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Watching Porn can Fuel Sexual Dysfunction for Both Men and Women

Despite porn’s promise of improving consumers’ sex lives, there is growing evidence that porn consumption is linked to sexual dysfunction.

By October 18, 2022No Comments

Decades of studies from respected institutions have demonstrated significant impacts of porn consumption on individuals, relationships, and society. No Porn November is all about giving visibility to these facts and empowering individuals to choose to be porn-free. Learn more by clicking here.

When someone regularly consumes porn, they can become accustomed to being aroused by the imagery and endless novelty found in porn.Bőthe, B., Tóth-Király, I., Griffiths, M. D., Potenza, M. N., Orosz, G., & Demetrovics, Z. (2021). Are sexual functioning problems associated with frequent pornography use and/or problematic pornography use? Results from a large community survey including males and females. Addictive Behaviors, 112, 106603. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2020.106603Copy Hilton D. L., Jr (2013). Pornography addiction - a supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. Socioaffective neuroscience & psychology, 3, 20767. https://doi.org/10.3402/snp.v3i0.20767Copy 

Pretty soon, natural turn-ons and real relationships aren’t enough, and many porn consumers find they can’t get aroused by anything but porn.Park, B. Y., Wilson, G., Berger, J., Christman, M., Reina, B., Bishop, F., Klam, W. P., & Doan, A. P. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 6(3), 17. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs6030017Copy Voon, V., et al. (2014). Neural Correlates of Sexual Cue Reactivity in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviors, PLoS ONE, 9(7), e102419. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102419Copy 

Related: How Porn Can Hurt a Consumer’s Partner

Porn and sexual dysfunction—for men and women

Thirty years ago, when a man developed erectile dysfunction (ED), it was almost always because he was getting older—usually past 40—and as his body aged it became more difficult to maintain an erection.Park, B. Y., Wilson, G., Berger, J., Christman, M., Reina, B., Bishop, F., Klam, W. P., & Doan, A. P. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 6(3), 17. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs6030017Copy 

Chronic ED in anyone under 35 was nearly unheard of.  But those were the days before internet porn. These days, online message boards are flooded with complaints from porn consumers in their teens and 20s complaining that they can’t maintain an erection. They want to know what’s wrong with their body, but the problem isn’t in the penis—it’s in the brain.

Related: Watching Porn Can Make Real Sex Seem Boring

While research on the links between compulsive porn consumption and sexual dysfunctions is ongoing, many therapists and clinicians are reporting a rise of patients seeking help for such problems.Park, B. Y., Wilson, G., Berger, J., Christman, M., Reina, B., Bishop, F., Klam, W. P., & Doan, A. P. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 6(3), 17. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs6030017Copy 

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The term “porn-induced erectile dysfunction,” for example, was coined by Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, the Director of Men’s Health and a Clinical Professor of Urology at Harvard Medical School.

Speaking about porn-induced erectile dysfunction, Dr. Morgentaler said, “I’m worried—I’m worried about the impact of porn on men and on women… A lot of the men who grow up now watching internet porn… learn their sexuality and how to get stimulated down there in a way that is not mimicked by actual sex. What porn has figured out is what really works for the brain… It’s maximum stimulus.”Culture Reframed. Generation X-rated. Retrieved from https://parents.culturereframed.org/adolescent-brain/Copy 

Ironically, despite porn’s promise of improving consumers’ sex lives, there is growing evidence that porn consumption is linked to sexual dysfunction. Research indicates that compulsive pornography consumption is directly related to erectile dysfunction,Park, B. Y., Wilson, G., Berger, J., Christman, M., Reina, B., Bishop, F., Klam, W. P., & Doan, A. P. (2016). Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland), 6(3), 17. https://doi.org/10.3390/bs6030017Copy  sexual dysfunction for both men and women,Bőthe, B., Tóth-Király, I., Griffiths, M. D., Potenza, M. N., Orosz, G., & Demetrovics, Z. (2021). Are sexual functioning problems associated with frequent pornography use and/or problematic pornography use? Results from a large community survey including males and females. Addictive Behaviors, 112, 106603. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2020.106603Copy  problems with arousal and sexual performance,Sun, C., Bridges, A., Johnson, J. A., & Ezzell, M. B. (2016). Pornography and the Male Sexual Script: An Analysis of Consumption and Sexual Relations. Archives of sexual behavior, 45(4), 983–994. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-014-0391-2Copy  difficulty reaching orgasm,Bőthe, B., Tóth-Király, I., Griffiths, M. D., Potenza, M. N., Orosz, G., & Demetrovics, Z. (2021). Are sexual functioning problems associated with frequent pornography use and/or problematic pornography use? Results from a large community survey including males and females. Addictive Behaviors, 112, 106603. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2020.106603Copy  and decreased sexual satisfaction.Szymanski, D. M., & Stewart-Richardson, D. N. (2014). Psychological, Relational, and Sexual Correlates of Pornography Use on Young Adult Heterosexual Men in Romantic Relationships. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 22(1), 64–82. https://doi.org/10.3149/jms.2201.64Copy 

