Causes of erectile dysfunction are typically the consequence of physical problems, medicinal side effects or a psychological condition. Sometimes it can be a symptom of more than one of these things. 

Porn-induced erectile dysfunction is something which falls into the psychological area of causation. However, the idea that pornographic material can induce erectile dysfunction is a widely debated one among the medical community. 

What is PIED? 

The popular media narrative ascertains that there may be a link between the consumption of pornography and the ability to achieve an erection. Indeed, there are several forums and websites also dedicated to this idea, which serve to aid and implore young men to reduce how often they watch pornography or stop altogether. Some of these groups also advise against masturbation altogether. 

How exactly is porn-induced ED defined?

Some argue that pornography desensitises men in relation to sexual intercourse and arousal. Explicit online content has existed pretty much since the internet's inception, but has become increasingly accessible and varied in nature over the last 20 years. 

One study conducted the Middlesex University London researchers showed that the majority of young people aged between 11-16 will already have seen online pornography at least once. Furthermore, 58.7% of the male respondents reported having searched for online pornography of their own accord, a sharp increase on the 25.2% of females in the same age bracket who had done the same. 

It is argued that among some men, there is a progressive need to maintain and increase the sexual gratification derived from pornography, which can lead to the subsequent consumption of more graphic, hardcore pornography. 

This has lead certain groups to go so far as to posit that pornography may actually work in similar ways to drug addiction. It stems from the idea of ‘chasing’ the pleasure derived from the activity of consuming porn. 

Who can get porn induced ED?

Many young men will have accessed pornography before they have a real-life sexual experience, which can lead them to having a false understanding surrounding the nature of sex. 

In particular, they may draw certain assumptions about how sexual activity should be conducted, how it should look and how it should feel.

To provide one example of this, pornographic films are often much longer in duration when compared with real-life sexual activity. Some films can last for over an hour. This can create false ideas about how long men should perform before ejaculation. 

This desensitisation and false understanding of what sex should be like are the most probable causes of porn-induced erectile dysfunction, it is argued. Pornography can lead to false ideals, expectations and even performance anxiety. 

The Reward Foundation, a sex education charity who have written extensively on the subject, say that children “as young as six are exposed to hardcore material because of a lack of effective age checks. Research shows that binge [watching] internet pornography can reduce interest in, and satisfaction from, real life sexual relationships.”

However, because the evidence as to whether porn consumption is a legitimate cause is quite limited, some argue more research is needed. 

What is sexual anorexia and how does it relate to ED? 

Sexual anorexia is another way of saying loss of libido. The word ‘anorexia’ is defined as a lack of appetite, in this case, for sexual activity. Both men and women can suffer with ‘sexual anorexia’ 

Specifically, people who suffer with sexual anorexia are said to actively avoid, fear or even dread sexual activity. While sexual anorexia can stem from ED, it can also be experienced when there is seemingly no physical problem. 

Sexual anorexia can be the cause of physical issues such as hormonal problems, having recently given birth, or exhaustion. However, it can also be a psychological condition caused by things like performance anxiety, but can also be caused by more severe mental problems like PTSD following sexual abuse, rape or a strict upbringing surrounding sex and religion. 

Weighing the arguments in favour and against PIED

There is a relationship between pornography and ED

There are several forums, sites and now even books dedicated to the subject of porn-induced erectile dysfunction. Examples include the NoFap forum website and the YourBrainOnPorn website and books. 

YourBrainOnPorn argue “there is a correlation between pornography consumption and erectile dysfunction that suggests causation.”

Some studies also support this view, such as the 2016 report released by the US military. However, it’s important to stress there are some questions about its reliability in relation to the sample size and their mutual occupation, which can, for some, be mentally and physically hazardous. 

One defence often put forward by those who argue PIED is legitimate surrounds the fact that when pornography transitioned onto the internet in the early 1990s, “only 5 percent of men under 40 reported ED, but that today, with porn just a tap away on phones, the figure has risen as high in some studies as 33 percent.”

