This post is part of a series of guest posts on GPS by the graduate students in my Psychopathology course. As part of their work for the course, each student had to demonstrate mastery of the skill of “Educating the Public about Mental Health.” To that end, each student has to prepare two 1,000ish word posts on a particular class of mental disorders.
Pornography’s Role in Erectile Dysfunction by Ruben Rios
Remember that encounter when you, or your partner, were not able to “get it up?” What happens after a failed attempt to have intercourse? Why did things not turn up as expected when there is desire? And how does pornography make it look so easy? The truth is that many males in the United States, some 18 million to be exact, report having some level of Erectile Dysfunction (ED). Erectile Dysfunction is defined as the inability to achieve and maintain an erection sufficiently firm to engage in intercourse. Much stigma accompanies ED, and the most detrimental judgment is the one created by the individual directly experiencing ED.
For many years men kept their struggles with ED a secret, and it was often the butt of jokes, but in recent years men have begun to seek assistance. It could be that men are so afraid to open up about vulnerable subjects, such as their sexual performance, because of the expectations created by their society. Men experiencing ED may believe there is no help available and that they will eventually overcome their issues alone. ED can be caused by different physical health factors including heart problems, high blood pressure, nerve damage or injury, thyroid problems, poor circulation, low testosterone levels (hypogonadism), kidney or liver problems, and diabetes. Male sexual performance tends to become better when these physical issues are addressed, because the root of the issue is being treated rather than the surfacing symptoms. ED can also be caused by psychological factors such as depression, anxiety, problems with self-esteem, or stress that could be caused by expectations.
Psychological and physical factors were once thought to be the only causes of ED, but with every generation there comes new types of disruptions. The Internet is an explosively growing outlet that is available at the tip of our fingers. In 2002, only 9.1% of the world’s population had access to the Internet. A decade later, in 2012, that percentage grew to 33%. One in every three individuals access the Internet regularly and the content available is enormous and often unimaginable. Some may be using the Internet for educational or communication purposes, but 25% of all daily search engine requests are pornography. Typically, users view explicit material on the internet to masturbate. And having this material so readily available is beginning to have effects on men’s sexual performance.
Although pornography is not in and of itself negative, for some viewing porn becomes a necessity or a compulsion, which then becomes impossible to refrain oneself from. One may think “It’s just a harmless movie”, but there are undeniable effects being found on men who regularly masturbate while viewing porn. One study found that, in men, the hours of porn viewing are negatively correlated with having lower volumes of gray matter. The impact on connectivity of the right caudate and left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex could represent the overstimulation of the reward system. This means that they had less volume and brain activity in areas that are associated with reward and motivation. A survey of 28,000 Italian males reported that men who began aggressively watching porn during their teens, usually at 14 years old, reported having issues achieving and maintaining an erection during their 20s. The constant use of pornography has unforeseen effects and the earlier that people begin to use pornography the greater the effect. For example, another study found that exposing children to sexually explicit material during the so-called latency period (6- 12 years old) predicts sexual dysfunction as adults. When parents place a computer in their children’s room, they do not think about the consequences of not monitoring the search history.
Porn-induced erectile dysfunction is a rapidly growing issue. People fall into the hole of porn binging and once they are unable to perform with a partner they are left wondering why watching a pornographic film and masturbating is more satisfying than actually engaging in physical contact with another person. Many of the cases report that they begin binge-watching porn at a young age. They do not see their viewing as an issue until they cannot become aroused with their partner, but only while watching porn. They become anxious about starting new relationships and when they do they rapidly become bored and uninterested. One recent study discussed how marriage rates have decreased over the last few decades and linked this to porn viewing. They mention that one of the reasons why people are not getting married anymore is because of the belief of getting sex through other means rather than having to be in a marriage. They also concluded that the amount of pornography viewed is negatively associated with marriage formation. One of the suggested reasons for this is that men view pornography as more prolific outlet to gain sexual pleasure than pursuing a woman. Another common reason why porn is causing men to have erectile dysfunction is because viewing porn gives men instant gratification. A quick tap on the keyboard delivers instant content and gives the viewer the freedom to gain sexual pleasure when desired.
Treatment for ED range from using technology such as external penile support devices to pharmaceutical support, but it is important to note that porn-induced erectile dysfunction is different than the commonly seen ED caused by physiological or health reasons. Masturbating comes with many benefits, but over-masturbating while watching porn can lead to the creation of a fantasy that cannot be fulfilled with normal intercourse. Porn-induced erectile dysfunction is not a problem with the penis, but rather with the brain. In order to overcome porn-induced erectile dysfunction it is important to target the real issue: the use of porn. The common treatment for this issue is to reduce porn viewing, stop the excessive masturbating, and changing the daily routine and substituting positive habits for negative ones. Overall, the increasing issue of porn-induced erectile dysfunction deserves major attention because it is important to educate males about treatment options and the consequences of excessively watching porn.