Porn-Induced Erectile Dysfunction: How Does It Happen?

By The Rex MD Editorial Team

April 30, 2021

One of the more interesting phenomena surrounding erectile dysfunction is a growing body of otherwise healthy and sexually active young men who find themselves unable to perform when sexually intimate with a partner. Medical exams reveal nothing physically wrong as a clear cause for erectile dysfunction - yet it happens.

Only after reviewing personal habits does a potential culprit come to light: a habit of excessive pornography consumption.

Some men, particularly those with religions or moral qualms about pornography, argue that too much porn can cause erectile dysfunction. Is that the case?

Research suggests that watching pornography is not inherently bad or particularly harmful to most people, but it does hold the potential to contribute to real-world sexual problems, specifically when it becomes an over-indulged habit and for those dealing with guilt around the issue. Here's the story on porn-induced erectile dysfunction.  

What Is Porn-Induced Erectile Dysfunction?

For some, frequently consuming pornography may result in men’s sexual appetites changing, and possibly to a degree that they no longer become aroused by real life sexual interactions.

This is the key principle behind porn-induced erectile dysfunction, and there may be research to defend this belief. 

In 2016, a published research article explained that more young men have been seeking help for erectile dysfunction and argued that the reason was most likely the desensitizing effects of “hardcore” pornography. 

The article drew upon previous case studies and a review of existing research to argue that:

  • Pornography may decrease a man’s satisfaction with their own body, triggering anxiety during sex.
  • Men who view pornography may need to progressively increase their sexual stimulation in order to feel and remain aroused. 
  • The use of pornography might change the way that the brain reacts to arousal, making a man less likely to feel aroused by a real life partner.
  • Using sex toys may desensitize nerves in the penis, making it more difficult to get an erection because the nerves require more physical stimulation.

The lead author of the study, Gary Wilson, is the founder of an organization that campaigns aggressively against pornography, so questions of bias have arisen since. 

Other studies have found the link between pornography and erectile dysfunction to be rather weak. A 2015 analysis of two large and cross-sectional studies found that while there is a link between erectile dysfunction and pornography, the connection is modest at best. In addition, men who engaged in a “moderate” amount of internet pornography reported more instances of erectile dysfunction than those engaging in “high” or “low” amounts. This undermines the theory that excessive use of pornography can be desensitizing. 

The research appears mixed.

Is There Connection Between Porn and Erectile Dysfunction?

While some studies insist that porn can be a cause of erectile dysfunction, other studies suggest that pornography may actually be able to help fight the symptoms of ED, especially in cases where erectile dysfunction is the result of psychological issues or relationships problems. 

In 2015, another study found that men that reported more time spent viewing pornography actually had greater sexual responsiveness to their partner in a laboratory setting. This result suggests that pornography may be able to help to prime the brain or body for sex, potentially improving sexual intercourse with a partner. However, the research that supports the positive effects of pornography is limited and preliminary, similar to studies focusing on the harmful effects of pornography. 

It may be possible that men feel guilty about their use of pornography and may struggle with erectile dysfunction as a result of their guilt more than the pornography directly. In this way, believing that pornography is wrong or linked to erectile dysfunction may create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Does Porn Influence Sexual Function At All?

While studies into erectile dysfunction have been inconclusive, there are some ways that porn may influence sexual behaviors. 

One such way is “sexual anorexia” which is a pathological loss of appetite for sexual interactions. People with this condition may avoid, fear, or dread sexual intimacy. While this specific diagnosis is not a direct result of too much pornography, it may a contributing factor. One thing that experts seem to agree on is that watching pornography can influence sexual appetite. This could make it more difficult to achieve an erection and have an orgasm with a partner. Pornography may unleash deeper desires and proclivities, and they may struggle to become aroused when a particular activity or stimulus is not involved. 

Another potential issue is that pornography can create unrealistic expectations around what sex should look like, what your partner should look like, and what should happen.

