What Muscles Affect Erectile Dysfunction?

By Shannon Strauch, PTA, STMT-1 on 5/31/2024

erectile dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction (ED) can be influenced by several muscles, primarily those involved in the pelvic floor. Here are the key muscles that can affect erectile function:

  1. Bulbocavernosus Muscle

    : This muscle is responsible for compressing the deep dorsal vein of the penis, which helps to maintain an erection. It also plays a role in ejaculation and the rigidity of the erect penis.

  2. Ischiocavernosus Muscle

    : This muscle helps to stabilize the erect penis by compressing the crus of the penis and facilitating blood flow into the penile tissues.

  3. Pubococcygeus Muscle

    : Part of the levator ani muscle group, this muscle supports pelvic organs and helps control the flow of urine and ejaculation.

  4. Iliococcygeus Muscle

    : Another component of the levator ani muscle group, it provides support to the pelvic organs and contributes to the overall function of the pelvic floor.

  5. Perineal Muscles

    : These include the superficial and deep transverse perineal muscles, which support the pelvic floor and play a role in sexual function and urinary control.

  6. External Urethral Sphincter

    : This muscle controls the release of urine and, in males, also contributes to the ejaculation process.

  7. Gluteus:

    It is responsible for the movement of the hip and thigh, particularly in extending and rotating the hip. A strong gluteus maximus can help support proper pelvic alignment and stability, which can indirectly affect erectile function by ensuring optimal blood flow and nerve function

The process of having an erection involves a coordinated effort between various muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. Here’s a step-by-step explanation of how an erection occurs:

  1. Sexual Stimulation

    : Sexual arousal triggers nerve impulses from the brain and local nerves in the penis. This can be initiated by physical touch, visual stimulation, or psychological arousal.

  2. Nerve Activation

    : The parasympathetic nervous system activates, causing the release of nitric oxide (NO) in the penile tissues. Nitric oxide is a crucial molecule that helps in the relaxation of smooth muscles.

  3. Smooth Muscle Relaxation

    : Nitric oxide causes the smooth muscles in the walls of the arteries in the penis (particularly the cavernous arteries) to relax. This relaxation allows blood vessels to dilate.

  4. Increased Blood Flow

    : The dilation of blood vessels increases blood flow into the corpora cavernosa, which are two sponge-like regions of erectile tissue that run along the length of the penis.

  5. Engorgement and Expansion

    : As the corpora cavernosa fill with blood, they expand. The increased blood volume creates pressure within the penis, causing it to become rigid and erect.

  6. Compression of Veins

    : The engorged corpora cavernosa compress the veins that normally drain blood away from the penis. This compression helps to trap the blood within the penis, maintaining the erection.

  7. Muscular Support

    : The following muscles play specific roles in supporting and maintaining the erection:

    • Bulbocavernosus Muscle

      : Contracts to compress the deep dorsal vein of the penis, helping to maintain the rigidity of the erection and aiding in ejaculation.

    • Ischiocavernosus Muscle

      : Compresses the crura of the penis, further trapping blood within the corpora cavernosa and maintaining the erection.

    • Pelvic Floor Muscles

      : Overall, the pelvic floor muscles (including the pubococcygeus and iliococcygeus) provide support and stability to the pelvic organs, including the penis, contributing to the optimal function required for an erection.

  8. Maintaining the Erection

    : The continued activation of these muscles and the trapping of blood within the penile tissue sustain the erection until the sexual stimulation ceases or ejaculation occurs.

  9. Ejaculation and Detumescence

    : Upon ejaculation or the end of sexual arousal, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, leading to the contraction of the smooth muscles in the penile arteries and the relaxation of the pelvic floor muscles. This causes the blood to flow out of the penis through the veins, resulting in the loss of erection (detumescence).

Understanding this process highlights the complex interplay between neural, vascular, and muscular systems in achieving and maintaining an erection. Strengthening and properly coordinating these muscles through pelvic floor exercises (often called Kegel exercises) can improve erectile function by enhancing blood flow and maintaining the rigidity necessary for an erection. Pelvic floor therapy can be particularly beneficial for men experiencing ED. Reach out to us at Pelvic Health Center in Madison, NJ to set up an evaluation and treatment! Feel free to call us at 908-443-9880 or email us at

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