Men's Health

Does porn cause ED?

15th May, 02:31


The argument about whether or not porn is a force for good in the world isn't one we're going to touch here. Some people love it too much, others hate it irrationally, and most us enjoy it to a certain degree, sometimes.

But on a scientific basis, the fact that more and more men are reporting issues with erectile dysfunction earlier on in life is a point of concern to anybody who cares about statistics (and, of course, men's health).

And there does have to be some kind of explanation.

On a surface level, blaming porn makes sense: as its prevalence and availability has risen, so has erectile dysfunction become a serious issue for young men, undeniably porn's greatest champions.

The fact is, more and more men are experiencing issues with ED, and what’s more concerning is the increase we’re seeing in relatively young blokes reporting issues downstairs.

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Before porn tube sites existed, a steady two to five per cent of guys under the age of 40 were experiencing a bit of trouble getting their soldier to stand to attention.


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In sharp contrast, recent studies on the topic have returned some pretty startling numbers, with up to 25 per cent of men under the age of 40 disclosing difficulties with their erections.

We all—yes, pretty much all—enjoy a bit of pornography every now and then.

That’s not just me projecting, the stats back this up: up to 80 per cent of men watch porn with some regularity, and we’re not alone—according to the data, women are consuming up to a third of all porn.

Along with its dramatic rise in popularity and availability have come experts all and sundry decrying the scourge of pornography and its insidious grip on the minds of men.

We’re "watching too much of it", "too young" and the material we’re consuming is "increasingly depraved", they say.

And to be fair, they’re not entirely wrong.

But they’re not right either.

The hard truth about porn and ED

Despite the massive number of people who watch it in private, pornography is a divisive topic. And it always has been.

Ever since we’ve been drawing naughty pictures on cave walls, there’ve been people who simply don’t approve. Like old tales of masturbation causing hairy palms, or blindness, it seems self-pleasure—and the materials we use to aid us—have forever drawn a certain degree of ire.

Today, with high-speed internet making pornography more readily available than ever, movements like NoFap and YourBrainOnPorn espouse all kinds of facts and figures about the negative effects of porn and masturbation, on everything from your sex drive, neuroanatomy, testosterone levels, and more.

Additionally, there are claims that ridding your life of porn and taming the snake a little less often can result in some real-life positive changes.

From higher testosterone levels, increased happiness, boosted confidence, higher energy levels, muscle growth, better sleep—if you go by what the NoFap "community" is saying, you’d be a goddamned superhero if only you could stop jerking off so often.

While lots of the NoFap claims are serious, they are also mostly anecdotal, which is to say, not very scientific.

There are also less-serious assertions, often with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humour interspersed (claims of levitation and telepathy are probably exaggerations) making it difficult to discern what the they truly believe and what effectively amounts to an elaborate inside joke.

What’s certainly true is these websites act something like online support groups, dedicated to helping others ditch the on-screen action in favour of the real deal.

And among the pseudoscience and obvious bullshit, there are some sobering facts—ones backed by proper scientific studies.

Especially on sites like YourBrainOnPorn, which has compiled reams of evidence to support the argument that porn is not only addictive, but that it is also linked to sexual problems like lower arousal to sexual stimuli.

The big but (we like them)

It’s a bit of a bummer, isn’t it? All the finger-wagging, strongly worded opinion pieces and blunt scientific research detailing how a previously enjoyable and seemingly harmless private activity is actually dangerous.

Maybe it is time we put the porn away, stopped shaking hands with the milkman so often, and embraced a new life of “fapstinence”…

Just before you commit to the monk life, you might want to wait. Because just like free set of steak knives you got off Demtel—there’s more. Sydney-based GP Dr Mathew Vickers suggests that the issue is a lot more complicated than we think.

“There are a number of studies going back quite a few years that suggested there was a link between erectile dysfunction and pornography, but there’s actually a more recent study, that looked back at lots of these studies and combined the results for further analysis,” he says.

“They found there is a common link that showed it wasn’t pornography that was causing erectile dysfunction for everybody, but more for the people with problematic pornography use.”

This makes perfect sense—the majority of the population is using pornography to some extent, but only a small portion seem to be experiencing serious issues because of it.

So what is “problematic pornography use”?

How many shady tube site visits and tissue boxes do I have to go through before I have a problem, you ask?

“It’s difficult to put a number on it,” says Dr Vickers.

“Is it something that is required every time someone masturbates in order to achieve an erection or to complete ejaculation? Is the use increasing over time?

"Are you building a tolerance to it, and are you going out of your way to try and seek it out? These are the sort of factors that we would use to determine things like drug addiction and pornography addiction.

“Most of the time, people are self-identifying that it is a problem. If they’re asking the question, ‘Am I watching too much porn’, they probably already know the answer.”

Vickers is also careful to point out that while there is no clear link between pornography and failing to get a rise downstairs, there are connections between too much screen time and forms of sexual dysfunction and relationship problems.

“Overuse of pornography may change expectations either from what they expect from their partner or in terms of anxiety caused by expectations of themselves.

“We know that performance anxiety and relationship issues are some of the major causes of loss of libido, which can compound the problem and lead to further difficulties.”

Okay, so does porn cause ED or not?

It’s complicated. Short answer—no. Long answer—sort of.

It’s a classic chicken and egg scenario. Lots of people who watch too much pornography may already be dealing with an underlying form of sexual dysfunction.

The porn use is both a symptom of this as well as an aggravating factor. That is to say; not only does “problematic” porn use show you might be dealing with unresolved sexual issues – it also can actively make them worse.

The truth is, the causes of ED are many and varied.

I think I watch too much porn

If you feel like your relationships are struggling and your porn use is out of control, there are some really important steps you should take.

According to Dr Vickers:

  • Speak to someone who can help, like a doctor or a psychologist;
  • If you’re comfortable with it, talk to your friends to get a general idea of what other’s consumption level is;
  • Try to abstain from viewing pornography as much as possible, if not entirely.

“Over time things will get better, it’s not something that’s likely to be permanent,” he says.

And remember, it’s fine to enjoy pornography from time-to-time. As Dr Vickers points out, adult content has been a tremendous help to many for whom it is their only sexual outlet, and for couples whose relationships have been galvanised by mutual enjoyment of erotic material in the bedroom.

But if you notice an issue, or you’re going back for more and more, and your relationships are suffering as a consequence, then it’s probably time to put the porn away for bit.

And—as always—if you think need help, don’t hesitate to reach out and talk to a GP, if for nothing else other than peace of mind.

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