Reducing porn consumption may help younger men suffering from erectile dysfunction.
Reports of erectile dysfunction (ED) in men under the age of 40 have increased significantly within the past decade. Physicians and therapists specializing in sexual health have questioned whether or not a global increase in the consumption of pornography is to blame for this phenomenon. Research suggests that Internet pornography consumption may contribute to issues with sexual satisfaction or erectile dysfunction (ED) during partnered sex.
eDrugstore.com initially investigated the link between ED and pornography in 2016. This article takes a closer look at the relationship between pornography and erectile dysfunction, showcasing what research has discovered since 2016.
ED in Younger Men
Erectile dysfunction can occur during any stage in a man’s life, though risk for ED typically increases with age. Epidemiologic studies conducted within the past decade have demonstrated an increase in ED reported by heterosexual men under the age of 40. For example, in 2002, the national estimate of ED in men under 40 was roughly 2 percent. Today, it is estimated that up to 30 percent of men under 40 currently suffer from ED.
ED is typically categorized as either psychogenic or organic. Organic ED encompasses ED with physiological roots, such as a chronic health condition or injury. Psychogenic ED is ED attributed to psychological factors, such as stress, depression, or anxiety. The rise in ED in younger men has not been explained by purely psychogenic or organic causes.
When to See a Doctor
Occasional instances of men being unable to achieve an erection are normal, but persistent symptoms may merit an ED diagnosis. Persistent ED symptoms can result in increased anxiety and pressure to perform with a sexual partner. This pressure surrounding sex and performance can deteriorate relationships and intimacy.
Symptoms of ED include:
- Difficulty getting an erection
- Difficulty maintaining an erection
- Reduced sexual desire
Additional complications of ED include:
- Stress and anxiety
- Reduced self-esteem
- Relationship strain
- Unsatisfactory sex life
Working with a doctor can help young men identify the root cause of their ED and take the appropriate course of treatment. Underlying health conditions, substance use, medication use, or lifestyle factors also contribute to ED. A doctor may recommend counseling or sex therapy to address underlying psychological conditions or stress.
Does Porn Help or Hurt?
Several theories exist as to why reported cases have risen in this population, but one of the most popular theories cited by sex therapists and researches attributes the cause to increased consumption of pornography. Recent research has demonstrated conflicting results as to whether pornography is more harmful than helpful in the context of erectile dysfunction. The strongest evidence supports the premise that consumption of Internet pornography may contribute to sexual dissatisfaction or ED during partnered sex.
The following reviews and clinical reports detail the intricacies of the continued dispute over Internet pornography’s role in the surge of ED in young men.
- A cross-country European study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found little evidence that porn contributed to ED in heterosexual men. The study analyzed the reported frequency of porn consumption and sexual difficulties of Croatian, Portuguese, and Norwegian men. The only statistically significant relationship between frequency of porn consumption and sexual difficulties (e.g. ED) was found in a small sample of Croatian men, but was seemed insignificant in the other samples.
- A 2016 study reviewed clinical reports to determine if Internet pornography could account for the dramatic rise in ED in young, heterosexual men. Clinical results indicated that terminating Internet pornography use could be sufficient to reverse ED in young men. The review also suggested the novelty of Internet pornography (e.g. niche material, more extreme material) has the potential to condition sexual arousal to Internet videos and content in a way that does not translate to real-life sexual partners or scenarios. Researchers suggested additional research and the creation of a comprehensive screening tool for medical providers to use with men under 40.
- A 2019 review published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine examined the relationship between pornography consumption and sexual dysfunction via observational studies. The review found limited evidence that porn consumption contributed to erectile dysfunction or delayed ejaculation in a way that was statistically significant. However, the review did find evidence of pornography consumption contributing to sexual dissatisfaction.
Alternative Ways to Promote Erectile Health
The longer someone lives with ED, the more likely they are to experience complications related to ED. Fortunately, there are many ways for younger men to improve their erectile health. Most providers approach ED holistically, recommending a combination of lifestyle modifications, counseling, and medical treatment.
Ways for younger men to improve their erectile health include:
- Quitting smoking. Smoking contributes to ED and quitting smoking has been shown to reduce ED symptoms.
- Reducing alcohol intake. Excessive alcohol use can cause both temporary and long-term ED. Reducing alcohol intake can reduce ED symptoms.
- Eating right. A balanced diet is important to overall health, including erectile health. Research shows men with diets low in processed food and red meat have a decreased likelihood of developing ED.
- Exercising regularly. Excess weight gain is a risk factor for ED. Research has shown regular physical activity can significantly decrease risk of ED.
- Taking care of cardiovascular health. Heart health is intricately tied to erectile health. Having a strong heart and cardiovascular system is important for proper blood flow to the penis.
- Counseling. Stress and psychological conditions, such as anxiety and depression, can cause ED in younger men. Speaking with a counselor or sex therapist can help men to address underlying psychological causes of their ED.
- Taking the right medications. The FDA has approved several safe and effective treatments for ED. Men interested in ED treatment should consult with their doctor to find the appropriate medication for their condition, lifestyle, and budget.
Shelby is a public health professional with research and field experience in sexual and reproductive health. She holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) and is a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES).