Does porn cause erectile dysfunction...or not?

While this has been a popular debate, the evidence suggests there isn't a strong link between pornography use and erectile dysfunction (ED).

Clipboard with question do you suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED)

Can watching porn really cause erectile dysfunction?

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  • According to UW Health, around 5 percent of men that are 40 years old have complete erectile dysfunction. That number increases to about 15 percent by age 70.
  • While there are many things that can cause or contribute to ED (such as high blood pressure, smoking, the use of drugs or alcohol, depression, and anxiety), there has been wide debate over the impacts of pornography use.
  • Several studies outlined in this article look at the supposed link between ED and pornography use.

Erectile dysfunction (commonly referred to as ED) is the inability to get (or maintain) a full erection during normal sexual activity. This can occur sporadically or it can be a long-term issue. While ED can occur at any age, it is more common in men that are older as they are more likely to have health conditions that require medication, which can interfere with erectile function.

According to UW Health, around 5 percent of men that are 40 years old have complete erectile dysfunction, with that number increasing to about 15 percent of men by the age of 70. Mild to moderate ED impacts approximately 10 percent of men per decade of life (for example, 50 percent of men in their 50s, 60 percent of men in their 60s, etc.).

While anything from stress, to low self-esteem, to a physical injury can cause ED, there are some more specific causes that have been accounted for by the Urology Care Foundation:

  • Having high blood pressure
  • Having high blood sugar (diabetes)
  • Having high cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Using drugs or drinking too much alcohol
  • Being obese
  • Lacking exercise
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Stress

However, there is one specific "cause" of ED that has been widely debated for years - the use of pornography.

    Can pornography really cause erectile dysfunction?

    naked man hiding behind a pillow

    Is there really any evidence proving porn causes ED?

    Photo by PrinceOfLove on Shutterstock

    Over the years, there have been multiple studies with conflicting results when it comes to this controversial question.

    A 2012 study links porn and erectile dysfunction in men ages 20-40 but says it is only "one piece of the puzzle."

    According to a HealthDay News study, porn-addicted men are more likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction and are less likely to be satisfied with sexual intercourse. This was determined based on a survey of 312 men between the ages of 20-40. Of men surveyed, 3.4 percent said they preferred masturbating to pornography over sexual intercourse, but the researchers found a statistical relationship between porn addiction and sexual dysfunction.

    According to lead researcher Dr. Matthew Christman (staff urologist with the Naval Medical Center in San Diego), the rates of organic causes of ED in this age cohort are extremely low, so the increase in erectile dysfunction needs to be explained. "We believe that pornography may be one piece to that puzzle. Our data does not suggest it is the only explanation, however."

    A 2016 study has also been cited as proof that pornography use causes ED, however the study itself explains that more research is needed to prove this theory.

    According to this study, 1 in 4 participants who sought help for new-onset ED were younger than 40, which was highly unusual. The conclusion of this study was that traditional factors that once explained sexual difficulties in men appear insufficient to account for the sharp rise in sexual dysfunctions and low sexual desire in these men."Both the literature and our clinical reports underscore the need for extensive investigation of Internet pornography's potential effects on users, ideally by having subjects remove the variable of internet pornography in order to demonstrate potential effects of behavioral modification," the authors wrote.

    An Italian study suggests men could suffer from "sexual anorexia" after pornography use.

    A survey of 28,000 users suggests many Italian males started an "excessive consumption" of porn sites as early as 14 years of age. The study uses the term "sexual anorexia," which is referred to in this case as a pathological loss of appetite for romantic-sexual interactions.

    This particular study has been cited in multiple articles that claim ED is directly linked to pornography use. However, the study, listed in ANSA, outlines "daily use" for people in their early-mid 20s, and how individuals may become "inured to even the most violent images" in porn.

    "It starts with lower reactions to porn sites, then there is a general drop in libido and in the end it becomes impossible to get an erection," explains Carlo Foresta, head of the Italian Society of Andrology and Sexual Medicine (SIAMS).

    A 2019 study that analyzed porn watching and ED risk suggested there isn't likely to be a link.

    According to this study, which sampled 877 American men between the ages of 18-60, porn-watching and ED were not likely to be linked. While it was true that some porn-watching men in the study did report ED, researchers found "very little evidence that mere pornography use is associated with changes in erection function."

    While porn may have some impact on ED, that impact isn't always negative.

    "ED is a biopsychosocial phenomenon, meaning there are many factors that can contribute to it," Christene Lorenzo, a therapist specializing in sexual health and relationships, explains to HealthLine.

    There are many possible physiological, psychological, and relationship factors that impact ED that most surveys arguing the impacts of pornography of erectile function don't take into account.

    Additionally, while porn-induced erectile dysfunction is possible, porn may also actually help with ED in some cases. Erectile dysfunction is a complex health issue that has both physical and mental health components, according to Medical News Today.

    "A 2015 study found that men who reported more time spent viewing pornography had greater sexual responsiveness to a partner in a laboratory setting. This suggests that pornography might help prime the brain or body for sex, potentially improving intercourse with a partner."

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