Some experts believe that it is possible for men to develop sexual impotence as a result of watching pornography on a regular basis.

However, other experts do not think there is a significant connection between the two.

On this page, we’ll discuss some of the research which has been undertaken on the subject, and what to do if you think pornography is having a negative effect on your sex life.

What is porn-induced erectile dysfunction?

Male impotence can occur for a number of reasons, both physical and psychological. It is characterised by a failure to achieve and maintain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse.

There are several different treatment methods, depending on the cause. Lifestyle change, counselling, and prescription treatments such as Viagra are just some of the options available to men with the condition.

When not addressed, persistent cases of sexual dysfunction can lead to loss of intimacy in a relationship, and depression.

Porn-induced erectile dysfunction (sometimes referred to as PIED) is when a man’s sexual impotence is caused by watching (and masturbating to) pornographic material on a frequent basis.

Is porn-induced erectile dysfunction real?

The theory that excessive pornography consumption and erectile dysfunction are linked is a relatively new one. However, the subject is gaining wider coverage and recognition in both medical circles and in the popular press.

Some experts have cited trends from the past 10-15 years, during which the number of men under 40 seeking treatment for sexual dysfunction has risen in conjunction with increased accessibility to sexual material via the internet, as strong indications of the existence of this phenomenon.

A 2016 paper published in Behavioural Sciences opens its argument by stating that:

Traditional factors that once explained men’s sexual difficulties appear insufficient to account for the sharp rise in erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation, decreased sexual satisfaction, and diminished libido during partnered sex in men under 40.’

This review of studies goes on to cite several pieces of research as evidence of this link, including:

  • a semantic analysis of ED posts on a medical discussion forum in which, of all the mental health grouping terms used, ‘porn’ appeared the most frequently;
  • a study of young men which found that, of those who consumed pornography on a regular basis, 16 percent said they experienced low sexual desire, compared with zero percent in those who consumed none;
  • and a study of men seeking treatment for sex addiction, which found that of those who very frequently used pornography, 71 percent complained of a sexual dysfunction.

In 2011, Italian experts conducted a survey into pornography use in young men and reported on the phenomenon of what they termed ‘sexual anorexia’. Excessive pornography consumption from an early age, they argued, effectively creates a divorce between sexual desire and real-life relationships; although with abstinence from viewing pornography, this was reversible.

A 2015 peer-reviewed study published in Sexual Medicine, however, offers something of a counter argument, and suggests that the link between ED and porn consumption isn’t quite so straightforward. Their findings, they argue, suggest that watching sex films ‘does not impair, and may enhance the desire to be sexual with a partner.

How does porn affect the brain?

The theory of PIED is described on the forum Your Brain on Porn.

They describe excessive pornography viewing as having a negative effect on a man’s psychological conditioning to sex. This means they come to dissociate desire from sex in real life, because it doesn’t meet the expectations they have become accustomed to, essentially, in fantasy.

They also describe the desensitising effect of pornography on the brain to sexual stimuli in chemical terms. Dopamine and opioids, triggered by the reward centres in the brain, play a role in the nerve impulses which lead to erections; and this desensitisation to sexual stimuli causes dopamine and opioid activity to drop, thus making erections more difficult.

How to get over porn-induced erectile dysfunction

Experts generally point towards abstaining from porn-viewing as the treatment of choice for porn-induced erectile dysfunction. This process is sometimes referred to as ‘rebooting’ or ‘rewiring’.

This may not necessarily involve prohibiting masturbation of any kind, but it will involve avoiding viewing porn and ‘artificial’ material for the purposes of sexual stimulation.

Studies looking into recovery times from PIED have stated that these can vary from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the individual, and their degree of consumption.

For men who continue to encounter problems with sexual desire and erections on an occasional or persistent basis, speaking to a doctor or seeking counselling for the issue can often help.

Page last reviewed:  05/06/2017