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Porn Induced ED: How Does It Happen?

Mike Bohl, MD, MPH, ALM

Reviewed by Mike Bohl, MD

Written by Geoffrey C. Whittaker

Published 09/14/2017

Updated 03/04/2024

Porn-induced ED is a hypothesized phenomenon where healthy, sexually active men find themselves unable to perform — and possibly experiencing sexual performance anxiety — because of an alleged addiction or habit of consuming too much pornography for sexual stimuli.

Porn addiction and many other pornography-related conditions are controversial topics today, but we do know that while viewing pornography for sexual satisfaction is not inherently bad or harmful, it might have the potential to contribute to sexual problems, especially when it is a habit frequently indulged. 

Is there such a thing as porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED) according to experts, though? And can it be treated or cured? The answers to those questions, as well as more on the symptoms, causes and research associated with porn-induced ED are below.

But let’s start by digging into the biggest one more deeply.

In essence, frequent use of pornography for sexual stimulation may decrease sexual satisfaction, according to an article published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine. The same review found that there was little to no evidence that porn could cause ED, though.

Erectile dysfunction is defined as the inability to achieve or maintain an erection firm enough for sex. There are a number of different risk factors and potential causes for this medical condition, many of which are related to age.

Studies have shown, however, that ED can affect men early in adulthood. The Massachusetts Male Aging Study found that 40 percent of men at the age of 40 are affected by erectile dysfunction. Furthermore, that prevalence increases with age, with 70% of men at the age of 70 affected. 

While ED is not as common in men under the age of 40, a study published in the journal, Translational Andrology and Urology, has reported ED prevalence of 8 percent among men aged 20 to 29 years and 11 percent among those aged 30–39 years, while analyses in Europe found the prevalence of ED in men younger than 40 years to be between one percent to 10 percent.

Some of the most common causes of erectile dysfunction are related to health conditions such as vascular issues and cardiovascular disease — poor circulation, high blood pressure (hypertension) or high cholesterol. For many men, however, ED is not a physical issue, but a mental one.

Can porn cause erectile dysfunction? Not necessarily, but it’s not entirely out of the question. 

Porn-induced ED may be the result of lowered self-esteem and unrealistic expectations for a sexual partner and sexual experience.

Over the last few decades, there’s been a sharp rise in the incidence rate of sexual dysfunction — including erectile dysfunction — amongst men under the age of forty.

The rise has been difficult for some researchers to explain through conventional means, since today’s population is in good health.

Possible explanations include that diagnostic practices have changed or that the stigma surrounding ED is starting to go away and culture is changing, allowing more men to feel comfortable discussing the topic with a healthcare provider (and subsequently getting a diagnosis). Another possibility, some researchers believe, could be the widespread availability of porn thanks to the huge growth of the Internet.

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The answer to “can porn cause ED” has changed a lot in a few generations. To understand this, think about the availability of pornography 30 or 40 years ago, compared to the availability of porn today. 

Accessing porn a generation or two ago meant purchasing a magazine, ordering a videotape or stumbling across a few copies of Playboy left in the attic or inside someone’s nightstand. 

Today, things are different. With the push of a button, people have access to a virtually limitless amount of porn through online tube sites and other platforms, which offer endless novelty and a level of sexual stimulation that our brains historically aren’t used to.

The Data Behind Porn-Induced ED

Here’s why some scientists think it’s happening. Until recently, recorded rates of erectile dysfunction in young, sexually active men were lower. Now, they seem to be higher.

There are many reasons this could be the case that have nothing to do with porn. Cultural awareness and attitudes around sexual dysfunction were different decades ago than they are now. The approval of several medications for erectile dysfunction since 1998 (and the advertisements that accompanied them), for example, might have made more people aware that ED exists and there are treatment options, prompting them to talk to their healthcare provider and get a diagnosis. Nonetheless, some researchers have put forth other theories.

For example, a 2016 review of clinical reports published in the journal Behavioral Sciences noted that the rise in ED amongst younger men seems to have accompanied the development of popular “porn tube” sites.

Choose your chew

“Okay,” you’re saying to yourself, “ED is on the rise and pornography usage is on the rise, but does porn actually cause problems at all?”

Internet pornography usage may contribute to sexual functioning issues because it can alter your perception of sex and even change your sexual appetite to the degree that you no longer become aroused during real-life sexual experiences. 

The theory is that easier access to porn -- and especially a diverse, extensive variety of images and videos -- has changed the way many people think about sex, leading to different tastes and expectations from regular sexual intercourse.

It’s a theory that seems to be backed up by some scientific evidence. 

