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A new survey claiming that watching adult films can cause an increase in erectile dysfunction isn’t performing well with sexual health experts. Getty Images
  • A new survey claims the amount of porn a man watches can lead to greater erectile dysfunction (ED).
  • Many sexual health experts disagree with the survey’s findings, saying it didn’t take a number of other important variables into account, including things like mental health, employment status, social anxiety, or sexual communication skills.
  • They also say ED is a biopsychosocial phenomenon, meaning there are many factors that can contribute to it.
  • Those include physiological, psychological, and relationship factors.

In the realm of sexual health, fewer things are as widely vilified as pornography.

But there’s also one that’s more dreaded: erectile dysfunction.

Whether the two are directly connected remains a hotly debated issue. However, a recent online survey suggests that a man’s pornography consumption is linked to erectile dysfunction and a “greater dissatisfaction” with sex with a partner.

But sexual health experts say there’s more to pornography, including how we use it, what we see, and whether or not a typical sexual relationship can keep pace by what’s being shown on screen.

“Porn itself is not the problem, rather the way it is used can be detrimental,” Sarah Melancon, PhD, a clinical sexologist who’s a former model, director, and producer in the adult film industry, told Healthline.

No, watching porn doesn’t cause erectile dysfunction (ED).

But that’s not what researchers from Belgium, Denmark, and the United Kingdom said when they presented their research findings during the virtual European Association of Urology Congress this weekend.

In a press release accompanying their findings, researchers said: “The amount of porn a man watches is linked to worse erectile function” with “only 65 percent of respondents rating sex with a partner to be more stimulating than porn.”

That’s based off an 118-question online survey — advertised on social media in Belgium and Denmark — of 3,267 men that included various parts of sexual health, like masturbation, how often they consume pornography, and about their other sexual activity.

It says the questionnaire “concentrated” on men who had reported having sexual intercourse within the last month, but didn’t specify when that was supposed to happen.

That’s important, because most people have been having much less contact with others because of lockdown orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But more than a third of the respondents — most of whom were between the ages of 16 and 35 — were in relationships longer than 6 months, so they might have been hunkered down with their partners.

Gunter De Win, the head researcher and assistant professor of urology at the University of Antwerp and University Hospital Antwerp, says the average respondent watched an average of 10 minutes per day, “with obviously some watching very little and some watching much, much more.”

That reported range is from 0 minutes to more than 26 hours a week, something Melancon calls “a tremendous range,” and the furthest part of the spectrum are people who have unhealthy relationships with pornography.

“The same is true of food: We all enjoy dessert, and everyone overeats from time to time,” she said. “However, when an individual consistently overeats to avoid or numb out their emotions, we call that an eating disorder. In both cases, the individual needs help addressing the emotions and symptoms that underlie the compulsive behavior.”

Melancon says it appears the survey hasn’t taken a number of other important variables into account, including things like mental health, employment status, social anxiety, or sexual communication skills.

When Melancon used to work in the adult film industry, she says she catered primarily to “socially unacceptable fetishes, for lack of a better term.” She says she would receive love letters from men who were excited to meet a woman with similar interests.

“None of these were my own sexual preferences, but it allowed me to see how much men crave to share these parts of themselves with their partners,” she said. “Their misreading of my sexuality gave them hope other women would be into these not-so-normal kinks, too.”

Given the known complexities of human sexuality, De Win says because the research was a questionnaire and not a clinical trial, this means its sample doesn’t represent the entire male population.

“However, the work was designed to unpick any relationship between porn and erectile dysfunction, and given the large sample size we can be pretty confident about the findings,” he said in a statement.

Christene Lozano, a therapist who specializes in sexual health and relationships, says the recent research aligns with the theory of porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED), but she doesn’t believe it’s comprehensive enough.

“ED is a biopsychosocial phenomenon, meaning there are many factors that can contribute to it,” Lozano told Healthline.

Those include physiological, psychological, and relationship factors, which Lozano says the survey doesn’t appear to take into account.

But, she says, it’s “relatively aligned” with what she sees in her work, as she specializes in compulsive sexual behaviors.

“I have clients who have described how their porn use has contributed to the way in which they view sex,” Lozano said. “Their expectations for how they should ‘perform’ sexually, and how sex should be, has often been distorted due to their porn use, which has contributed to performance anxiety.”

For some of Lozano’s clients, it’s their relationship with pornography that becomes problematic, so she suggests people be curious and mindful of their porn use.

“Oftentimes, the selection of porn can be overstimulating and a sensory overload that is drastically different than real-life sexual interactions,” she said.

“The convenience of getting off online without the potential work, vulnerability, intimacy, and connection with others can be appealing for some people. In many ways, people experience self-pleasuring to porn being an easier way to have an orgasm than having sex with a partner,” Lozano said.