“Winter ED” and what you can do about it…
As winter fully settles in and temperatures drop, you might be spending more time inside, you might be wearing warmer clothes, but you might also be struggling to achieve and maintain an erection. “Winter erectile dysfunction” can be frustrating, particularly during a time of year where you’re more likely to be spending time indoors with your partner.
Let’s chat about reasons this might be, and things you can do to make it easier.
Vasoconstriction is when veins and arteries throughout the body constrict and move away from the surface of the skin. Vasoconstriction can happen for many reasons, such as:
- Stabilize or raise blood pressure.
- Control how blood is distributed throughout your body.
- Send more nutrients and oxygen to organs that need them.
- Protect the body against blood and fluid loss.
One major function of vasoconstriction however is to reduce loss of body heat in cold temperatures. If the vessels are closer to the skin and dilated, they will expel heat that the blood has taken from the center of the body. Vasoconstriction stops this from happening.
You might notice that when you’re cold, as well as your hands and feet being coldest, your flaccid penis may appear smaller. The reason for this is that vasoconstriction will reduce the blood flowing to extremities of the body and “non-essential” areas like the penis. This is again to conserve heat.
If your body is trying to stop blood going to these areas, it naturally follows that pumping blood into your penis to achieve erection may be a little more difficult, and erectile dysfunction more common.
What can you do?
Get warm. Stick the heating on for a bit, get under a blanket, and maybe even keep your socks on! In fact researchers at the university of Groningen found that 80% of people were able to successfully achieve orgasm with socks on, compared with 50% without.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
As the days become shorter and mornings and evenings are darker, many people report feeling a little blue, fatigued, or depressed. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects around 3% of people each year. There are different theories as to why SAD happens, but one major theory is that the decrease in total light coming through the eyes leads to poorer function of the hippocampus, an area of the brain responsible for certain types of learning and memory.
Feelings of tiredness or depression can affect libido and add another area of stress to take attention away from arousal. Some people with more serious SAD might also use antidepressants such as SSRIs during winter months, which can affect libido and erectile function too.
What can you do?
Speaking to your doctor about how you’re feeling will enable them to suggest the treatment options available to you.
Making sure you are getting enough light, either outside or from a specialised SAD lamp, can help too and many people also take vitamin D supplements to ensure their body is getting enough. Men with vitamin D deficiencies are 32% more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction.
Testosterone is a major factor in men’s sex drive and likelihood of arousal. One study found that men have significantly lower levels of testosterone in January and February when compared with July and August, although they remained within the normal range . They attributed this to temperature, and it may be because survival in winter was more difficult for our evolutionary ancestors, so sex was a less important activity.
What can you do?
Speak to your doctor if you’re worried that your testosterone levels might be too low. Your levels can be checked with a simple blood test and your doctor might suggest some treatment options to give your testosterone a boost.
There are also some natural ways to boost testosterone, like exercising, ensuring you are getting enough vitamin D, and avoiding stress.