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

Contrary to claims you might see in today’s media, instead of increasing sexual enjoyment, research shows porn is associated with less satisfying sex.

By November 16, 2021No Comments

Contrary to claims you might see in today’s media, instead of increasing sexual enjoyment, research shows that porn is actually associated with less satisfying sex in the long run.

Let’s break down how that actually happens, and how porn is playing a significant role in the increasing number of cases of adolescent erectile dysfunction.

Porn and erectile dysfunction

Erectile dysfunction (ED) has been increasing in sexually active men under 40.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  Many experts believe that internet porn is partly to blame for this increase, with a growing number of studies showing a correlation between porn and ED. Now, researchers have identified pornography-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED) and pornography-induced abnormally low libido.

It turns out that high exposure to pornography videos can result in lower responsivity and an increased need for more extreme material for the consumer to become aroused.Albery, I. P., Lowry, J., Frings, D., Johnson, H. L., Hogan, C., & Moss, A. C. (2017). Exploring the Relationship between Sexual Compulsivity and Attentional Bias to Sex-Related Words in a Cohort of Sexually Active Individuals. European addiction research, 23(1), 1–6. https://doi.org/10.1159/000448732COPY  Or in other words, as some consumers develop a tolerance for sexually arousing material, the porn that used to excite them may start to seem boring.Banca, P., Morris, L. S., Mitchell, S., Harrison, N. A., Potenza, M. N., & Voon, V. (2016). Novelty, conditioning and attentional bias to sexual rewards. Journal of psychiatric research, 72, 91–101. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2015.10.017COPY  Predictably, many consumers try to compensate by spending more time with porn and/or seeking out more hardcore material in an effort to regain the excitement they used to feel.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 Banca, P., Morris, L. S., Mitchell, S., Harrison, N. A., Potenza, M. N., & Voon, V. (2016). Novelty, conditioning and attentional bias to sexual rewards. Journal of psychiatric research, 72, 91–101. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2015.10.017COPY 

Many consumers find themes of aggression, violence, or increasingly “edgy” acts creeping into their porn habits and fantasies. In fact, one study found that nearly half of all porn-consuming respondents said that over time, they started watching porn that had previously disinterested or even disgusted them.Wéry, A., & Billieux, J. (2016). Online sexual activities: An exploratory study of problematic and non-problematic usage patterns in a sample of men. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 257-266. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.11.046COPY 

BHW - The Heart

With this porn overload, some consumers find that they are no longer aroused in the presence of a partner.Voon, V., Mole, T. B., Banca, P., Porter, L., Morris, L., Mitchell, S., Lapa, T. R., Karr, J., Harrison, N. A., Potenza, M. N., & Irvine, M. (2014). Neural correlates of sexual cue reactivity in individuals with and without compulsive sexual behaviours. PloS one, 9(7), e102419. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0102419COPY  They can begin to experience sexual dysfunction and may only become sexually excited when watching porn, as explained by this extensive report from Medical News Today.

Related: How Porn Can Harm Consumers’ Sex Lives

The role of the brain

To understand why watching excessive amounts of porn can lead to ED, we first have to understand how the brain works.

Neurons are cells that receive and send messages between the body and the brain. The brain has about 100 billion neurons, which are the basic working units of the nervous system.

Neurotransmitters send chemical messages between the neurons. A neurotransmitter called dopamine helps the flow of information to the front of the brain, which is linked to thought and emotion. It is also linked to reward systems, like the reward center.

The reward center’s job is to release “pleasure” chemicals into your brain whenever you do something healthy, like eating tasty food, doing a hard workout, or enjoying a kiss. The “high” you get from that chemical rush makes you want to repeat that behavior again and again. Thanks to your reward center, your brain is hardwired to motivate you to do things that will improve your health and chances of survival. It’s a great system…normally.

The problem is, the brain can be tricked.

When addictive substances are used, they give the brain a sort of false signal.Stacy, A. W., & Wiers, R. W. (2010). Implicit cognition and addiction: a tool for explaining paradoxical behavior. Annual review of clinical psychology, 6, 551–575. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.121208.131444COPY De Sousa, A., & Lodha, P. (2017). Neurobiology of Pornography Addiction - A clinical review. Telangana Journal of Psychiatry, 3(2), 66-70. doi:10.18231/2455-8559.2017.0016COPY  Since the brain can’t tell the difference between the drugs and a real, healthy reward, it goes ahead and activates the reward center. An important chemical called dopamine is released, which makes the brain start developing a craving for the fake reward.

