The effect of 2 per cent nitroglycerin paste applied to the penile shaft of impotent subjects was evaluated in a placebo controlled double-blind study under laboratory conditions. After application of nitroglycerin paste or a placebo ointment base, penile tumescence was recorded through a strain gauge transducer while subjects viewed an erotic video presentation. Relative to the placebo paste the number of subjects demonstrating an increase in penile circumference after nitroglycerin (18 of 26) was significantly different than all other outcome possibilities (p less than 0.05). Noninvasive vascular assessment by ultrasonography demonstrated an increase in diameter and blood flow in the cavernous arteries after application of nitroglycerin paste. Nitroglycerin paste increases blood flow in the cavernous arteries and improves tumescence after erotic stimulation. This agent may represent a new therapy for impotence.