Impotence, Infertility and Sterility in Men

medical-appointment-doctor-healthcare-clinicKnow the difference...

In men, the terms “erectile dysfunction, sterility and infertility” are often confused and mistakenly inter-exchanged with each other. However, in reality, these denote three different (in fact, completely different) conditions. It is, therefore, very important for every adult man who is concerned about his sexual and overall health to know, learn and understand the basic difference between these three disorders that could have a profound psychosocial impact on each of any man.


Sterility is often taken as a synonym to infertility, though they both mean disability to bear a child yet they have a very basic difference. Sterility means that it is impossible for a couple to conceive a child. A diagnosis of sterility is given after a thorough examination concludes that there is no sperm production and ovulation cannot occur. In simpler words, sterility means that the person is unable to reproduce sexually; this mostly is because of problem in the reproductive system. Sterility is very restricted to the reproductive system like damage in ovaries or varicose veins in the testicles might cause sterility.


Infertility refers to inability to conceive or not being able to get pregnant after one year of trying. It also means that a couple is not sterile but for some reason has not been able to conceive a child.  Infertility might exist because of certain abnormalities that might not be related to the reproductive system. At times infertility exist because of stress, emotional shocks or side effect of any treatment.

There are three conditions that need to be met for conception to be possible: sperm must be present, the fallopian tubes must be open, and ovulation must be able to occur. If one or more of these conditions is not met, the couple suffers from “true infertility.” If all three conditions are met but the couple has failed to conceive, the diagnosis is “sub-fertility.”

Infertility in men is not an uncommon condition. About one-third of infertility cases are caused by women’s problems. Another one third of fertility problems are due to the man. The other cases are caused by a mixture of male and female prob­lems or by unknown problems.

What causes infertility in men?

Infertility in men is most often caused by:

  • A problem called varicocele. This happens when the veins on a man’s testicle(s) are too large. This heats the testicles. The heat can affect the number or shape of the sperm.

Other factors that cause a man to make too few sperm or none at all include:

  • Movement of the sperm: This may be caused by the shape of the sperm. Sometimes injuries or other damage to the reproductive system block the sperm.
  • Sometimes a man is born with the problems that affect his sperm. Other times problems start later in life due to illness or injury. For example, cystic fibrosis often causes infertility in men.

What increases a man’s risk of infertility?

A man's sperm can be changed by his overall health and lifestyle. Some things that may reduce the health or number of sperm include:

  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Drugs
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Age
  • Environmental toxins, including pesticides and lead
  • Health problems such as mumps, serious conditions like kidney dis­ease, or hormone problems
  • Medicines
  • Radiation treatment and chemo­therapy for cancer


Erectile dysfunction or impotence is the persistent or recurrent inability to attain or maintain an erection sufficient to complete sexual intercourse or another chosen sexual activity. It is very common and affects at least one in every ten men. This means that there are an estimated 2.3 million men in the UK suffering from erectile dysfunction. Regrettably, only about 10% of sufferers actually receive treatment. The number of men suffering erectile dysfunction increases with age.

What causes male impotency?

Most men have an occasional failure to get or keep an erection. It usually results from stress, tiredness, anxiety, depression, or excessive alcohol consumption. Other physical (or medical) causes of male impotence include:

Physical causes of erectile dysfunction include:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Side effect of prescribed drugs
  • Heavy smoking
  • Neurological diseases, stroke and (rarely) a past head injury
  • Alcoholism and drug abuse, and other less common causes

How to treat male impotence (erectile dysfunction)?

An erection is produced when blood rushes into the penis and fills the spongy tissue, making the penis stiffen.

Therefore, many of the treatments for impotence affect the flow of blood into the penis.

Medicines: There are several types of drug for impotence that can be taken orally. These should be taken 20 – 30 minutes before you wish to have sex, and can last between 6 to 36 hours depending on which medication is used. Viagra, Levitra and Cialis, all are some of the commonly used drugs for the “temporary” treatment of male impotence. However, these drugs are not free of side effects and should not be used in patients with heart disease, angina or abnormal blood pressure.

Injections: Another form of treatment is injections into the penis to cause erection. With this method, you will be trained to inject the base of your penis with a very fine needle before having sex. This injection releases a drug, causing the penis to fill with blood and stiffen. Again, injections do have their own unwanted effects such as pain, allergy and discomfort.

Surgery: Vascular surgery and penile implants have been tested in various patients suffering from ED. Vascular surgery unblocks blood flow to the penis, allowing natural erections to occur again. Penile implants, on the other hand, involve the insertion of an inflatable device or rods to create an erection. However, as in other surgeries, the costs

Vacuum devices: For some men, a vacuum device is useful in achieving an erection. Here, a plastic tube is passed over then penis and a hand pump creates a vacuum in the tube, forcing blood into the penis, which then becomes erect. A tight ring is then slipped onto the base of the penis, which prevents most of the blood escaping and thereby maintaining the erection.


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