As long as there’s a lot of dopamine floating around in the brain, the cravings will keep getting stronger, and the consumer will feel super-motivation to keep pursuing more of the drug. Essentially, addictive drugs hijack the brain, turning it around and forcing it in a direction it was never meant to go.Volkow, N. D., Koob, G. F., & McLellan, A. T. (2016). Neurobiologic advances from the brain disease model of addiction. N Engl J Med, 374(4), 363-371. doi:10.1056/NEJMra1511480COPY  Instead of encouraging the consumer toward healthy behaviors, drugs lead the consumer into things that aren’t healthy at all, and can even be dangerous.

Want to guess what else does that? Porn.De Sousa, A., & Lodha, P. (2017). Neurobiology of Pornography Addiction - A clinical review. Telangana Journal of Psychiatry, 3(2), 66-70. doi:10.18231/2455-8559.2017.0016COPY 

And it turns out that erections are dependent on the activation of this reward pathway. Dopamine signaling actually plays a crucial role in sexual arousal and erections.

Related: How Porn Can Affect The Brain Like A Drug

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Dopamine overload

When you have a sexual experience that feels good, your brain starts creating or reinforcing pathways to connect what you’re doing to the pleasure you’re feeling.

Essentially, your brain is redrawing the sexual part of your map so you’ll be able to come back later and repeat the experience. The same thing happens when you watch porn. Your brain starts building new pathways in response to this very powerful new experience. It’s saying, “This feels great! Let’s do this again.”Pace, S. (2014). Acquiring Tastes through Online Activity: Neuroplasticity and the Flow Experiences of Web Users. M/C Journal, 17(1). https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.773COPY 

Your brain map operates on a “use it or lose it” principle. Just like a hiking trail will start to grow over if it’s not getting walked on, brain pathways that don’t get traffic become weaker and can even be completely replaced by stronger pathways that get more use.Doidge, N. (2007). The Brain That Changes Itself. New York: Penguin Books.COPY 

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 Change The Brain

How bad is the problem? Put it this way: doctors and medical professionals are seeing a growing number of young men who can’t get it up with a real, live partner, but still seem to function just fine when porn is present.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 

The internet and other avenues provide an unlimited amount of content, so some men begin to watch massive amounts of porn to maintain high levels of sexual arousal. But then, when they try to engage with a real sexual partner, the arousal they feel does not fit their expectations and they are often unable to maintain an erection.

Sexual activities that would normally give people a burst of dopamine and make them happy are no longer enough to sustain them. They constantly have to look at porn to get the sensation they need, and this can play into ED.

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Porn-induced ED

Porn is designed to capture attention and keep the viewer returning for more. The performers often do things that would typically not translate into real life, and unfortunately, viewers can become conditioned to this type of sexual arousal that does not carry over into real life sexual situations.

In other words, unrealistic fantasies are not measuring up to authentic reality. For some people, regular sex no longer meets the person’s expectations, resulting in a decline in dopamine. This can cause some people to no longer be “in the mood” unless a very specific set of conditions is in place.

Not only does research suggest 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  but research also shows that porn is linked to 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 

The good news is, studies have shown that some men with ED who watched porn were able to obtain a regular erection once the porn was removed.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 

If you need some hope, watch Gabe’s story and learn how he reversed his PIED.

Why this matters

The relationship between porn and sexual dysfunction is still being understood, but the research we have now is telling us a lot. Especially for teens and young adults whose sexual expectations are particularly vulnerable to being warped by porn,Morgan E. M. (2011). Associations between young adults' use of sexually explicit materials and their sexual preferences, behaviors, and satisfaction. Journal of sex research, 48(6), 520–530. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2010.543960COPY  it’s important that the potential negative effects of porn are discussed openly.

Many porn consumers develop an unhealthy relationship with porn and may be unsure how to get help. If that’s you, know that there are resources available to you—check out our affiliates at Fortify to learn more about recovery resources today.

Fortunately, the brain is a resilient organ. The negative effects of porn can be alleviated and even reversed.Fernandez, D. P., Kuss, D. J., & Griffiths, M. D. (2020). Short-term abstinence effects across potential behavioral addictions: A systematic review. Clinical Psychology Review, 76, 101828. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2020.101828COPY 

This is why we fight against porn and fight for real love, because we believe everyone deserves to experience healthy sexuality and be informed on the real harms of porn.

Need help?

For those reading this who feel they are struggling with pornography, you are not alone. Check out Fortify, a science-based recovery platform dedicated to helping you find lasting freedom from pornography. Fortify now offers a free experience for both teens and adults. Connect with others, learn about your unwanted porn habit, and track your recovery journey. There is hope—sign up today.

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