They say practice makes perfect, and when it comes to erections, it seems like this may be the case.
Researchers at Karolinska Institutet and Uppsala University in Sweden found that having regular erections could be important for maintaining good erectile function.
The study, conducted on mice, found that connective cells in the penis called fibroblasts have a very important, and previously unknown, function in maintaining erections.
The researchers said that an increased number of erections led to more fibroblasts, which, surprise, surprise, leads to more erections.
There’s no catch, you just need to get into the loop.
‘Fibroblasts are the most abundant cells in the penis of both mice and humans, but they have been neglected in research,’ said first author Eduardo Guimaraes.
‘Now we can show, using a very precise method called optogenetics, that they have a very important role in regulating blood flow in the penis, which is what makes the penis erect.’
The fibroblasts impact erections by absorbing noradrenaline, which causes blood vessels in the penis to expand – but how effective this is depends on the number of fibroblasts.
‘It’s not so strange really,’ said Christian Göritz, a senior researcher who led the study. ‘If you exert yourself a lot, your body adapts. If you run regularly, it will eventually become easier to breathe while running.’
Erectile dysfunction: the lowdown
- Erectile dysfunction (ED), or impotence, affects between 5% and 20% of all men
- In the UK, around 58.2% say they experience ED
- It can negatively impact the person’s quality of life, physical and psychosocial health
- Common risk factors include: inactivity, obesity, hypertension, smoking, high cholesterol levels and metabolic syndrome
Although the study was conducted on mice, the team said the same rules apply to humans, as the mechanisms of an erection are similar in all mammals.
‘However, there is one difference between humans and most mammals – they have a bone in their penis,’ Dr Göritz said. The bone, or baculum, is found in mammals including rodents, bats, carnivores and some primates.
‘This means that effective blood flow regulation is probably even more important for human reproduction.’
Now researchers are hoping this will help create new treatments for erectile dysfunction.
They also noted they found older mice had fewer fibroblasts and they also had lower blood flow – a similar phenomenon is seen in humans.
The researchers now believe that it may be possible to train the body to get an erection to counteract impotence, in the same way as you can train your strength or fitness at the gym.
‘This is not something we have shown in our study, so it is a bit speculative, but a reasonable interpretation is that it gets easier if you have regular erections,’ said Dr Göritz.
The study is published in the journal Science.