When read and considered alone, it seems almost irrefutable that pornography does cause erectile dysfunction. 

Furthermore, when considering the anecdotal evidence on PIED it seems compelling to say the least. Many young men have shared their struggles with erectile dysfunction and pornography online. 

Porn does not cause erectile dysfunction

In an article published in Psychology Today, Michael Castleman states (quite simply): “YourBrainOnPorn is wrong. The best research shows no cause-and-effect relationship between porn watching, per se, and ED.”

The arguments of those made in favour of PIED also do not consider the positive impacts of the internet. The world wide web has brought with it highly accessible information at a moment’s notice. It could be argued this has allowed more young men to understand their symptoms and feel comfortable coming forward. 

Additionally, it wasn’t just pornography that burst onto the internet in the 1990s, something else happened too that is of significance in relation to erectile dysfunction: the little blue pill. The rising demand for Viagra and other ED drugs has helped to combat the stigmas surrounding erection problems, which has enabled many men to feel more comfortable coming forward and having open conversations about their symptoms. 

PIED: part of a wider problem 

It is also argued that pornography merely feeds into a broader condition: performance anxiety. Performance anxiety is already a well-established psychological cause of ED.

It is defined simply as nervousness or uncertainty surrounding sexual performance which becomes so severe that it actually hinders the ability to achieve an erection in the first place. 

One widely cited piece of evidence conducted by Bowling Green (Ohio) State University studied 877 American men aged between 18 and 60. Overall, they concluded there was no link between ED and the consumption of pornography. 

The majority of clinical studies support this argument also. What counters these studies is the powerful testimonial evidence and widespread media presence of the other arguments. 

Should I give up pornography to avoid ED?

Some anti-porn groups, such as NoFap, believe that masturbation and the consumption of pornography are two sides of one coin that go hand in hand together. They argue that explicit online content encourages masturbation. They argue that by resisting the urge to watch porn, it will help men resist the urge to masturbate. 

There are several ‘scare stories’ on the internet that talk about the negative impacts of masturbation too. One example is that it can cause acne, though this is an untrue and unfounded claim. 

What’s the truth about ‘getting off’ alone to porn? 

It’s important to stress that, medically speaking, masturbation is safe and cannot cause harm. However, if masturbation is conducted mutually with a sexual partner and any sperm is transferred near or into the vagina by the fingers, then this can make pregnancy a possibility. 

STIs can also be passed on through assisted or mutual masturbation if an infected person’s genitals or semen come into contact with their partner. 

To be clear, however, individual masturbation is highly unlikely to cause harm. Rigorous or frequent masturbation may result in soreness or even bruising, but this is still unlikely. 

Despite what some claim, masturbation will not reduce sperm count either. Some argue that masturbation can become ‘addictive’, especially when done in conjunction with the consumption of pornographic material. More clinical research is needed in this specific area. 

Overcoming porn-induced erectile dysfunction 

If you feel as if you are masturbating too much and it begins to interfere with your everyday life, it might help to talk to someone such as your doctor or open up to a family member or friend. 

There are a number of avenues in the way of treatment, and finding the right one for you will become more clear once you consult with a medical professional. 

Psychological, lifestyle and physical treatments 

Treatments can consist of talking therapy, including types specifically targeted at people who believe they may be addicted to pornography, but other, more general, therapies may help to tackle deep psychological causes of ED and other sexual problems. It could be that the psychological factors and pornographic material go hand-in-hand in make ED symptoms worse. 

There are also a number of lifestyle changes doctors may recommend, such as exercising more and eating a balanced diet. 

However, doctors may also prescribe medical treatment for porn-induced ED if they feel this is the appropriate thing to do in your particular case. The most conventional medicinal ED treatments are called PDE5is, and work to dilate the blood vessels in the penis which allows for increased blood flow. Viagra, perhaps the most well-known ED drug, falls within this classification.

Page last reviewed:  29/07/2020