing an increase in sperm that cannot penetrate and fertilize an egg.

What should we do if my partner is dealing with erectile dysfunction?

No couple wants to deal with infertility, nor do they want to face the often uncomfortable occurrence of erectile dysfunction. But ED is nothing to be ashamed of and it’s more common than most people think. According to the Cleveland Clinic, about 52% of men experience erectile dysfunction. And it’s not just older men (as is often the assumption) — 40% of men under age 40 experience ED.

The most important things you can do if your partner is having trouble with ED are:

  • See a doctor — His doctor will be able to get to the bottom of why he’s having trouble with erections and help him come up with a treatment plan
  • Be supportive emotionally — Having ED is likely a sensitive topic for your partner, at least partially due to the societal implications on a man who “can’t perform” in bed. Avoid making any negative remarks about it or blaming him if you don’t conceive right away. ED is not something men can usually help on their own, and it’s not their fault if they get it.
  • Be patient — Being patient when you’re ready to have a baby and it isn’t happening as quickly as you want can be a challenge. When a condition like ED throws a wrench in your fertility plans, it’s easy to become discouraged. Take a deep breath and remember that ED can always be treated and, assuming there are no other infertility issues he’s dealing with, you should be able to get back to baby making with a much higher chance of success.