In the past year, recovered COVID patients have found out that various organs of their bodies have been affected or damaged because of the coronavirus. The most common is lung damage, but other organs like the liver, heart, and kidney have also not been immune to the after-effects of a strong COVID-19 infection.
In fact, recent studies show that the COVID-19 virus also causes erectile dysfunction in men and affects their fertility. In a very aptly titled research paper, named ‘Mask up to keep it up’ published in March 2021 in the journal Andrology, it was propounded that there is a correlation between erectile dysfunction and COVID-19.
The study, which was conducted on Italian men, cites that COVID-19 wrecks the cardiovascular system, causing blood vessel disease, which in turn affects a man’s erection. In another study published in the World Journal of Men’s Health, it was found that the COVID-19 virus is present in the penis long after the initial infection in humans. The results of the study suggested that widespread endothelial cell dysfunction from COVID-19 infection can contribute to Erectile Dysfunction. “Future studies will evaluate novel molecular mechanisms of how COVID-19 infection leads to ED," the study stated.
While not many similar studies have been conducted in India yet, medical health experts claim that they have seen several individuals experiencing erectile dysfunction, after recovering from COVID-19. Dr S.S. Vasan, DNB-Urology/Genito-urinary surgery, told News18, “I have worked with 8 to 9 patients, who have reported erectile dysfunction after covid recovery. However, just because we have seen a correlation doesn’t mean that there is causation. To understand if Erectile dysfunction really happens from COVID-19, we need to have more studies. So far, we have seen studies based on questionaries, and the links that have been established have been done mostly through the power of association, but we need more concrete scientific evidence."
“There might be a good chance that just like in COVID toes where the vascular system is affected post-COVID, we also see erectile dysfunction post COVID due to similar vasculitis. However, it has to be said that it isn’t specific to the penis. It affects all organs with the same artery size. Further studies will corroborate whether vasculitis indeed causes ED and if so then whether COVID patients experience different levels of ED post-recovery," he added.
Dr Vasan pointed out that the way we can form the association between COVID-19 and erectile dysfunction is by taking a look at a patient’s endothelial function test. “If a patient’s test pre-COVID was normal, but after COVID, it shows abnormal results, and he also experiences ED, we associate COVID and ED."
“At this point, we need to wait it out and see if the ED post-COVID is a temporary condition or permanent dysfunction. We do not have enough data to draw any conclusions. We are trying to see if we can prevent this problem by giving a higher dose of antioxidants and other medications to treat the issue," added Dr Vasan.
However, in a society like India, the anatomical problem of erectile dysfunction is only a tiny aspect of larger social and gender issues and mental health struggles.
Dr Gautam Banga, a Delhi-based reconstructive urologist, and andrologist told News18, “It isn’t just the infection though; the pandemic itself has been the cause of erectile dysfunction in many cases. For several individuals, this past year has been fraught with financial struggles, the grief of losing loved ones, living in close quarters with large families, giving rise to conflict, and facing intimacy issues or loneliness. All these factors can be stressors that lead to erectile dysfunction. Therefore, addressing the mental health aspect of this sexual issue is very necessary."
“In my experience, the sex lives of young people, especially those in their 20s and 30s, have been worst hit during this pandemic. The ones who are single do not have a social life anymore, and therefore, have no new sexual partners or regular sex life (which they had before the pandemic). And, those who are married are tied to their computers due to work from home rule, so they do not know how to segregate time and spend good time with family. There is also so much uncertainty around pregnancy during COVID. Some men are too scared that if their wives conceive during this time, they would have to go to hospitals and be exposed to the virus and has, therefore, refrained from sexual activities (because we all know condoms are not failproof)." He explained.
However, despite many experiencing ED during this pandemic, not everyone is forthcoming to address the issue. In Indian society, where a man’s potency is often linked to his power, men are often hesitant to discuss or seek help for their sexual health issues. “Erectile dysfunction can also go unaddressed in many cases, which will only lead to further conflict and frustration. Therefore, they should be encouraged to reach out for medical help, especially if they had gone through a life-challenging disease like COVID, “pointed out Dr Banga.
“Erectile dysfunction is also higher among those with comorbidities like diabetes and hypertension, which are high stressors for COVID-19 too. If we can manage these comorbidities, we see that the patient’s erectile dysfunction can also be managed. There is also supportive medication that can be taken before sexual activity, a change in the lifestyle will also help manage erection issues. Bonding with the partner, a positive frame of mind also contributes greatly." He added.
If all these fail, there are also advanced methods like vacuum pump devices, intracavernous (or intracavernosal) injection, and a penile implant.
“The stress of this pandemic is also likely to affect the fertility of men. Most patients are popping so many pills during this time. And, in many cases, they are self-medicating out of fear than need. This constant pill-popping is also likely to hurt men’s fertility," pointed out Dr Banga.