COVID-19 has prompted a grave disbalance in our lives. Not only physical and mental health has been affected, but sexual health problems are also aggravated by the ongoing pandemic. One of the primary reasons being an increase in stress due to factors such as job, work-life balance, financial difficulties, lack of socialising, and constrained relationships.
Adjusting and readjusting a new way of life, and in the process of trying to find normalcy, sexual and reproductive health is highly ignored. A recent study has revealed that men with a history of COVID-19 are 5.66 times more susceptible to developing erectile dysfunction (ED).
According to WHO, sexual health, when viewed affirmatively, requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence. In India, sexual health and intimacy are highly stigmatised and taboo topics, normally people are unwilling to talk openly about it.
ED is a common condition that can affect intimacy and make sexual activities difficult, thus impacting a marriage or long-term relationship and affecting the mental well-being of both partners.
What are the causes?
Stress directly affects our hormones and inevitably our mood thus taking away a person's libido, thereby affecting the quality time we spend with our partners. This also can lead to overindulgence in smoking or alcohol consumption which on the flip side can adversely affect sexual performance. These can lead to problems such as untimely ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, decreased libido, and male infertility.
Vascular systems and reproductive systems are connected, as erectile function is a predictor of heart disease. As we know COVID-19 can cause hyper inflammation throughout the body, especially in the heart and surrounding muscles. Due to the worsened vascular conditions caused by the virus, the blood supply to the penis can be blocked or narrowed.
Pramod Krishnappa, Consultant Andrologist, NU Hospitals, Bangalore said that "The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on humans causing both physical and mental illness. Although the lung is the most prominent organ affected, the latest research paper from Miami has revealed the presence of COVID-19 viral particles in the most sensitive organ, the penis. The authors have additionally hypothesised that this widespread endothelial dysfunction could result in erectile dysfunction."
A survey led by Emmanuele A. Jannini, MD, professor of endocrinology and medical sexology, University of Rome Tor Vergata, Rome, Italy also revealed that erectile dysfunction was common among those who had COVID-19 infection in the past. He said, "When offered, men should have the COVID vaccination. It also gives a whole new meaning to wearing the mask ― masks up to keep it up,". Further adding to it, he said "It could have the added benefit of preventing sexual dysfunction."
Raman Tanwar, MBBS, MS, FMAS, MCh (Urology), Department of Urology and Andrology at Uro centre, Jyoti Hospital, Gurugram adds, "COVID-19 infection leads to widespread endothelial dysfunction which means that the linings of blood vessels do not function properly once infected. For erection, the optimal function of blood vessel lining is needed and many studies across the world are finding an increased incidence of erectile dysfunction in positive patients. Studies have also pointed that those who have ED are more likely to have COVID-19 infection."
As ED is normally a sign of an underlined health problem, if an individual is diagnosed with ED, the first step is to reach out to a doctor. Some of the main causes of ED are — Heart diseases, clogged blood vessels, high blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, anxiety, stress, depression, and lifestyle habits like smoking and alcohol consumption.
Vineet Malhotra, Clinical Director, Diyos Men's Health Centre shares: "The recent study conducted at the Miller School of medicine, Miami, USA notes the presence of COVID-19 in the penis even 7 months post-infection. The increased risk of endothelial dysfunction can lead to a risk of erectile dysfunction in affected men."
Sanjay Pandey, Head of Uro-Andrology at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, Mumbai said "COVID-19 affects different men in different ways. There is a possibility that some men might develop ED after suffering from COVID-19. In particular for young and healthy people who abruptly develop erectile dysfunction, especially after having COVID-19, this can be a sign of something more serious going on. This could last for the long term or short term. ED is usually a symptom of another medical condition." Adding on the same he said, "If your health isn't great, to begin with, you're more likely to have severe or unwanted symptoms from COVID-19, such as ED."
Can the vaccine cause ED?
Apart from the regular symptoms, post-vaccination such as nausea, headache, chills, or fever, (which are common and normal) no manufacturers of the vaccines have listed any issues related to sexual health or ED in their reports. There have been no reports of the vaccine affecting the sperm count either.
The vaccines will help us get through the pandemic more quickly, lower our overall mental health burden, and help prevent possible long-term problems caused by the coronavirus.
It is highly suggested that with the number of cases increasing every day and multiple studies indicating that men are more prone to COVID-19, it is more imperative that men must be extra cautious in their everyday life. Men should pay attention to any discrepancies in their bodies and take utmost care for a healthier life.