Pornography can engender shame if someone feels like they're not living up to the standards of the actors involved. Internet and visual pornography are fiction, after all, and men who take their cues from these cinematic representations may be let down – physically and mentally – by real sexual intimacy, which can be awkward, funny, and messy. These unfulfilled expectations can damage the relationship sexually and romantically.

Other Potential Causes of Erectile Dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction is defined as the inability to achieve or maintain an erection firm enough for penetrative sex. There are many causes and several risk factors that can influence the condition, many of which are related to age and other physiological systems. Erectile dysfunction is a complicated issue and can be linked to a variety of other physical or psychological issues.

And, the relationship between physical issues and mental health or psychological issues can be tangled.

For example, a guy may suffer from diabetes, which may make it more difficult to sustain an erection. In turn, this may trigger anxiety around sexual intimacy, which then intensifies the problem. More frequent bouts of erectile dysfunction may create problems in the relationship, and the issue ends up snowballing.

Primary erectile dysfunction, which occurs when a man has never been able to achieve an erection, is very rare and is almost always the result of a severe underlying condition. 

Secondary erectile dysfunction, which develops later in life after a long period of being able to maintain erections normally, is the most common form of erectile dysfunction. Secondary erectile dysfunction is also the type that is most likely to be blamed on pornography. 

Some of the most common examples of secondary erectile dysfunction include:

  • Psychological issues such as body image insecurities or sexual anxiety 
  • Problems in a relationship
  • Blood vessel disorders, including those that result from heart issues
  • Nervous system damage, often the result of diabetes
  • Prostate disorders
  • Smoking-induced atherosclerosis 

Often, brief and periodic difficulties with achieving or maintaining an erection are the result of stress. 

Physical Causes of Erectile Dysfunction

There are a number of health problems that can cause erectile dysfunction by damaging the nerves or narrowing blood vessels. When blood vessels become more narrow, general blood flow is limited and it becomes harder for the penis to fill with the blood needed to achieve an erection. 

Some of the common issues that can lead to ED are:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Atherosclerosis
  • High blood pressure or hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Nerve damage from surgeries 
  • Prostatitis and other prostate-related disorders 

Additionally, mental health conditions may play a role in erectile dysfunction, including anxiety disorders or depression. Certain drugs, including antidepressants and blood pressure medications, may make it more difficult to achieve an erection as well.

What Are The Treatments For Erectile Dysfunction?

As it stands now, the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists argues that there is insufficient scientific evidence to support the existence of addiction to either sex or pornography. It further emphasizes that attempts to treat sexual issues, including issues related to pornography, should be non-pathologizing and should not be framed as treatments for a disease. They further claim that many efforts designed to treat “pornography addiction” are not only harmful, but are unsupported by scientific research and rooted in severe misconceptions. Men that experience erectile dysfunction should seek out treatment from professionals with an open and judgement free approach to sexual issues. 

The right treatment will depend on the specific cause. Men experiencing performance anxiety, for example, would best be suited seeking therapy, relaxation exercises, or discussing their feelings with their partner. Some men may find that pornography helps to boost their sexual desire when the underlying issues is not physical, but psychological instead. 

Other treatment options include:

  • Erectile dysfunction medications such as Viagra® or Cialis®
  • Using a penis pump to assist in pulling blood into the penis
  • Lifestyle improvements like exercise and diet changes in order to address cardiovascular issues
  • Surgery to address prostate disorder or anatomical problems
  • A penile implant
  • Adopting a pleasure-based approach to sexuality as opposed to performance based 

The Takeaway: While pornography may play a role in affecting sexual desire, expectations, and even feelings of guilt, there is insufficient evidence to consider pornography alone a key cause of erectile dysfunction. 

Erectile dysfunction, in general, is a physical issue that stems from a lack of blood flow to the penis. Pornography can create psychological issues that impact how sexual intimacy is perceived, and sexual appetite in general, but based on current research appears unlikely to truly cause erectile dysfunction. 


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Disclaimer : This article is for information only and should not be considered medical advice. Always speak with your doctor about your health and the benefits or risks of any treatment or intervention. This information should not be relied on as a substitute for professional medical advice.