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Many people question if watching porn can cause erectile dysfunction or make it worse. Pornography’s link to erectile dysfunction is one of the most controversial topics regarding the psychology of erectile dysfunction.
To put it simply, the research on this topic has a wide range of conclusions. Some research points to a strong link between porn and ED. Other research points to pornography being a possible solution to erection problems. There is probably some truth to it all.
Porn has no measurable impact on erections for some men, but it can be a significant factor in ED for others.
Research most often measures groups of people. It seeks to understand if something can be a factor to a significant number of people. Even if research concludes no measurable impact can be identified, it does not mean that a factor is not significant for a specific person.
To assume porn has no impact and is conclusively not part of your ED may be presumptive. Anything can have an impact on erections. If a single negative experience can impact erections, porn can have an impact too.
Porn-induced Erectile Dysfunction
The term “porn-induced erectile dysfunction” is controversial. The phrase implies there is a unique and separate diagnosis different than other forms of psychogenic ED. Psychogenic means originating in the brain. Your brain is not a simple organ. The way it regulates the body tends to be complex with many factors. It helps you process information, including pornography, through the broader context of your beliefs, environment, and relationships.
No two people are the same. No two men think and experience life in the same way and no two erection processes will be exactly the same. To attribute erectile dysfunction to a single external factor ignores how the brain works.
Porn is not a drug and should not be elevated to the level of being a single cause of erectile dysfunction. It may be more helpful to ask how porn could be helping or hurting your process as opposed to whether it is a cause. A complex process requires complex thinking and solutions.
Unfortunately, many men become convinced they have “porn-induced erectile dysfunction.” When they do not successfully restore erectile function by watching less porn, they begin to feel resigned that the porn they viewed more than six months ago has permanently ruined their erections.
It is far more likely that the anxiety associated with the belief that a man’s erections are forever impaired or ruined is more impactful than watching porn.
Porn can be a factor contributing to ED, but it is likely only a factor. We like to simplify things because single causes of things means that the problem can be simply resolved. At times this may be true but generally it is not.
Various ED Situations Related to Porn
- A man can not achieve an erection at all. This has occurred after a history of watching a lot of porn.
- A man can achieve an erection with porn only.
- A man can achieve an erection on his own with or without porn. He struggles to maintain an erection with a partner.
- A man can achieve an erection with a partner but needs pornography prior to (or during) sex.
- A man can achieve an erection in all settings but strongly prefers that added stimulation of pornography.
As you can see, all these situations are different with unique manifestations of ED.
These situations are subject to variations of erectile dysfunction three ways.
Casual vs. Compulsive Porn Use
For most men, casual use of pornography is not likely to be the sole driver of a sexual dysfunction. A lot of the concerns around pornography and the expectations that it creates are overblown. Culture, media and entertainment already play a powerful role in shaping unrealistic expectations. Porn is likely only an additional factor.
The studies on the impact of porn on erections mostly analyze the impact of heavy porn use. As there are no clear definitions of casual and compulsive use, a spectrum perspective is most helpful. If you are using pornography daily or require it for sexual function including ejaculation, you are most likely a compulsive porn user. Even in this situation, porn is not a single cause of ED. It is a factor.
Sexual conditioning in its simplest terms is when your body becomes acclimated to respond and react to specific stimuli. If you become conditioned to respond to a limited number of stimuli, it can facilitate situational erectile dysfunction.
Porn may lead some men to have a more limited response to other forms of stimulation including partnered activity. A man may become conditioned to needing specific things or themes in order to achieve an erection.
Tolerance of Stimulation
Increased tolerance of stimulation is slightly different than conditioning. Over time, a man may need increased intensity with porn content or the duration that he watches porn. He may change to need more intense forms of pornography and sexual engagements.
Unlike conditioning, the intensity needed to achieve and maintain an erection may be replicable in a partnered setting. It may require specific conditions like the porn content or a change in the type of partnered sexual activity to allow for more excitement.
Another component of porn is novelty or the need for new and unique stimulation and encounters. There are some men who have a propensity toward novelty and can have that drive satisfactorily met through porn.
There is an ever-growing archive of porn content that is easily accessible and allows for new experiences on demand. This can make non-porn based forms of sexuality less fulfilling and can result in decreased desire and less robust erections.
Why Porn Content Matters
Not all porn is the same. As you are probably aware there is an ocean of pornographic content available with more and more content being tailored to specific likes, wants, and desires. It is fair to assume that some content categories or genres will appeal to you more than others. There is likely meaning to the type of porn you prefer, and that may say something about your erection process, erectile dysfunction, and how you can improve erections across various settings.
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Being mindful of religious and moral sensitivities, the current reality is that porn use is common and pervasive. Some of the appeal of porn may be that it allows people to be seen and validated in non-judgmental ways.
If a man is uncomfortable with what he wants and desires or doesn’t know how to share them with a partner, he may find that porn is the best way to engage in what he likes without fear of rejection. Porn will not judge or reject you. There is also some validation in knowing that other men share similar desires.
Relationships can be beautiful, allowing people to experience connection, safety and security. Relationships can also cause people to hide their full and true selves because of fear of judgment and rejection.
This may explain why many men have solid erections with porn but struggle with erections in a partnered setting. This is not to condone pornography. Everything should be done for people to live as fully and authentically in their relationships. Authentic living and authentic expression of desires can lead to more robust erections.
What to do About Porn and ED
- Stop theorizing. Be curious about your erection process and try to not back yourself into thinking that your ED is caused by just one thing, like porn.
- Start tracking your experiences of ED. I know this is hard and can be uncomfortable. It can also infuse sexual experiences with a clinical feel. But knowledge of your experiences and process is important to be able to make meaningful changes.
- Pay attention to the type of porn you enjoy. The details of what excite you matter and can help determine how to best approach erectile dysfunction and porn use.
- Try to incorporate what excites you into other areas or forms of sexual activity. This can include using mental imagery. It can also involve including these desired acts and themes into partnered sexual activity. This should always happen through mutual consent.
- Consider “porn fasting” if incorporating these factors into other settings is not effective and porn seems to be a significant factor in your erectile dysfunction. Porn fasting means you stop using porn for a set time with the goal of decreasing dependency on it and allowing other stimulation forms to contribute to erections.
- There can be a lot of nuance in the erection process. You may benefit from a deeper dive into your specific erection process. Learning more about your process or talking to a professional can help you in the short term and set you up for long term success.
Ready to Learn More?
To start your in-depth approach to resolving ED, try our online learning course called BEYOND THE LITTLE BLUE PILL, The Thinking Man’s Guide to Understanding and Addressing ED.
Ready to talk to an ED expert? Erection IQ founder Mark Goldberg helps men resolve erectile dysfunction. He offers individual, one-on-one services to men throughout the world through a secure, telehealth platform. It’s 100% confidential. You can visit the Center for Intimacy, Connection and Change website to schedule a free consult with Mark.
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Article Updated – March 2021