Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/9/2022
Can too much masturbation cause you to develop erectile dysfunction? While this is a common belief, the overwhelming majority of scientific data shows that masturbating doesn’t produce any noticeable effects on your ability to develop and maintain an erection.
In short, masturbation doesn’t cause ED. However, some peer-reviewed studies and papers do show that there could be a potential link between watching porn -- something that most people do when they masturbate -- and the development of sexual dysfunction.
How strong is the link? Could it be responsible for things like performance anxiety and erectile dysfunction in younger men?
Below, we’ve looked at the scientific research to see if there’s any link between masturbation and erection problems.
We’ve also answered several common questions about masturbation and ED.
The short answer? No. Assuming you use the proper technique, masturbating won’t damage your penis, nor will it stop you from being able to perform sexually — it actually has some health benefits.
It’s important to know that masturbation by itself is not directly linked to ED in any scientific research.
The belief that masturbation by itself causes ED appears to be an old wives' tale, just like many other myths about masturbation and other health conditions.
Likewise, there’s no scientific evidence that masturbation can make you go blind, cause you to grow hair on your palms or any of the other "100% certain" side effects or health problems that you may have also heard about.
Like we said before, there is no hard evidence that masturbation hurts your sexual function. However, there is some evidence that there can be secondhand effects from masturbation that lead to ED.
One study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy notes proposed that there may be a link between guilt caused by masturbating and erectile dysfunction.
An article published by the Cleveland Clinic, however, references The Massachusetts Male Aging Study, which says that age is the biggest predictor of ED.
In fact, a 2016 review of clinical reports published in the journal, Behavioral Sciences, notes that occurrences of ED in younger men may have been attributed to the use of porn websites and the high expectations of sexual arousal that accompany them. (Check out our guide to the link between porn and ED here.)
With this said, excessive masturbation can have certain effects on your sexual performance, especially if you masturbate shortly before you plan to have sex.
After ejaculation, every male goes through a period of recovery that’s referred to as a refractory period.
During this period, you won’t think about sex or become aroused.
Sexual stimulation that would normally produce a response, such as your partner physically stimulating your penis, won’t have as much of an effect.
During this period, you may not be able to get an erection at all.
The refractory period can vary in length based on your age and other factors.
For some men, it’s a short window of time that only lasts for a few minutes.
Other men may need 12 to 24 hours to fully recover after they reach orgasm and ejaculate.
While masturbation doesn’t directly cause ED, if you masturbate shortly before you plan to have sex, it’s possible that your refractory period could affect your sexual performance.
Because of this, it’s important to know how often a man should ejaculate, plan ahead, and resist temptation if you’re going to spend some time with your partner later in the same day.
While porn consumption may be responsible for many cases of erectile dysfunction in younger men, it’s by no means the only factor that can cause ED.
A diverse variety of different health issues can cause or contribute to erectile dysfunction, from physical factors to psychological ones.
Healthy erections rely on arousal and blood flow. When you’re sexually aroused, impulses from your brain and nerves around your penis cause the muscles inside your penis to relax, allowing blood to flow into your penis.
A fibrous membrane called the tunica albuginea traps this blood inside your penis, which allows you to stay hard during sexual activity.
Erectile dysfunction occurs when this process is interrupted, either by a lack of arousal or poor blood flow.
Common physical causes of ED include heart and blood vessel disease, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), heart disease, type 2 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, chronic kidney disease, Peyronie’s disease and injuries that affect the nerves around your penis.
These diseases and conditions can affect blood flow to your penis or the sensitivity of nerves, such as the pudendal and cavernous nerves located in your pelvis.
In addition to physical diseases and medical conditions, habits and lifestyle factors that affect your physical health may contribute to ED.
For example, you may have a higher risk of developing erectile dysfunction if you’re physically inactive, overweight or obese, drink alcohol excessively, smoke or use illicit drugs.
In some cases, medications may interfere with your ability to get an erection. Medications that are linked to ED include antidepressants, antiandrogens, tranquilizers, appetite suppressants, ulcer medications and some medications used to treat high blood pressure.
Finally, certain psychological issues and emotional factors can contribute to ED. These include sexual performance anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, stress and feelings of guilt or fear regarding sexual activity.
Our guide to the most common causes of erectile dysfunction provides more information about these factors and their potential impact on your erections and sexual performance.
Erectile dysfunction is a very common issue. In fact, research has found that around 30 million men -- or just under a third of the total US adult male population -- are affected by ED. However, masturbation is most definitely not the main cause.
If you find it difficult to get or maintain an erection, it’s important to understand that options are available to help you stay hard and enjoy a healthy, fulfilling sex life.
Currently, the most effective treatment options for erectile dysfunction are medications such as sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®, generic Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis®), vardenafil (Levitra®) and avanafil (sold as Stendra®).
These erectile dysfunction medications work by increasing blood flow to the tissue of your penis, which makes it easier for you to get and maintain an erection when you’re sexually aroused.
In addition to medications, options like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and lifestyle changes can also improve your sexual health and function.
We’ve talked about these and other treatment options in our detailed guide to the most common ED treatments. Be sure to seek medical advice before starting any ED treatment.