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How too much porn causes erectile dysfunction

Here we list the ways watching too much porn causes erectile dysfunction (ED) and the spill-over effects it can have on everyday sexual interactions.

Photo by @charlesdeluvio from Unsplash.com

It’s a slippery slope. At the beginning, it might not take much to get aroused. However over-consumption of pornography may lead the user to seek out more extreme content as they become desensitised to the things that once turned them on. Not only can this have an impact on erectile function, but it can also have unintended consequences when it comes to real-world sexual relationships.

Here we list the ways watching too much porn causes erectile dysfunction (ED) and the spill-over effects it can have on everyday sexual interactions. 

Desensitisation 

Watching too much hardocre porn can make it harder to get an erection because repeated viewing of extreme content may render normal, everyday sexual encounters unfulfilling. 

This is because as people watch more porn, their viewing habits tend to change. As porn users watch more x-rated flicks, they begin to develop a tolerance to the things that used to excite them. As a result, they branch out to more extreme content to fulfil their sexual desires and fantasies. 

However, this kind of extreme content is rarely replicated in real life. After being desensitised by porn, people may find it difficult to become aroused by real life – and comparatively “mundane” – sexual experiences. 

This was certainly the case for Alexander Rhodes, the founder of NoFap – a movement that supports men who have experienced relationship difficulties, erectile dysfunction, and other conditions as a result of their porn consumption. He began watching porn at the age of 11 or 12, and by the time he started having sex at 19 he “couldn’t maintain an erection without imagining porn”. 

The desensitising effect porn can have is compounded by the fact that it is highly addictive. Research has shown that out of all the varieties of online entertainment (e.g. gambling, gaming, and social networking) “adult entertainment” is the most common reason for compulsive internet use.

Porn triggers the same reward centre in the brain that other addictive substances (such as sugar and drugs) do. This, in turn, floods the brain with dopamine and makes the brain crave the source of the pleasure more. 

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The brain attempts to combat this dopamine overload with another chemical called CREB (cyclic adenosine monophosphate response element binding protein). CREB helps to limit the pleasure response generated by dopamine. However if the brain is repeatedly exposed to dopamine (and thus excessive amounts of CREB), the user can become desensitised to the stimulus that initially gave them pleasure. 

In fact, it can make the user desensitised to other things in life that once gave them pleasure – such as socialising with friends or even sex. This may make it harder for the affected person to get an erection because they do not get the same feelings of pleasure they once did from real-life sexual interactions. 

Performance anxiety isn’t always caused by porn. Sometimes it can be caused by general feelings of nervousness, or the fear of not being able to get an erection before sexual intercourse. However, porn can exacerbate feelings of anxiety by making regular porn watchers insecure about their bodies and/or performance.

Unrealistic expectations

Some people may experience erectile dysfunction (ED) after being over-exposed to porn because it gives them unrealistic expectations about what sex “should be like” in real life. The immaculately shaven bodies, exaggerated moans, and extreme positions exhibited in porn portray sex in way that is rarely recreated in everyday life. 

If a person is repeatedly exposed to porn – particularly at a young, impressionable age – then they may begin to believe that the depiction of sex in porn is representative of sex in real life. When their expectations are not met, it may be hard for them to get aroused because real sex doen’t normally involve the same extreme positions, ear-splitting shrieks, and surgically enhanced bodies as porn does. 

Further, watching porn is a very individual experience. If a person is used to deriving their sexual pleasure from porn, they could find it difficult (and nerve-wracking) to make the transition over to a real-life sexual relationship in which two people need sexual satisfaction. The anxiety this could cause may result in the inability to achieve an erection. This is known as performance anxiety, and it is very common.  

Performance anxiety 

The infinite stamina and notoriously large appendages displayed in porn videos make many men feel anxious about their ability to please their sexual partners in the real world. Many men see sex as a performance and put themselves under immense pressure to “get it right”. 

But by putting themselves under such stress, men can experience anxiety-induced erectile dysfunction. The nervousness, worry, and fear that arises from feeling as though they need to perform “like a pornstar” can induce a “fight or flight” response and kick the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) into action. 

When this happens, the heart beats faster and pumps blood to the areas of the body that need them most in a “fight or flight” situation (such as the muscles). As a result, less blood is supplied to the penis – making it harder to achieve an erection. 

Performance anxiety is relatively common. A survey by men’s wellness brand Numan revealed that 79% of men who had experienced ED had also suffered from anxiety. Performance anxiety isn’t always caused by porn. Sometimes it can be caused by general feelings of nervousness, or the fear of not being able to get an erection before sexual intercourse. However, porn can exacerbate feelings of anxiety by making regular porn watchers insecure about their bodies and/or performance. 

There is evidence to suggest that sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra) can indirectly help to alleviate performance anxiety by improving confidence. Erectile dysfunction can have a profoundly negative effect on a man’s self confidence. However, sildenafil may help to improve confidence in men affected by ED because it allows them to generate harder erections. This, in turn, may help to relieve performance anxiety, as men treated with sildenafil might be less likely to worry about their ability to perform in the bedroom.  Like most other medicines, though, sildenafil does have its side effects (although not everyone gets them). Therefore, it’s best to consult a doctor before taking sildenafil to ensure it is safe to take and does not conflict with any medication you are on. 

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