Anxiety

No, Porn Doesn’t Cause Erectile Disorder

Erectile problems are caused by anxiety, not porn.

Posted Sep 27, 2020

There’s this idea floating around out there that watching porn makes it harder to get it up when with a real person. The theory is given credibility by adding pseudo-scientific claims that porn rewires the brain because it’s so intense. The proposed solution then is to get rid of the porn and probably also any masturbation. This will make the guy happy, confident, and ready to go when with a partner.

The problem is that this simplistic understanding of erectile function completely misses all the complexity of sexuality, relationships, emotional vulnerability, and social expectations that goes into an enjoyable sexual encounter. In other words, it doesn’t work, beyond some placebo effect. Maybe there is a small number of guys out there who are watching a lot of porn and masturbating a lot and therefore have trouble getting it up again with a partner because they are still in the refractory (reloading) period, but this is a very small minority.

 Copyright lassedesignen/123RF
Source: Copyright lassedesignen/123RF

So, let’s talk about what actually causes erectile problems and therefore how to overcome them. Dump the porn if you want. Or keep it. Either way, it’s a distraction from the real issues.

Which Came First?

There are indeed guys who have no trouble getting it up and reaching orgasm with porn by themselves, but then have difficulty getting or keeping it up with a partner. These guys definitely exist. They tend to be younger and less sexually experienced and therefore less sexually knowledgeable and confident.

They watch porn and they have erectile problems—but what is causing what? First of all, for most guys, it’s neither. Most guys watch porn at least sometimes (especially younger ones who don’t have a regular sexual partner) and most guys don’t have erectile problems. So, for most guys, the two are unrelated.

But if we only take the subset of guys who both watch porn and also have erectile problems, still porn doesn’t interfere with erections. If anything, guys who are nervous about losing their erection with a partner are more likely to instead prefer masturbating to porn where everything works well—not because of the presence of porn but because of the absence of a partner who they feel anxious about performing well for.

This brings us to the real culprit in the porn/erectile problems coincidence: anxiety.

It’s Anxiety That Kills Erections

The best way to kill an erection is to be anxious—about pleasing your partner, about being walked in on, about an unplanned pregnancy or STI, or (ironically) about being able to keep it up. This actually makes sense, evolutionarily. If you feel anxious, then you probably shouldn’t be having sex—you should be addressing the thing that is making you anxious. For example, if you are worried about being caught and attacked, then sex may not be a good idea. The survival of the species works better when the parents live long enough to birth and raise the child. Blind sexual passion reduces survival.

If nothing else, focusing on anxious thoughts distracts you from the arousing aspects of the situation. If you aren’t turned on, your erection will do what it should and fade away. As an experiment, try keeping it up while sorting receipts for taxes. To keep it up, we need to focus on and enjoy the erotic parts of what is happening or our fantasies of what we would like to happen. Even if an attractive partner is touching you in a pleasing way, your erection will fade if your head is elsewhere.

 Copyright nd3000/123RF
Source: Copyright nd3000/123RF

Guys who have a history of erectile problems can unfortunately get caught in a death spiral where they start worrying about being able to keep it up which then makes it so they can’t. They may compulsively pay attention to how hard they are, for fear of it getting soft, only to make it go soft since they become disconnected from the arousing parts of what is happening. Freaking out makes it impossible to stay hard since it sucks up all of their attention and takes it all away from what might turn them on.

Some guys use alcohol as a way to calm their nerves. Or it’s only once they’re half-wasted that they have the courage to make a move on someone. A small amount of alcohol may take some of that anxious edge off, but after one or maybe two drinks, it actually makes it harder to keep it up, be appropriately responsive to your partner, or even to fully enjoy the encounter. If too many of your sexual encounters involve too much alcohol, you may want to think about why that is.

Incorrect Expectations Don’t Help, Either

There are two ways that porn can hurt erections in partnered sex. One is if the guy (or the partner) has unrealistic expectations for how sexual encounters should go, for what should turn them or their partner on, for how quickly things should get going or how long it should last, for what people should look like, etc. It’s hard to compete with porn, but most people shouldn’t try. It’s entertainment, not a documentary or how-to video. We don’t take driving lessons from "The Fast & The Furious," so we shouldn’t get our sex ed from porn. If you think that your sex life is supposed to look like what you see in porn, then things are probably not going to work out well. Rather, we all need to figure out what we want our sex life to look like and then work with our partner to create something that works for both.

It’s also possible that someone has found a certain habit of porn and masturbation that reliably leads to orgasm and therefore always does it that way. That’s fine, but it may then make it harder to adjust to being with a real person where things don’t always go according to plan or where that other person also has their own, different preferences. If this is the case, then you may want to add some variety to your routine to increase your flexibility.

There Is Hope

Being sexual with another person can be an amazing experience, but it can also be really intimidating. Take your time. Focus on what is enjoyable. Be inquisitive and generous to the person that you’re with, so that they enjoy themselves regardless of what is happening with your erection. If you focus on what is sexy in that moment, your erection will probably take care of itself, but you’ll definitely have a good time.