The difference between erections at 20 and 70


Have you ever wondered what to expect from your erections as you age? Dr Andrew Siegel, a urologist and avid blogger, has the answers.

Dr Siegel, who is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery at the Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School, writes that ageing can be quite unkind, and unfortunately “Father Time does not spare your sexual function".

Erections before puberty

Dr Ferdi Marais, a urologist from Busamed Private Hospital in Somerset West, says that it is common for boys who haven't yet reached puberty to get erections. He says this is because an erection is a neuro-vascular phenomenon which can be psychogenic, reflexive or nocturnal in origin.

1) A psychogenic erection is caused by audio-visual stimuli or fantasy.

2) A reflexive erection is caused by touch or irritation of the penis or its nerve supply.

3) A nocturnal erection is a normal erection experienced during deep (REM) sleep.

“It’s normally the last two types that are seen in pre-pubertal children,” Dr Marais says.

Erections through the ages

After 25 years of experience as an urologist and almost 60 years of experience as a man, Dr Siegel writes about the subtle changes in sexual function men may experience as they age.  Here is how he defines erections during the different stages of a man's life:


Your libido is prodigious and therefore very little stimulation is required to achieve an erection. You might even get erections when you don’t want them. However, the downside of this is the possibility of premature-ejaculation.


Your sex drive remains vigorous, but it is not quite as all-consuming as in your twenties. You can still get quality erections, but they may not occur as spontaneously.


After the age of 40, changes in sexual function become more obvious. You can usually get a pretty good quality erection, but it now often requires physical stimulation.



Sex is still important, but the desire is typically diminished. Nighttime and morning erections become few and far between.


Your testosterone level has plummeted over the decades, leading to a diminished sex drive. Erections are still obtainable with some coaxing and coercion. Although erectile dysfunction (ED) is not inevitable, it does become more prevalent with each passing decade.


When asked about his sexual function, one of Dr Siegel’s 70-something-year-old patients replied: “Retired… and I’m really upset that I’m not even upset.” The quality of your erections drops noticeably after the age of 70 and spontaneous erections are a rare occurrence.

Luckily, Dr Ravi Kacker, a urologist and fellow in male sexual medicine at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, says that it is a common misconception that erections are necessary for male orgasm. Even a limp penis can be stimulated to orgasm, so it is still possible for you to experience sexual intimacy. 

Read More:

What stimulates an erection?

Failing erections may indicate heart problems

When erections go wrong

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.