Can watching too much porn cause erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction looks pretty simple on a first glance – we want to have sex, but can’t because our penis isn’t playing on the same team. Working out why is a bit more complex: it’s often less about what’s going on in our pants and more about what’s happening in our head.

In fact, recent academic studies have found evidence that the reason someone is experiencing ED might be a result of excessive porn consumption.   

The Relationship Between Porn and Erectile Dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse. In the past, erectile dysfunction has almost exclusively been associated with aging. But the truth is that today, men of all ages experience the difficulties of ED.

A 2018 survey by a UK pharmacy recently revealed that 42% of men in their 40s experience erectile dysfunction. But in the 1940s, when the first ever ED study was conducted, that number was less than 3%. So what has changed? That’s the question behavioral psychologists are asking, and most of their research points at 2006 for the answer: The year the internet introduced streaming— or more specifically, streaming an endless supply of porn.  

Research on pornography and sexual performance is in its early stages but is still telling. A 2014 German study by the Max Planck Institute for Human Development (which is touted as the first brain study conducted on porn users) found a correlation between porn consumption and grey matter in the brain. The greater the number of years the subject had consumed porn, the less grey matter researches found in the exact areas of the brain that facilitate stimulation and reward.

The study revealed that over time, significant porn usage can desensitize a man’s response to sexy stimuli. The need for novelty, which is easy to find online, can become so strong that the prospect of real sex no longer does what it did. At this point, one 2015 pornography study concludes, the brain has totally reconfigured the natural path to arousal. The brain can rewire itself so completely that some men have reported the loss of sexual appetite altogether, a phenomenon known as sexual anorexia.

These studies—and dozens more—have led to the definition of a specific kind of erectile dysfunction known as porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED). If a man finds himself unable to get hard during intercourse, but he gets off fine when masturbating to porn, then he may suffer from porn-induced erectile dysfunction.

Is it really porn causing the problem?

It’s important to note that common cases of erectile dysfunction are the result of physical causes (including blood vessel disorders, like diabetes and high blood pressure; neurological damage; prostate disorders; and lifestyle habits, like excessive smoking, drinking, and illicit drug use). But in many other cases, erectile dysfunction is mental. And if a man has a hunch that his inability to get hard might be more to do with his downloads, it’s time to think about his porn habit.

In a study published by Sexual Medicine, psychophysiologist Nicole Prause points out that porn itself doesn’t cause erectile dysfunction. But the shame a man experiences due to porn usage can. “Do I have a negative emotional response to porn?” is a good question to ask. Any significant negative emotions, like shame, are worth attention. If a man can identify the negative emotions he associates with pornography and past experiences of erectile dysfunction, then he can start isolating the source of his sexual troubles.

The problem is, being worried about not getting hard might be exactly what is deflating our ego. The memory of a physically-induced ED event (say, a drunken night) can end up haunting a man during moments of intimacy. Men who carry traumatizing ED memories are more likely to turn to porn rather than real-life intercourse for pleasure. And if a man finds himself increasingly reliant on porn, he should ask, “Am I intercourse avoidant?” Because if he is, it might be time to find new ways of thinking about a previous negative ED event.

Cases of psychological PIED are as diverse and nuanced as each man’s sexual history, but the important takeaway is that PIED is individual and personal. The more sophisticated conversations about sexual dysfunction require self-reflection, which isn’t always easy. But the good news is that every man is capable of self-identifying and solving porn-induced erectile dysfunction from the comfort of his own home.  

How to get back on track

If you’re struggling with porn-induced erectile dysfunction, remember that 1) you’re not alone and 2) your brain is capable of rewiring any habit, even deeply reinforced sexual behavior.

The PIED Recovery Plan:

  • Give yourself a break. Stop masturbating, watching porn or attempting sex for a few months. If this means some cold showers or running around the block, all good. Give yourself chance to miss it.
  • When you think about sex, think about sex with your partner or real-life people you might be sexually involved with.
  • After a few months, allow yourself to get intimate with your squeeze, but don’t go all the way – even if you’re up for it. (You might want to let them in on the plan, just so things don’t get weird.)
  • Many men find that the problem just takes care of itself from here. By the time you want it so bad you’ve forgotten why you were abstaining, you should be good to go.

Don’t underestimate therapy. If the PIED Recovery Plan isn’t getting you where you need to be, it might be time to call in a professional. Counselors have the ability to ask the right questions and guide you through the re-internalization of negative sexual memories and associations. Consider seeking out a licensed sex therapist - supporting with porn-related struggles is a regular and official part of their job.

With a little time, endurance, and support from a therapist or partner, things should be looking up in no time.

Click below to start an online consultation to find out if Sildenafil is right for you: