Does Masturbation Cause Erectile Dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is a condition where a man cannot achieve or maintain an erection firm enough for satisfactory sexual activities. 

While it is not uncommon for men to occasionally experience trouble with erectile functioning, ED is typically a chronic issue that can negatively impact people’s well-being. 

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What causes erectile dysfunction?

There can be many causes of ED, and there may also be multiple factors contributing to the condition, including the following:

  • Medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart conditions

  • Taking certain medications, such as antidepressants

  • Lifestyle factors, such as tobacco use and alcohol

  • Hormonal imbalances, such as low testosterone levels

  • Injuries to the pelvic area

  • Blocked blood vessels

  • Psychological conditions, such as stress and anxiety

Can masturbation cause ED?

You may have heard that masturbation causes erectile dysfunction. It is not true. It is among many myths about masturbation, such as masturbation causing hair loss, blindness, and hair growth on the palms.

While masturbation may sometimes be controversial, it’s a normal and healthy sexual activity many people do. 

Research shows that masturbation may be more common among certain age groups; around 74% of adolescent males¹ engage in masturbation. A study of older age groups reported between 41–65% of males masturbated² in the previous month.

Some case studies³ demonstrate that young males with ED are self-attributing masturbation as the cause of their ED with no subjective proof or causality.

On the other hand, after a man has had an orgasm, there is a period afterward where he cannot achieve another erection. The duration differs for everyone. 

So while masturbation does not cause ED, if you masturbate directly before engaging in sexual activities with a partner, you may have trouble achieving an erection. 

However, this is perfectly normal and is not a cause for concern. You may need to give yourself more time before engaging in further sexual activities following masturbation. 

Porn and erectile dysfunction

Another myth regarding erectile dysfunction is that it can be caused by pornography. 

There is no published evidence to suggest that watching pornography directly causes ED. Many people consume pornography, and research on college students found that 92% of men⁴ had consumed some form of sexually explicit material. 

Although watching pornography does not directly cause ED, some research⁵ suggests frequently masturbating to pornography may decrease your sensitivity to sexual stimuli. That makes it difficult to become sufficiently aroused by real-life sexual activities, which may lead to sexual functioning issues. 

Additionally, a 2016 review⁶ found that men who frequently watch porn to masturbate may develop a preference for this sexual activity over intercourse with a partner. The study also suggested that pornography may lead to performance anxiety and body insecurity due to unrealistic depictions of sexual intercourse in pornography. 

Other research,⁷ however, suggests pornography may have educational benefits, assisting with exploring sexuality and sexual identity. For these reasons, balancing watching pornography and having partnered sexual activities may be beneficial. 

Side effects of masturbation in men

Generally, masturbation has no negative side effects and is a common and healthy sexual activity. However, some people may feel guilty or anxious about masturbating, and others may develop issues with compulsive masturbation that may resemble an addiction. 

Guilt around masturbation may stem from religious or cultural beliefs or concerns about masturbation within a partnered relationship. 

It’s crucial to remember that masturbation is not shameful. Speaking to a therapist specializing in sexual health may help you work through negative feelings about it. 

For some people, masturbation may become compulsive and begin interfering with daily life. If this occurs, masturbation may take up a lot of your time, you may feel compelled to masturbate in public places when you don’t want to, and you may choose to masturbate over other activities. 

In cases like this, counseling or engaging with a sex therapist can help manage the issue. 

Additionally, masturbation that is too aggressive may cause friction, leading to a burning sensation and swelling of the penis. In rare cases, a penile fracture⁸ could occur from aggressive masturbation. 

A penis fracture is a rupture of internal penis tissue, causing immediate pain, swelling, and discoloration. It requires immediate medical attention to prevent permanent damage to the penis. 

Benefits of masturbation in men

Masturbation may provide many benefits for sexual and physical health. While no studies directly test the benefits of masturbation, orgasm causes your body to release oxytocin and endorphins, which can give a sedative effect, helping you sleep better. 

Some research⁹ has also found that men with two or more orgasms per week have a 50% lower mortality risk than those who have orgasms less frequently. 

Additionally, some research¹⁰ shows that more frequent ejaculation throughout adult life may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. For example, one study¹¹ found that men in their 20s who had at least five ejaculations per week had a lower risk of developing prostate cancer. 

While the reasons for the link between reduced prostate cancer risk and ejaculation frequency are unknown, some researchers¹² have suggested ejaculation may clear cancer-causing substances from the prostate.

Masturbation may also help you figure out what your sexual preferences are, so partnered sex may become more enjoyable. 

How is erectile dysfunction treated?

Many treatment options are available for erectile dysfunction, depending on the condition’s underlying causes and individual needs and preferences. 

Some of the treatment options are as follows:

  • Therapy to help manage psychological issues, such as depression or anxiety

  • Oral medications, such as sildenafil (Viagra), which relax muscles and increase blood flow to the penis

  • Injectable medications, which are injected into the penis to cause an erection

  • Insertable medications that are inserted into the end of the penis to cause an erection

  • Vacuum devices that increase blood flow to the penis, facilitating an erection

  • Surgery, such as penile implant surgery, which involves placing a prosthetic device into the penis so a man can achieve and maintain an erection

Your healthcare provider will work with you to identify any factors or conditions that may be contributing to your ED. If they identify any underlying conditions or lifestyle factors, treatment will involve remedying or managing these. 

For example, testosterone replacement therapy may be recommended if low testosterone levels are identified, and you may need to quit smoking or reduce your alcohol consumption. 

How is erectile dysfunction prevented?

You can reduce your risk of ED by developing and maintaining healthy lifestyle practices. For example, quitting may help prevent ED if you currently smoke, as smoking is linked to heart disease, which can cause ED. 

Maintaining a healthy diet can also help, as balancing blood sugars and maintaining a healthy weight can prevent you from developing high blood pressure and diabetes, which can also cause ED. 

Additionally, ensuring you get regular exercise helps increase blood flow around the body and to the penis, which benefits erectile functioning. 

When to visit a doctor

Problems achieving and maintaining an erection are normal and will occur for many men from time to time. However, if you frequently struggle with achieving and maintaining erections, you might need to discuss the issue with your doctor as there might be an underlying health condition that needs to be addressed. 

Additionally, having a satisfactory sex life is important for overall well-being, and getting medical assistance for ED can help you regain erectile functions.

You may also need to seek medical advice if you engage in masturbation or pornography more frequently than you’d like if you feel you can’t stop even if you want to, or if masturbation is interfering with your daily life or relationships. 

Engaging with a counselor or sex therapist can help you manage negative or compulsive feelings around masturbation or pornography. 

The lowdown

Masturbation does not cause erectile dysfunction. It is a normal and healthy sexual activity that many people engage in. It may provide several benefits, such as better sleep and helping you discover your sexual preferences. 

Sometimes, however, people may develop issues with compulsive masturbation that need to be addressed, or they may have negative feelings around masturbation that a therapist can help with. 

It’s important to seek medical advice if you are frequently having trouble achieving and maintaining an erection, as there may be an underlying cause of the issue that needs to be addressed.

  1. Prevalence, frequency, and associations of masturbation with partnered sexual behaviors among US adolescents (2011)

  2. Prevalence of masturbation and associated factors among older adults in four European countries (2022)

  3. Is it all in my head? Self-reported psychogenic erectile dysfunction and depression are common among young men seeking advice on social media (2020)

  4. Associations between young adults' use of sexually explicit materials and their sexual preferences, behaviors, and satisfaction (2011)

  5. Brain structure and functional connectivity associated with pornography consumption (2014)

  6. Is Internet pornography causing sexual dysfunctions? A review with clinical reports (2016)

  7. Enjoyment, exploration and education: Understanding the consumption of pornography among young men with non-exclusive sexual orientations (2016)

  8. Penile fracture during masturbation – A case report (2020)

  9. Planned Parenthood

  10. Ejaculation frequency and risk of prostate cancer: Updated results with an additional decade of follow-up (2016)

  11. Sexual factors and prostate cancer (2003)

  12. Why more sex may lower prostate cancer risk | Harvard T.H. Chan

Other sources:

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