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Masturbation, Porn and ED: What You Need to Know

Kristin Hall, FNP

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 6/1/2021

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 porn watching, masturbation and erectile dysfunction. 

We’ve also answered several common questions about masturbation and ED, as well as other factors that may affect your ability to get and maintain an erection.

Does Masturbating Cause ED?

Before we get into the effects of pornography on erectile dysfunction, it’s important to know that masturbation by itself is not directly linked to ED in any scientific research. 

Assuming you use proper technique, masturbating won’t damage your penis, not will it stop you from being able to perform sexually. 

The belief that masturbation by itself causes ED appears to be an old wives' tale, just like many other myths about masturbation and your health.

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 that you may have also heard about.

With this said, 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 plan ahead and resist temptation if you’re going to spend some time with your partner later in the same day.

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Porn and ED: What You Need to Know

While there’s no scientific evidence that directly links masturbation with ED, some research has found an association between excessive or unusual consumption of porn and changes in sexual tastes and behavior.

Over the last few decades, there’s been a sharp rise in the incidence rate of sexual dysfunction, including erectile dysfunction, amongst men under the age of 40.

The rise has been difficult to explain through conventional means, since today’s population is in good health and faces fewer sexual restrictions than any other generation.

The cause, some researchers believe, could be the widespread availability of porn thanks to the huge growth of the Internet. 

To understand this, think about the availability of pornography 30 or 40 years ago, compared to the availability of porn today. 

Accessing porn a generation or two ago meant purchasing a magazine, ordering a videotape or stumbling across a few copies of Playboy left in the attic or inside someone’s nightstand. 

Today, things are different. With the push of a button, people have access to a virtually limitless amount of porn through online tube sites and other platforms, which offer endless novelty and a level of sexual stimulation that our brains historically aren’t used to.

What Does The Research Say On ED and Porn?

Here’s how scientists think it’s happening. Until recently, recorded rates of erectile dysfunction in young, sexually active men were extremely low. 

For example, a study from 1999 put the rate of ED at just five percent for men between the ages of 18 and 29. 

A 2002 analysis noted that the rate of erectile dysfunction was approximately two percent for men under 40 years of age.

In 2012, almost 10 years later, a study of young Swiss men’s sexual health was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

In this study, researchers found that approximately one third of young men in Switzerland suffer from at least one form of sexual dysfunction. 

Of the men that took part in the study, 30 percent were affected by erectile dysfunction, while 11 percent had premature ejaculation (PE). 

Put simply, rates of ED appear to be growing rapidly amongst younger men, particularly men in their late teens, 20s and 30s.

So, what could have happened to cause such a dramatic increase in the rate of ED between the late 1990s and today? 

A 2016 review of clinical reports notes that the rise in ED amongst younger men seems to have accompanied the development of porn tube sites.

The theory is that easier access to porn -- and especially a diverse, extensive variety of images and videos -- has changed the way many people think about sex, leading to different tastes and expectations from regular sexual intercourse.

It’s a theory that seems to be backed up by scientific evidence. In a small study published in the journal PLoS One, 11 out of 19 participants who compulsively used internet porn noted that they had "experienced diminished libido or erectile function” in physical relationships with women.

In short, watching large amounts of pornography may cause a form of ED that’s psychological in nature rather than physical. 

After all, the people that took part in this research are typically young and unlikely to be affected by common physical risk factors for ED, such as heart disease, obesity or diabetes.

Is Porn to Blame For Erectile Dysfunction?

Right now, it’s too early to conclusively say whether or not porn consumption can be blamed for the rising rate of erectile dysfunction in younger men. 

This is because there just isn’t enough conclusive scientific data showing it to be a direct cause of ED in many people.

However, the existing surveys and studies create a pretty strong case that long-term use of porn could contribute not just to ED, but to a range of different forms of sexual dysfunction.

If you’re concerned about the effects your pornography habits could be having on your erections and sexual performance, consider taking a break from porn. 

This doesn’t necessarily have to be a total break from masturbation. Instead, try to take a break from watching porn videos and viewing sexual images.

While there are no studies showing how long it takes to recover sexual performance after using porn for a long time, many porn addiction websites (which, it should be noted, are not scientific studies or authoritative scientific sources) report "rebooting" after a few weeks or months.

Over the weeks pass, you’ll find out whether your erection issues were the result of overuse of porn, or if they’re more of a physical problem that needs to be treated differently.

Other Common Causes of ED (Besides Porn)

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), 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 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.

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Treating Your ED

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.

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.

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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

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