Erectile Dysfunction & Porn (Part 1)

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To understand the content of this post, start with the six-part video series called, "Your Brain On Porn.”

Please know that we are for free speech and free will. We don’t want to ban porn and don’t care what people do with their genitals. We have another website, on relationships. It has nothing to do with porn. However, it has articles on the neuroscience of orgasm and love, on the evolution of sexuality and addiction. It also has a forum where people can discuss topics on sexuality. About five years ago, thanks to Google, porn users began showing up and sharing their experiences. Years later, porn users, in various stages of recovery make up a big percentage of the forum.

As a consequence, we have learned a lot about porn addiction and porn-induced erectile dysfunction. Here are the words of a heavy porn user.

I’ve been using porn heavily since my teens, and I have had ED problems since my twenties—though it’s only recently (in my thirties) that is has become total copulatory ED. I’ve blamed it on the (un)attractiveness or newness of my partners, on my fitness level, my diet, my age, stress, performance anxiety…lots of things. But when I realized I could no longer even masturbate to orgasm without Internet porn, something clicked. The source of my problems seems blindingly obvious now, of course.

It’s very common for heavy porn users not to see that the cause of their sexual dysfunction is porn-related. Here’s another typical quotation:

"I am 24 and have been battling erectile dysfunction for years now—and only recently attributed it to porn addiction. I was on an emotional roller coaster while trying to figure out what the problem was. What makes the whole thing so difficult is that you know you should be aroused by real women, but for some reason you’re not. Then you try to force yourself into arousal, which fails, and you spiral into depression and anxiety. Experts really need to be more aware of this issue."

We have even heard from teens with erectile dysfunction. This is not normal. Sure, occasional anxiety can occur, but not chronic impotence—unless, of course, someone has a serious medical condition.

It’s very clear the problem for these guys is heavy Internet porn use, because when they stopped, and stayed off porn for an extended period, their erections and desire returned.

With continued heavy porn use, the brain can change. Here are some of the ways these brain changes show up:

  • No spontaneous erections. (Guys love it when their ‘morning wood’ comes screaming back.)
  • No longer aroused by static porn, or previously seen porn. Often guys need to escalate to more extreme material just to get aroused—which is a sign of addiction.
  • Decreased penile sensitivity—an indication that the brain is actually somewhat numbed to pleasure.
  • Delayed ejaculation, or the inability to orgasm during sex with a real partner. In fact, men are now faking orgasm with partners.
  • Copulatory impotence—the inability to maintain an erection with a real partner. (Very common.)
  • ED drugs are losing their effect. The problem is in the brain, not the penis.
  • Eventually can’t get it up, even using extreme porn.

Why do we hear so little about Internet porn causing dysfunction?

  • An obvious reason is that free, streaming Internet porn is a relatively new phenomenon, and fast moving in terms of increasingly extreme stimulation.
  • It takes some time for the dysfunction to develop. Everyone is different, but now that endless extreme porn is available, it sometimes takes only a few years for a guy to develop erectile dysfunction, whatever his age. It can come on quite suddenly, although deterioration is usually gradual.
  • Users tend not to notice they are developing problems because they can so easily escalate to more stimulating online erotica. (“Extreme” is not a value judgment; the definition of “hot” lies entirely in the reaction of the individual user’s brain.)
  • Men don’t talk to each other about this problem. Who wants to admit he has ED at twenty-something? Also, they simply haven’t been considering Internet porn use as a possible cause of their problems.
  • Widespread advertising of sexual enhancement drugs has created an impression that chronic erectile dysfunction is normal. In fact, before Internet porn, chronic ED was very rare under the age of forty, and virtually unheard of in one’s teens or twenties.
  • Healthcare providers can be unaware of how Internet porn, with its constant novelty and endless variety, can affect the brain.

Good advice is dependent on being current with the latest neuroscience. To understand how Internet porn can change the brain, you have to know that excessive gambling, video gaming and food addiction can cause brain changes that mimic drug-addiction. For many of us, sex is even more compelling than those other activities, according to Dutch researchers.

Historically, experts were trained that impotence is due to shame or guilt. If that were the cause of today’s youthful ED sufferers, their symptoms would have shown up when they started masturbating.

Experts are also in the dark because no research has been published on porn use and erectile dysfunction. Brain scans would be needed to reveal what’s really going on. Although they have been done on gamblers, video gamers, overeaters and drug users, they haven’t been done on today’s porn users. Studies or not, youthful ED is increasing.

[Since the source presentation of this piece was recorded, an association of Italian urologists sponsored a 28,000 person survey, and learned that heavy porn use is indeed associated with sexual dysfunction. The president of the association, Carlo Foresta, who is also a professor at the University of Padua, estimates that seventy percent of the young men he sees for erectile dysfunction have been using Internet porn heavily.]

Consider the New York Times bestseller The Brain That Changes Itself, by psychiatrist Norman Doidge. It’s on brain plasticity and rewiring of the brain. He has treated heavy porn users. He’s clear that.

1. Porn addiction is real, the result of structural changes occurring in the brain.
2. Porn viewing can cause erectile dysfunction. Doidge writes,

"I’ve treated or assessed a number of men who all had essentially the same story: They reported increasing difficulty in being turned on by their actual sexual partners, spouses or girlfriends, though they still considered them objectively attractive. When I asked if this phenomenon had any relationship to viewing pornography, they answered that it initially helped them get more excited during sex but over time had the opposite effect. Now, instead of using their senses to enjoy being in bed, in the present, with their partners, lovemaking increasingly required them to fantasize that they were part of a porn script."

This was in the late nineties. What has happened in the last decade? This headline says it all “Young Men, Couples Shunning Sex.” Thirty-six percent of teenage boys are not interested in sex. Are you kidding? A few decades ago, a teenager who wasn’t interested in sex would have been sent to a psychiatrist!

It’s well known that porn is huge in Japan. The Japanese are tech-savvy, and shame around porn use isn’t an issue. Notice that it has doubled in two years. These men have no interest in sex with real women, because real women are no longer stimulating enough. They can’t compete with the superstimulation of Internet porn.

A 2008 study found that twenty percent of young Frenchmen are not interested in sex. The French? You know something’s wrong.

Here is the medical definition of erectile dysfunction: Consistent inability to obtain and/or maintain an erection sufficient for satisfactory sexual relations. (National Institute of Health, 1992)

Getting statistics on how many people suffer from ED is difficult. If you look at the famous Kinsey study in 1948, you’ll see that for age twenty and under, less than one percent has ED. Under 45, less than three percent. And many of these cases were related to anxiety.

Clearly, ED is not a disease of healthy young men. At least not until recently.

Let’s look at the causes of erectile dysfunction. Expert opinions have dramatically changed over time. Up until the 1970s, it was thought that roughly ninety percent of ED was psychological, and only ten percent had organic or biological causes. One of the primary psychological “causes” was frigid wives.

Today, psychological factors such as stress, anxiety, shame, or even the fear of sexual failure, are thought to make up only about ten percent of the causes. Ninety percent of ED problems are caused by organic problems, such as nerve problems, blocked arteries, effects of alcoholism, diabetes, and, of course, something called aging.

If you’re under forty, it’s rare to have an organic cause, but of course it’s always good to get checked by a doctor.

As we can see, it can take quite a while for science to catch up with reality. In the sixties, the “cause” of ED was psychological, the neurosis of the man, or maybe his mate. In the nineties, things switched. When researchers saw that drugs like Viagra worked, they changed their diagnosis to “organic causes.”

Incidentally, the discovery of sexual enhancement drugs was accidental. The drug was being tested for blood pressure problems when an unexpected, but very profitable, effect was reported. These days, science is lagging behind again. It’s behind on the effects of Internet porn because brain scientists haven’t wanted to study it.

If the cause of youthful ED is porn-related, then the source of the problem is once again the brain—but it is still organic. Porn-induced ED is not psychological, it has a physiological cause. It’s a symptom of an addictive process that has altered the brain. Specifically, the structure and function of the brain centers that control erections.

Your problem isn’t in your penis. It’s in your brain, and it can heal. Next we’ll look at erections.