Can porn addiction really cause erectile dysfunction?

Yes. In fact, the amount of men seeking help for ED has risen at an alarming rate over the last few years. Studies have shown that between 1948 and 2002 rates of ED amongst men under 40 were consistently 2-3%. Fast forward to 2010 and six studies showed a rate of 14-33% in men under 40 - an almost 1000% increase.

In their collation of studies over the last two decades into ED, Park et al discovered that:

... research using a variety of assessment instruments has revealed further evidence of an unprecedented increase in sexual difficulties among young men. In 2012, Swiss researchers found ED rates of 30% in a cross-section of Swiss men aged 18–24 using the International Index of Erectile Function (IIEF-5). A 2013 Italian study reported one in four patients seeking help for new onset ED were younger than 40, with rates of severe ED nearly 10% higher than in men over 40. A 2014 study on Canadian adolescents reported that 53.5% of males aged 16–21 had symptoms indicative of a sexual problem. Erectile dysfunction was the most common (26%), followed by low sexual desire (24%), and problems with orgasm (11%).” (Park)

So, is this rise in ED amongst men and younger men in particular, related to porn use? Gary Wilson of Your Brain on Porn and many other researchers and administrators of support groups and forums for men experiencing issues with porn addiction symptoms believe so.

The rise in younger men especially (under 40) who are suffering with low libido and ED doesn’t appear to correlate to an increase in other issues which may affect ED such as smoking, substance abuse and poor physical health. While certain issues such as anxiety and depression are generally on the increase amongst men, it appears that for the most part anxiety and depression lead to ED rather than the other way round. For researchers such as Wilson and others, it appears that the major variable that has changed in the last two decades when it comes to men and sexuality is the availability of high-speed internet porn on demand (Wilson G. , 2004, p. P43).

Added to studies which are beginning to show clear links to porn addiction and ED, are the numerous accounts of men in forums such as NoFap, Rebootnation and Your Brain on Porn who report that their ED resolved itself after rebooting. Their anecdotal accounts also provide evidence that porn has the potential to seriously undermine sexual function for men.

Porn induced Erectile dysfunction (or “PIED”) can be a combination of many factors that relate to masturbation practices using porn. Desensitization and overstimulation of reward-circuitry and can adjust your ability to become aroused by anything other than porn. You might also have participated in traumatic masturbatory practices that real sex can’t mimic. As an article by a psychosexual therapist reports – 

“The problem is that dopamine – the hormone released that enables that pleasurable state – is part of the reward circuit in the brain and it can become desensitized to triggers. We might see one image one day that excites us and return to it again and again, only then we find that it doesn’t excite us anymore. I’ve seen many clients, who despite consciously not wanting to use porn, find themselves returning to porn sites over and over again compulsively.” (Eccles)

While further studies are needed to provide more detail and help to shift focus onto education, prevention and treatment, it’s apparent that PIED is a real issue for increasing numbers of men who use porn. If you are still unsure about whether your ED might have been caused by porn use, then it’s wise to self-test and see what your results are, following the simple method from Gabe Deem of Rebootnation. 

Test for porn-Induced erectile dysfunction  - “PIED”

One of the first ways you might notice that you are having porn-induced erectile dysfunction issues is if you can’t get or maintain an erection when having real sex with a partner. Or, you might have noticed that you only ever masturbate to porn or porn-related fantasies. If this is the case then taking this simple test can help you to figure out if PIED has become an issue for you.

Step 1: Check if you can get an erection using porn – or preferably remembering the last time you used porn. This can be helpful to rule out ‘organic’ issues – such as poor physical health or alcohol issues for example.

Step 2: Try masturbating without porn or porn fantasies, using only sensation and touch. Can you get an erection, maintain it and climax satisfactorily without using porn or porn-related fantasies?

Step 3: Compare the two experiences and self-evaluate to see if there was a difference in the quality of your erection and experience with porn and without it. The reason why it’s advisable to do this test while masturbating on your own is because you can also rule out performance anxiety or relationship issues as a source of ED when with a partner. (Deem, Did porn cause my erectile dysfunction? Take the test.)

If you find that you can’t get an erection in either of the first two steps then please see a physician so you can get checked out for organic issues that might be impacting you.

If you take the test and discover that the only way you can get and maintain a satisfactory erection is by using or imagining porn then the signs point to PIED. If this happens to you, then please remember that many other men have also gone through this and have successfully rebooted and found that their PIED issues has resolved themselves.

Deem, G. (n.d.). Did porn cause my erectile dysfunction? Take the test. Retrieved 05 07, 2018, from Your Brain on Porn: https://yourbrainonporn.com/did-porn-cause-my-erectile-dysfunction-take-test-gabe-deem

Eccles, J. (n.d.). Retrieved 05 07, 2018, from Mancunian Matters: http://www.mancunianmatters.co.uk/content/060568815-men-who-watch-too-much-porn-cant-get-it-warns-manchester-sex-therapist

Wilson, G. (2004). Your Brain on Porn. Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction. Commonwealth Publishing.