Related: Consumers of Extreme Porn Tend to Prefer Porn to Real Sex

In one neuroscientific study on compulsive pornography consumers, researchers found that in 11 out of 19 subjects, porn consumption had lowered the consumers’ sex drive and/or ability to maintain arousal in real-life sexual encounters, yet were still able to sexually respond to porn.Voon, V., et al. (2014). Neural Correlates of Sexual Cue Reactivity in Individuals with and without Compulsive Sexual Behaviors, PLoS ONE, 9(7), e102419. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0102419Copy 

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“Sexual arousal that’s the opposite of closeness”

The nature of porn itself can make some porn consumers struggle with their sexual health and sexual understanding. Porn portrays people as little more than bodies that exist for the viewer’s sexual pleasure.

Unfortunately, those unhealthy perceptions can start creeping into how consumers see themselves and other people in real life. For example, research has found that pornography consumption is associated with increased objectification,Mikorski, R., & Szymanski, D. M. (2017). Masculine norms, peer group, pornography, facebook, and men’s sexual objectification of women. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 18(4), 257-267. doi:10.1037/men0000058Copy  greater acceptance of violence against women,Wright, P. J., & Tokunaga, R. S. (2016). Men's Objectifying Media Consumption, Objectification of Women, and Attitudes Supportive of Violence Against Women. Archives of sexual behavior, 45(4), 955–964. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-015-0644-8Copy  and actual acts of sexual violence.Wright, P. J., Tokunaga, R. S., & Kraus, A. (2016). A meta-analysis of pornography consumption and actual acts of sexual aggression in general population studies. Journal of Communication, 66(1), 183-205. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12201Copy 

Related: How Porn Can Normalize Sexual Objectification

With habitual porn consumption, it can become more difficult for consumers to see themselves and others as anything more than sexual objects, and as a result, it can be more challenging to develop and nurture real relationships.Tylka, T. L., & Kroon Van Diest, A. M. (2015). You Looking at Her “Hot” Body May Not be “Cool” for Me: Integrating Male Partners’ Pornography Use into Objectification Theory for Women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 39(1), 67–84. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684314521784Copy 

“There’s a certain way of experiencing sexual arousal that is the opposite of closeness,” said Dr. Gary Brooks, a psychologist who has worked with porn addicts for the last 30 years. “At best, it can be managed somewhat by some people, but most of the time it creates a barrier that poisons relationships.”Interview with Dr. Gary Brooks, Oct. 23, 2013.Copy 

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The Gottmans also explain, “when watching pornography, the user is in total control of the sexual experience, in contrast to normal sex in which people are sharing control with the partner. Thus a porn user may form the unrealistic expectation that sex will be under only one person’s control… the relationship goal of intimate connection is confounded and ultimately lost.”Gottman, J., & Gottman, J. (April 5, 2016). An open letter on porn. Retrieved from https://www.gottman.com/blog/an-open-letter-on-porn/Copy 

Related: What is Porn-Induced Erectile Dysfunction and How Can You Stop It?

The research is clear—porn is not a harmless pastime, especially when it’s hurting a romantic partner. But the research is also clear that shame is not an effective way to motivate someone to change.Brown, B. (2012). Understanding and combating shame. Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. Avery.Copy  According to one study of individuals trying to quit porn, researchers found that shame actually predicted increased pornography consumption while guilt predicted sustainable change.Gilliland, R., South, M., Carpenter, B. N., & Hardy, S. A. (2011). The roles of shame and guilt in hypersexual behavior. 18(1), 12-29. doi:10.1080/10720162.2011.551182Copy 

So if you’re trying to give up porn, be kind to yourself and be patient with your progress.

This is a selected excerpt from one of our Get The Facts articles. Click here to read the full article, “How Porn Can Harm Consumers’ Sex Lives.”

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