Advocates for safe sex often run up against the notion that men's ability to maintain an erection will be compromised when condoms enter the scene.
But a new study of nearly 500 young American men found that while some did complain of loss of erection, many of these men also experienced erectile difficulties generally - whether condoms were used or not.
Compared to men without such issues, men with condom-linked erectile issues "were significantly more likely to also report erection difficulties before penetration and during intercourse when not using a condom," reported a team led by Stephanie Sanders of Indiana University's Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction.
Reporting August 17 in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, Sanders' team said that while there have been studies looking at erectile issues with condom use in the past, there has not been a good look at whether broader issues were involved.
They noted that prior studies of American men under the age of 40 showed that about 16 percent complained of some sort of occasional difficulty in maintaining an erection. Another study found that while condom-linked erectile difficulty might be somewhat common in young men, most of the effect was "only in the first minute" of engaging in sexual activity, Sanders' team said, with the men quickly recovering.
In the new study, Sanders' group recruited 479 heterosexual men aged 18 to 24 and had them fill out a standard survey on erectile function.
Just over 38 percent of the men said they had no problem maintaining an erection while using a condom. Close to 14 percent said they experienced some issues while putting the condom on, about 16 percent said those issues occurred during intercourse, and about 32 percent said erectile difficulties happened occasionally during condom application and sex.
However, men reporting condom-linked erectile issues were also much more likely to report such incidences even when they weren't using the sheaths, the study authors found.
The research team's advice? Men who mention any condom-linked erectile issues to their doctors may need "condom skills education" or some sort of counseling to help them with any psychological issues that might be getting in the way, Sanders' team said.
The researchers noted that for many men, experiencing erectile difficulties sets up "worry" for repeat occurrences. So, "men who first experience loss of erection when they use condoms might worry about [difficulty] experiencing erections more generally and hence be more vulnerable" to impotence more generally later on, they wrote.
Find out more about erectile dysfunction at the Cleveland Clinic.