What Is Porn-Induced Erectile Dysfunction?

Porn-induced erectile dysfunction is a condition that’s debated among experts. However, with increasing rates of erectile dysfunction in young people, the possible role that pornography plays is worth considering.

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What is porn-induced erectile dysfunction?

Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to get and maintain an erection firm enough for satisfactory sexual performance. It currently affects around 30 million men¹ in the US.

ED has many causes. Some experts believe one cause is the excessive consumption of pornography. This is referred to as porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED).

Although PIED is currently not a recognized medical condition, the term has recently gained popularity and is being researched.

For example:

  • It’s thought that internet pornography, in particular, is partially responsible for the increasing rates of sexual dysfunction (which includes ED), especially in men under the age of 40.

  • One study² discovered that having ED is associated with having a preference for pornography and masturbation. This study also concluded that the rates of ED were higher in participants who preferred or chose pornography over having real-life sex with their partner.

How does pornography cause erectile dysfunction?

Several studies³ have found a link between compulsive pornography use and reduced sex drive and/or ED.

However, it’s still unknown whether excessive pornography consumption is more likely to be a direct cause or just something associated with ED.

Unlike some other causes of ED, PIED is psychological rather than physical. So, it's likely that excessive viewing of pornography contributes to erection difficulties by impacting the brain.

Desensitization to real-life sex

Some experts suggest that men’s sexual arousal might become ‘conditioned’ to some aspects of internet pornography that don’t transition to real life.

Pornography may alter their threshold for sexual arousal, making it harder to be aroused in real life before sex. This is because pornography is thought to act as a supernormal stimulus that’s more potent than sex.

Pornography has this potential because of:

  • Its limitless novelty

  • The ability to seamlessly transition to more extreme material

  • The video format

Because of this conditioning and altering of the threshold, real-life partnered sex may no longer meet a man’s conditioned expectations.

Impact on the reward system

Because of the conditioning and desensitization, partnered sex may no longer trigger the sufficient release of dopamine needed for producing and sustaining erections. This is also because pornography is believed to alter the brain's motivational system.

Due to all these reasons, men who watch excessive pornography may need greater sexual stimulation to be aroused and get an erection.

How much pornography is needed for negative effects?

It’s unknown how much pornography consumption increases someone’s risk of developing PIED.

However, one study⁴ found a slightly higher frequency of ED among people who consume pornography for more than 30 minutes at a time.

Another study found that the rates of ED were higher in participants who started consuming pornography at a younger age.

What are the symptoms of porn-induced erectile dysfunction?

Some symptoms of PIED are similar to those of general ED.

Potential symptoms of PIED include:

  • Difficulty getting an erection at any time

  • The ability to get an erection but having difficulty maintaining it for the duration of sex

  • The ability to get an erection sometimes but not whenever actual sex is desired

  • Low self-esteem and depression related to erection difficulties

  • Reduced sexual desire or sexual arousal; in PIED, this may mean:

  • Greater sexual excitement using porn than when with a partner

  • No longer feeling aroused during real-life sexual experiences

  • Need to watch more extreme material to achieve the same level of arousal

How is porn-induced erectile dysfunction treated?

Stop watching pornography

According to experts, one way to effectively treat PIED is to stop watching pornographic material completely.

This is believed to help return the brain to its normal function regarding sexual interest and reverse the negative effects of excessive pornography use. Once this is achieved, it’s thought the person will be able to become aroused by real-life sexual stimuli once again and subsequently have erections.

Cognitive behavior strategies

When trying to give up porn, people have found⁵ that cognitive-behavioral strategies can be helpful with managing cravings and other struggles associated with overcoming addiction.

Some recommendations include:

  • Exercising

  • Meditating

  • Socializing

  • Mindfulness techniques

  • Journaling 

Professional support

Reaching out for help is nothing to be ashamed of, and it is not an uncommon addiction.

Even if the person recognizes that their pornography consumption feels compulsive, it can still be hard to stop watching it—just like any addiction. In this case, it could be beneficial to seek external professional support.

Research⁶ shows that patients tend to seek help when they begin to question whether their pornography consumption is leading to their sexual difficulties.

People with ED caused by other factors are also encouraged to see a counselor⁷ or sex therapist. These professionals can help manage performance anxiety or other mental health struggles associated with ED.

Do traditional ED treatments work for porn-induced erectile dysfunction?

Traditional ED treatments, including oral medications such as Viagra, may not work for people who have PIED.

This is because Viagra can only work when a man is sexually aroused.⁸ With PIED, one symptom is the struggle to get enough sexual arousal for an erection to occur.

Does porn-induced erectile dysfunction have any long-term effects?

Studies haven’t yet determined whether any long-term effects are associated with PIED since it’s still debatable whether the condition is real.

However, ED, in general, has the potential to negatively impact a person’s quality of life. The possible complications and long-term effects of ED may include:

  • Depression, low self-confidence, and anxiety related to sexual performance

  • Less satisfaction in sexual activity and relationships

  • Inability to get a partner pregnant

  • Relationship difficulties

Can pornography addiction lead to other types of addiction or mental health issues?

Pornography use has not been classified as its own form of addiction or mental health disorder. Likewise, PIED hasn’t been recognized as a diagnostic medical condition.

It’s not known what the limit of pornography use would be before being seen as addictive behavior.

Some experts choose to characterize excessive pornography consumption as an impulse control disorder. Also, hypersexual disorder⁹ (or compulsive sexual behavior, which includes pornography use), could be considered a behavioral addiction.

Evidence¹⁰ does suggest that a relationship exists between chronic pornography use or perceived addiction to porn and mental health problems.

 Some examples of these mental health issues include:

  • Severe levels of depression, anxiety, and stress

  • Less satisfaction in relationships and sex

  • Less intimacy within relationships

  • Preoccupation and dependence on pornography as a coping mechanism

  • Being more likely to engage in high-risk sexual behaviors. These may include having a large number of sexual partners and becoming sexually active early in life

  • Social impairment and isolation. This could include neglecting daily obligations, rushing through work to get home as quickly as possible to watch porn, and not spending time with other people

Other types of addiction that excessive pornography consumption may lead to include:

  • Binge-drinking behaviors

  • Drug use

  • Problematic video-game use

  • Smoking

When to see a doctor

If you have ongoing difficulties getting erections, see a doctor as soon as possible.

This is because ED can be caused by a variety of underlying medical conditions, medications, and lifestyle choices that you may be unaware of.

Even if excessive pornography use is contributing to your ED, other factors might also be at play. These can include:

  • Heart disease

  • Blood vessel disease

  • High blood pressure

  • Obesity

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease¹¹ and multiple sclerosis

  • Injuries to the penis, spinal cord, or pelvis

  • Peyronie’s disease

  • Smoking and excessive alcohol use

  • Medications such as antidepressants, blood pressure medications, and prescription sedatives

Also, if there is some concern about excessive pornography consumption, a doctor is the best person to talk to first. They may refer you to a professional to get extra support.

The lowdown

Although researchers aren’t sure how much of a role pornography plays in ED, the excessive consumption of pornography is believed to harm a person’s ability to have erections.

It’s certainly possible to treat and manage PIED by giving up porn, reaching out for professional help, and adopting cognitive behavior strategies.

Have you considered clinical trials for Erectile dysfunction?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Erectile dysfunction, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

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