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Last updated February 18, 2020. 3 minute read

What is porn-induced erectile dysfunction (ED)?

Porn-induced erectile dysfunction is commonly referred to as the inability to get or maintain an erection during sexual activity because of excessive exposure to pornography. However, some researchers cast doubt that such a relationship exists.

Self Written by Michael Martin
Reviewed by Mike Bohl, MD, MPH

Thanks to the internet (and a perpetually horny populace), porn is everywhere. Thanks to cellphones and headphones, you can literally watch it anytime, anywhere. But is its prevalence problematic? One eye-opening study found that a record number of young men are reporting erectile dysfunction (ED). Is there a connection?

Vitals

  • Porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED) is the inability to get or maintain an erection because of excessive pornography consumption.
  • Porn might give you unrealistic ideas about sex or your body, which can cause performance anxiety and hamper your IRL sex life.
  • Cutting back on porn and talking with a therapist can help.
  • If you’re experiencing ED, it’s a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider, whether you suspect there’s a reason or not.

What is porn-induced erectile dysfunction?

Porn-induced erectile dysfunction is commonly referred to as the inability to get or maintain an erection during sexual activity because of excessive exposure to pornography.

How does porn-induced ED work?

A debate exists about pornography’s availability and erectile dysfunction (ED). Certainly, masturbation, with or without pornography, diminishes a man’s capacity to have sex for some period after reaching orgasm. This is called a refractory period. If a man, through compulsive behavior, is masturbating frequently to pornography, it does not seem unreasonable that he might have difficulty having sex with a partner soon thereafter. Exhausting one’s sexual capacity and drive, with or without the stimulation of pornography, may reduce a man’s desire to engage in the real-life discourse needed to create the bond that could lead to sex. And porn might give you unrealistic ideas about sex or your body, which can cause performance anxiety, affecting sexual arousal and sexual encounters.

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Yet, that neither means that pornography is the cause of the diminished capacities nor that the compulsive retreat to images of sexual activity falls into the category of an addiction (“porn addiction”). Certainly, the rise of internet pornography has made sexually-oriented media more accessible than ever. But is there evidence that pornography is the cause of ED being identified in ever younger men?

Some men note that their diminished capacity to engage in sexual activity with a partner is problematic, even while getting an erection and reaching orgasm with masturbation with pornography is unaffected. They can abstain for days and still are unable to engage in sex with a partner.

However, some researchers cast doubt that such a relationship exists. An Italian study published in 2013 by researchers at University Vita-Salute San Raffaele in Milan noted that, out of 439 men who had erectile dysfunction, 114 (26%) were under 40 (mean age 32) (Capogrosso, 2013). Worse, nearly half of them had severe ED. What is fascinating is that what distinguished these men from older individuals were lifestyle issues known to affect erections: smoking, illicit drug use, and alcohol consumption. The young men were less likely to have other illnesses, to have leaner body masses, and to have higher testosterone levels but the weight placed on them by poor lifestyle choices may be the reason for their ED—not the use of pornography.

In a Swiss study from 2012, approximately 30% of young men experienced erectile dysfunction. The researchers noted that “ED was directly linked with medication without a prescription, length of sexual life, and physical health.” They concluded, “Multiple health-compromising factors are associated with these dysfunctions (ED and PE—premature ejaculation). These should act as red flags for health professionals to encourage them to take any opportunity to talk about sexuality with their young male patients” (Mialon, 2012).

In the ’90s, the release of Viagra gave men the opportunity to identify their problem, seek medical care, and be counted. It may be that the higher than expected rate of ED in young men is not a result of the increased availability of pornography but in the increased awareness of ED as a medical problem that could be treated.

How to manage porn-induced ED

If you suspect you’re experiencing porn-related ED, you can manage it by taking a break from porn and learning to masturbate without the aid of porn.

Talk therapy can also be helpful. Speaking with a mental health professional can help you deal with any unhealthy beliefs or behaviors around relationships or sexuality that might be contributing to your porn use or erectile dysfunction.

For many people (men and women), masturbation is an exploration of the breadth of human sexuality that can be a very enriching process.

If you’re experiencing ED, it’s a good idea to talk with your healthcare provider. Erectile dysfunction might be caused by porn consumption, or it could be an early sign of a serious medical condition such as heart disease. A healthcare professional can help you know for sure.