Previous research has shown that the frequency and duration of penile erection is diminished after castration and that replacement with testosterone will restore the process. Using rats, the present study was designed to confirm that erection is androgen-dependent and to determine whether castration and androgen replacement affect the penile vascular smooth muscle responsiveness to vasoactive drugs. Blood pressure in the corpus cavernosum was measured directly during erections induced by electrical stimulation of the autonomic innervation of the penis. Maximal cavernosal pressure was markedly reduced after castration but was returned to normal levels if the castrated animals were treated with testosterone. Infusion of nitroglycerin (vasodilator) or phenylephrine (vasoconstrictor) resulted in a decline in cavernosal pressure in androgen-treated animals but not in castrated animals, even though the mean arterial blood pressure was strongly affected in all treatment groups by these drugs. When an inhibitor of nitric oxide synthesis was infused, cavernosal pressure was decreased in all groups, indicating that this substance is involved in penile erection. Taken together, these results show that androgens maintain the erectile process and may act specifically to support the responsiveness of the vascular smooth muscle to vasoactive drugs.