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Porn-induced erectile dysfunction?

//R_men8 via Compfight
//R_men8 via Compfight

I came across the notion of porn-induced erectile dysfunction sometime last year. This is the idea that men who watch a lot of Internet porn can develop an inability to get an erection without watching porn. There are websites and public-awareness campaigns dedicated to the idea that watching Internet pornography kills relationships because it causes this affliction. The problem with this idea is that people experience difficult getting erections for many complex reasons and their—or others people’s—perception of the cause may not be reality. Researchers at the University of California and Concordia University in Montréal set out to find evidence of a causal link between watching sexually explicit material and sexual functioning. They found a link, but it wasn’t the one they expected to find.

Nicole Praus, PhD and James Pfaus, PhD note in their study, published last month in Sexual Medicine, that there are many theories as to why watching porn causes men to be unable to get an erection during sex with a partner. One idea is that Internet porn allows people access to types of activities that they can’t recreate in real life, with real-life sex seeming less and less arousing the more porn is consumed. Another theory is that people who watch a lot of Internet porn become addicted to novelty, to the ability to find something new and exciting easily and quickly. This leads them to become bored and dissatisfied with the same activities or the same partners. Praus and Pfaus show in their literature review that these commonly held beliefs have never actually been tested by empirical research.

They recruited a random sample of 280 men for the study. Using standardized scales and questions, they tested their arousal response to sexually explicit films viewed in the lab. They also asked the men how many hours of visual sexual stimuli (porn) they consumed at home. A subset of 127 men who were in long-term relationships also filled out standardized questionnaires detailing their level of arousal and ability to get an erection with their partner. The researchers hypothesize that the men who watched more porn would be desensitized and would report lower levels of arousal both when watching the films and when with their partners.

However, they found the exact opposite to be true. The men who watched the most hours of sexually explicit material at home had significantly higher levels of arousal, to both the films and their partners, than those who consumed less. They reported a higher desire for both solo and partner sex than men who watched less, as well as very little incidence of erectile dysfunction.

This study isn’t without its limitations, of course. It’s not clear from these findings whether watching porn increased desire in the men who watched more or whether they watched more because they have naturally higher sex drives. The paper also does not identify exactly how much each subject consumed. It is possible there is a segment of the population who consume porn at a much higher level that is not represented here.

What the study does make clear is that the idea that porn causes erectile dysfunction has not yet been proven by research, and this research turned up no verifiable link. It is an important contribution to the discussion about porn and encourages us to question whether the negative effects we presume it to have are actually real. V

Brenda Kerber is a sexual health educator who has worked with local not-for-profits since 1995. She is the owner of the Edmonton-based, sex-positive adult toy boutique the Traveling Tickle Trunk.

2 Comments

  • Unfortunately, you got many things wrong about the paper. One thing to know is that this wasn’t a study at all. Instead Prause gathered bits and pieces from old studies. Shockingly, none of the data from the old studies matches the current study. One example is the claim of 280 subjects. Only 47 men (from 1 of the 4 studies) had their erectile functioning assessed (IIEF).

    Even in your article you repeat the authors claim that 127 took the erection questionnaire (IIEF), So it’s clear that the 280 is pure propaganda. Again, only 47 took the IIEF.

    Here’s the big surprise – the average score on the erection questionnaire (IIEF) for these young men was 21.4 out 30. That indicates erectile dysfunction. The authors misled the public on this one.

    Second, the claim that the men who watched had higher arousal is not substantiated as the 4 underlying all used different stimuli. The study claimed that all subjects watched films to assess arousal. This is false. Some men only looked at photographs. This alone invalidates the findings about more porn use correlating with higher arousal. Facts – three different types of sexual stimuli were used in the 4 underlying studies: Two studies used a 3-minute film, one study used a 20-second film, and one study used photographs. There goes the study’s misleading title.

    Even if the study was done correctly, arousal was not “significantly higher “: only 1 point higher for men who used more porn. The arousal says nothing about erections, and may just mean the men experienced more cravings to use porn. You know – addiction.

    Third, the authors state that men rated their sexual arousal after viewing porn on a scale from 0 to 9. In reality, only 1 of the 4 underlying studies used a 0 to 9 scale. Two studies used a 0 to 7 scale, and one study did not report sexual arousal ratings. This invalidates their graphs and claims.

    I suggest Googling this critique for many more flaws in the study – “Nothing Adds Up in Dubious Study: Youthful Subjects’ ED Left Unexplained”

  • Thanks for the article – I’ll have a closer look. I’ve had a peak at it and the criticisms of the study are valid. I note as well that it did not disclose how much porn those in the ‘more’ category watched and likely does not include anyone who might have compulsive behaviors. I think what the authors were hoping to do was to collect existing data that would shed light on this question. They did not find anything to support the idea of porn induced erectile dysfunction. Did they disprove the idea? No. This data can’t do that conclusively. What I found most interesting about the article was their review of other references in the literature and their assessment of whether the claim of porn induced erectile dysfunction is supported by research. It is true that at this point, it simply isn’t.

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