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According to the experts, there likely isn’t a connection.

It’s a logical leap to assume that everything we love is either killing us or making life hell on earth. Our ice cream is full of acne-causing hormones, our vape pens make us more addicted to cigarettes, and that loud, yearly trip to SXSW is chipping away at our ability to hear the very music we love. But can watching too much internet porn lead to porn-induced erectile dysfunction?  

Before we dive in, let’s get one thing straight: Porn-Induced Erectile Dysfunction (PIED) is not the same as porn addiction. Porn addiction is a behavioral issue in which a person compulsively watches online porn, often to a point of excess. Medical experts are torn on whether to use the word “addiction” to define such behavior. As such, there are many conversations online about porn addiction. But there is less substantial talk about PIED. 

Users on the popular subreddit NoFap will brag that their porn-induced erectile dysfunction was “cured” by refraining from masturbation for extended periods of time. “Covenant Eyes,” an ultra-Christian porn-filtering service has several dozen YouTube videos espousing the supposed medical effects of watching “too much” porn. Though their motives are different, both of these groups discuss PIED as if it is a substantiate condition backed by research.

To get a clearer picture, we spoke to doctors and sexual health experts about this research and the connection between erectile dysfunction and pornography. 

What is porn-induced erectile dysfunction?

Enter “Porn dependence,” or “Porn-induced erectile dysfunction” into Google and the internet would have you believe that watching porn is the source of a plethora of romantic and sexual issues. 

Believers in the “epidemic” of PIED often cite one 2015 study from the International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health. It surveyed 28,000 Italian men about pornography and masturbation tendencies. The study concluded that boys—first exposed to porn around age 14 on average—experienced a drop in libido and a decreased interest in IRL sexual partners later in life.

Here’s the catch, though: It didn’t. This conclusion is how websites like the Blaze reported the study. Participants’ libido levels were never actually measured—the “study” was simply an opinion survey.

The scurrilous reporting of what are assumed to be scientific studies in the media has long been discussed and debated on shows like Last Week Tonight. But with PIED, it seems like the misinformation and clickbait just won’t quit. In 2017, for instance, New Zealand broadcaster Alison Mau posted an opinion piece which told an anecdote about a man who had “essentially destroyed the nerve pathways from his brain to his penis” from watching porn. There is no research that supports this biological claim.

Another paper, “Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunction?” was cited in this Herald article warning about a generation who grew up on porn. Upon further investigation, one of the authors of that paper was Gary Wilson, the founder of YourBrainOnPorn.com, which leads political and religious campaigns against pornography.

porn and erectile dysfunction MaxPixel (CC-BY)

Is porn-induced erectile dysfunction real?

It’s much easier to find reputable sources that support and promote pornography’s virtues. For example, this 2015 study, conducted by researchers at the Sexual Psychophysiology and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory found no relationship between ED and the number of sex films men view. In one case, Dr. Nicole Prause found stronger sexual arousal in men who reported viewing more pornography at home.

Another 2015 cross-sectional online study of nearly 4,000 European men, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, found no significant risk factor related to ED and porn and even cited “greater sexual responsiveness” in porn viewers.

However, some men who held conservative or religious beliefs had a relationship between porn viewing and erectile function. “Taken together, this means that sex films do not contribute to erectile dysfunction,” Prause notes. For those “whose personal values contradict with viewing sex films,” general shame surrounding sex creates an entirely different issue.

porn induced erectile Courtesy photo/JBSA (CC-BY)

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Why we shouldn’t blame porn

Dr. Heather Berg, a teacher of gender studies at USC working on a book about the adult film industry, questions the entire idea behind PIED. “It seems to be a dangerous misdirection to blame porn,” Dr. Berg told the Daily Dot in a phone interview. “Whether we’re talking about PIED or any other kind of relationship difficulties that folks might be experiencing, to lay this at the feet of porn seems to distract from more urgent things that are going on.”

“There are so many things about how heterosexuality operates that make for bad sex,” Berg continued. The habits of heterosexual men are informed by everything from a lack of consent education to poor emotional communication skills. Basically, gender norms make real and pleasurable connections much more challenging. 

As for these studies, Dr. Berg says that there is not a neutral, clinical definition for the “right kind” of sex we should be having. “It gets tricky when practitioners try to enforce normative sexual standards through what comes to look like neutral, clinical language.”

As for the NoFap movement, Dr. Berg was skeptical. “There’s not a social reason someone shouldn’t be masturbating four times a day if it works for them.”

What causes erectile dysfunction?

ED is unfortunately common, and it’s not just a result of getting old. Although age increases the likelihood of experiencing dysfunction, one in four men under the age of 40 will seek treatment for ED. Whether chronic or temporary, erectile dysfunction is caused by a myriad of things. Drug use, medication side effects, mental issues, and relationship communication problems could be to blame. Heart disease, sleep disorders, and nerve injuries are also factors.

Because ED’s causes can be so specific and so wide-ranging, it’s no wonder that the internet wants to blame pornography. If porn is already stigmatized, why not turn it into the root of all bedroom evil?

porn induced erectile dysfunction Pixabay (CC-BY)

 


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Porn can facilitate great sex

Famed sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer has spent her nearly 40-year career dispelling the belief that porn and masturbation are “bad” within a committed relationship. “Anything that is sexually explicit is wonderful for me,” she said in a 2015 Sirius interview “But the important thing is to accept that sexual drive, that desire for sexuality has to be nourished so that people have good sex for the rest of their lives.”

Marriage and family therapist Sharon Glassburn echoed this sentiment in a GoodTherapy.org article titled, “Can Ethical Porn Enhance Your Sex Life?” Porn, according to Glassburn, can educate and stimulate communication about wants and desires between you and your partner. If certain sexual interests aren’t shared in a relationship, Glassburn says individuals can always explore privately through porn and masturbation.

Most importantly, porn-viewing is one of the safest, lowest-risk sexual activities a couple can do together. Porn can help partners build trust and connection and identify their desires,” Dr. Berg said. “It can help people work through relationship difficulties connected to what gets called erectile dysfunction. If viewers use porn to avoid communicating with their partner then that’s a choice they are making about the relationship. It’s not a question about porn specifically.” And since many heterosexual folks believe “sex isn’t sex without a hard penis,” access to different porn varieties can educate and inform.

porn induced erectile dysfunction Pexels

Should you be worried about porn-induced erectile dysfunction?

No. However, if you find porn-watching to be compulsive, mandatory, or excessive, it might be time to talk to a professional. Seek out a urologist, sex therapist, or general therapist. While your ED may have a connection to how or why you watch porn, it’s definitely not the source.

Editor’s note: This article is regularly updated for relevance.

Claire Downs

Claire Downs

Claire Downs is a tech reporter who covers the intersection of the internet and pop culture. A third-generation worker in the Chicago futures industry, she specializes in cryptocurrencies and altcoins. Her work can also be seen in Cosmopolitan, Vice Motherboard, VH1.com, and Merry Jane.