Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to get or maintain a full erection during normal sexual activity. It can occur sporadically, or it may be a long-term or even permanent issue. ED can affect men for many reasons, including physical and psychological causes such as performance anxiety, depression, or poor physical health. But what about from watching pornography? Here’s what the research shows.
While ED mostly affects older men, a study conducted in Italy found that an increase in internet pornography viewing among teenage boys can cause “sexual anorexia,” or a pathological loss of appetite for romantic-sexual interactions. The notion that watching too much porn causes ED has since spread like wildfire. But not all experts think so. “Our study, and now two others, have found there is no relationship between the amount of sex films men view and erectile functioning with their partner,” says Nicole Prause, PhD, a sexual psychophysiologist and licensed psychologist at the Sexual Psychophysiology and Affective Neuroscience Laboratory. Her research with Jim Pfaus, PhD, IF, was published in Sexual Medicine and was the first peer-reviewed study of this topic. “In one case, the study found stronger sexual arousal in men who reported viewing more sex films at home,” she adds.
Only those men who were conservative and in relationships had any relationship between sex film viewing and erectile functioning. “Taken together, this means that sex films do not contribute to erectile dysfunction,” Prause notes. “However, those whose personal values contradict with viewing sex films may be experiencing general shame around sex that also influences their erectile functioning.”
Experts do say, however, that watching pornography can influence a man’s sexual appetite. This may make it difficult for them to achieve an erection and have an orgasm with a sexual partner. Nikki Martinez, PsyD, LCPC, says modern access to a wide array of adult material can make it difficult for a man to become aroused with their partner or to participate in sexual activities as they always have. “They have unleashed their true desires and proclivities, and now they struggle to become aroused when this is not involved,” she says. “The other partner feels rejected, and as if they are not attractive, and the first partner is most often too embarrassed to tell them what is really going on.”
Natalie Finegood Goldberg, LMFT, CST, says that pornography can create unrealistic expectations of what sex should look like and what your partner should look like and be able to do. For lots of men, she says, pornography can engender shame if they feel they are not living up to the standards of the actor. “Also, not to mention the piece where people can get any fantasy hand-delivered to them through channels of pornography, rather than having to open up to their partner about what turns them on.”
Alexis Conason, PsyD, who practices in New York City, says she doesn’t think porn causes erectile dysfunction, but it’s important to look at how someone views pornography. “For example, compulsive porn viewing, or watching several scenes at once, or quickly switching from one scene to another, creates a lot of stimulation not typically experienced in real life sexual encounters. This may create ED issues,” she says. “In addition, watching men in porn can create feelings of insecurity if men compare themselves to the actors, and this can lead to ED.”
But, medical professionals say that masturbating too much is actually a pretty standard form of addiction, but it's worsened by pornography. So, try not to do it too much and you’ll be just fine.