In a small study published in the journal PLoS One, 11 out of 19 participants described as having compulsive sexual behavior noted that they had "experienced diminished libido or erectile function” in physical relationships with women as a result of excessive use of sexually explicit materials.

In short, watching excessive amounts of pornography may cause a form of ED that’s psychological in nature rather than physical — at least for those with compulsive sexual behavior. 

The same 2016 review mentioned above found that some studies correlated porn use with a preference for masturbation with porn versus partnered sex.

Because real sexual encounters generally vary pretty drastically with what we see on the internet, some men actually wind up preferring pornography. Unfortunately, this only reinforces your inability to achieve sexual arousal in real-life situations and, that too, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Researchers in a study published in the journal, JAMA Psychiatry, conducted on porn users found a correlation between years of self-reported pornography usage and a decrease in gray matter in particular regions of the brain that could be related to stimulation of the reward system. Higher levels of porn usage were also correlated with a reduced responsiveness to erotic photographs. 

The researchers stated that it is also possible that this is a precondition rather than a consequence of watching pornography, i.e. that, “Individuals with lower striatum volume may need more external stimulation to experience pleasure and might therefore experience pornography consumption as more rewarding ….” In other words, they’re just saying these things correlate — they’re not saying one necessarily causes the other.

Beyond porn usage, psychological and mental health issues like depression, generalized anxiety, performance anxiety, and chronic stress may also play a role in sexual dysfunction. Read more on the link between pornography and depression in our guide.

Some strongly believe porn addiction is damaging, which led to the creation of the NoFap Reddit community. Unless it interferes with your daily life, though, there is no evidence that regular use of porn is damaging to your sexual health or overall health.

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“Does porn cause erectile dysfunction” is ultimately a question with a very individualized answer. If the erectile dysfunction porn connection worries you or seems to be an area where you feel you’re struggling for any reason, there are steps you can take to address those questions and concerns.

First, consider talking to a professional for medical advice about your men’s health concerns. Many men have a negative opinion of therapy, but sometimes, talking through your sexual health issues is the best way to resolve them. 

If you’re able to be open and honest with your therapist and with yourself about excessive use of porn or possible pornography addiction, you may be able to break through some of the mental blocks that are keeping you from having satisfactory sexual experiences in real life.

The next step in overcoming this problem may be to engage in a fast from pornography. The same Behavioral Sciences article suggested that this may be a way to reverse sexual dysfunction. Recovery times will vary from individual to individual, and if you’re been watching porn for a long time, a mental health professional may advise a longer break.

Lastly, make sure that you rule out other causes of ED. If you’re still having trouble getting or maintaining an erection after addressing these issues, you may want to consider medication as a treatment option. Medications such as Cialis (tadalafil), Viagra (sildenafil), Levitra, or Stendra may be prescribed for erectile dysfunction.

However, if the problem is that you’re just not aroused because the real-life situation isn’t getting you excited enough, these medications likely won’t work. They don’t improve your libido or make you aroused, they just make it easier to get and maintain an erection when you are.

We don’t know nearly enough yet about the short and long term effects of porn consumption, but what we do know — and what any sex therapist will tell you — is that moderation will do no harm. 

If you feel like your sex life is showing the side effects of too much porn, consider reaching out for support. They may tell you a lot of the same things we have:

  • Pornography use, as well as masturbation, the use of sex toys, and many other sexual behaviors are normal and healthy parts of life in moderation.

  • Too much pornography may create the circumstances for problems with self-esteem, unrealistic expectations in real life, and create a habit-forming cycle for some men.

Have questions? We can help. Reach out today.

10 Sources

  1. Althof, S. E., & Wieder, M. (2004). Psychotherapy for erectile dysfunction: Now more relevant than ever. Endocrine. Retrieved March 22, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15146091
  2. Berger, et al. (2016, August 5). Is internet pornography causing sexual dysfunctions? A review with clinical reports. Behavioral sciences (Basel, Switzerland). Retrieved March 22, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5039517/
  3. The case for sexual anorexia: An interim report on 144 patients with sexual disorders. Taylor & Francis. (n.d.). Retrieved March 22, 2022, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10720169808402338
  4. Dwulit, A. D., & Rzymski, P. (2019, June 26). The potential associations of pornography use with sexual dysfunctions: An integrative literature review of observational studies. Journal of clinical medicine. Retrieved March 22, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6679165/
  5. Erectile Dysfunction. Erectile dysfunction. (n.d.). Retrieved March 22, 2022, from http://www.clevelandclinicmeded.com/medicalpubs/diseasemanagement/endocrinology/erectile-dysfunction/
  6. Sooriyamoorthy, T. (2022, February). NCBI - WWW Error Blocked Diagnostic. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562253/
  7. Rastrelli, G., & Maggi, M. (2017, February). Erectile dysfunction in fit and healthy young men: Psychological or pathological? Translational andrology and urology. Retrieved March 22, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5313296/
  8. Sexual dysfunction & disorders: Treatment, symptoms & diagnosis. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved March 22, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9121-sexual-dysfunction/management-and-treatment
  9. Simone Kühn, P. D. (2014, July 1). The brain and pornography consumption. JAMA Psychiatry. Retrieved March 22, 2022, from http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/1874574
  10. Feldman, H. A., Goldstein, I., Hatzichristou, D. G., Krane, R. J., & McKinlay, J. B. (1994). Impotence and its medical and psychosocial correlates: results of the Massachusetts Male Aging Study. The Journal of urology, 151(1), 54–61. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0022-5347(17)34871-1
Editorial Standards

Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references. See a mistake? Let us know at [email protected]!

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.

Mike Bohl, MD

Dr. Mike Bohl is a licensed physician, a Medical Advisor at Hims & Hers, and the Director of Scientific & Medical Content at a stealth biotech startup, where he is involved in pharmaceutical drug development. Prior to joining Hims & Hers, Dr. Bohl spent several years working in digital health, focusing on patient education. He has also worked in medical journalism for The Dr. Oz Show (receiving recognition for contributions from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences when the show won Outstanding Informative Talk Show at the 2016–2017 Daytime Emmy® Awards) and at Sharecare. He is a Medical Expert Board Member at Eat This, Not That! and a Board Member at International Veterinary Outreach.

Dr. Bohl obtained his Bachelor of Arts and Doctor of Medicine from Brown University, his Master of Public Health from Columbia University, and his Master of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies—Journalism from Harvard University. He is currently pursuing a Master of Business Administration and Master of Science in Healthcare Leadership at Cornell University. Dr. Bohl trained in internal medicine with a focus on community health at NYU Langone Health.

Dr. Bohl is Certified in Public Health by the National Board of Public Health Examiners, Medical Writer Certified by the American Medical Writers Association, a certified Editor in the Life Sciences by the Board of Editors in the Life Sciences, a Certified Personal Trainer and Certified Nutrition Coach by the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and a Board Certified Medical Affairs Specialist by the Accreditation Council for Medical Affairs. He has graduate certificates in Digital Storytelling and Marketing Management & Digital Strategy from Harvard Extension School and certificates in Business Law and Corporate Governance from Cornell Law School.

In addition to his written work, Dr. Bohl has experience creating medical segments for radio and producing patient education videos. He has also spent time conducting orthopedic and biomaterial research at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals of Cleveland and practicing clinically as a general practitioner on international medical aid projects with Medical Ministry International.

Dr. Bohl lives in Manhattan and enjoys biking, resistance training, sailing, scuba diving, skiing, tennis, and traveling. You can find Dr. Bohl on LinkedIn for more information.

Publications

  • Younesi, M., Knapik, D. M., Cumsky, J., Donmez, B. O., He, P., Islam, A., Learn, G., McClellan, P., Bohl, M., Gillespie, R. J., & Akkus, O. (2017). Effects of PDGF-BB delivery from heparinized collagen sutures on the healing of lacerated chicken flexor tendon in vivo. Acta biomaterialia, 63, 200–209. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1742706117305652?via%3Dihub

  • Gebhart, J. J., Weinberg, D. S., Bohl, M. S., & Liu, R. W. (2016). Relationship between pelvic incidence and osteoarthritis of the hip. Bone & joint research, 5(2), 66–72. https://boneandjoint.org.uk/Article/10.1302/2046-3758.52.2000552

  • Gebhart, J. J., Bohl, M. S., Weinberg, D. S., Cooperman, D. R., & Liu, R. W. (2015). Pelvic Incidence and Acetabular Version in Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis. Journal of pediatric orthopedics, 35(6), 565–570. https://journals.lww.com/pedorthopaedics/abstract/2015/09000/pelvic_incidence_and_acetabular_version_in_slipped.5.aspx

  • Islam, A., Bohl, M. S., Tsai, A. G., Younesi, M., Gillespie, R., & Akkus, O. (2015). Biomechanical evaluation of a novel suturing scheme for grafting load-bearing collagen scaffolds for rotator cuff repair. Clinical biomechanics (Bristol, Avon), 30(7), 669–675. https://www.clinbiomech.com/article/S0268-0033(15)00143-6/fulltext

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