Can Porn Addiction Cause Male Sexual Dysfunction?

Sam is a 26-year-old college graduate working for an accounting firm. He’s been dating the same woman for almost five years, and he says that loves her very much, even though they only get to see each other on weekends because she’s in graduate school at a university two hours away. When she’s not in town, he uses pornography as a way to satisfy his sexual urges. Sam and his girlfriend plan to get engaged after she graduates and finds a job near him, but recently he has started to question his commitment to her. His fear is not that he doesn’t love her. What he’s worried about is that over the last 18 months or so their sex life has, for him, become somewhat unpleasant. When she visits, they do still have sex, but Sam says that he struggles to achieve and maintain an erection, and that more than once he’s actually faked having an orgasm just to get it over with. He also says that he has no trouble performing when he watches porn during the week, and he can’t understand why it’s so difficult when he’s finally got the real thing right there in front of him.

Sam is hardly alone with his troubles. In fact, he’s just one among a rapidly growing number of physically healthy men in their sexual prime who are finding it difficult to perform in real-world sexual encounters. Sometimes these men suffer from delayed ejaculation (DE), other times from erectile dysfunction (ED). There are numerous possible causes for male sexual dysfunction – physical illness, physical impairment, use of SSRI-based antidepressants, emotional stress, depression/anxiety, relationship woes, etc.[i] However, another recently uncovered and increasingly common cause of sexual dysfunction is heavy involvement with pornography and masturbation.[ii]

Can Porn Addiction Cause Male Sexual Dysfunction?In short, porn addiction may cause, in addition to the usual symptoms, various forms of male sexual dysfunction. Recent studies that prove this merely confirm what porn addicts and those who treat them have reported anecdotally for many years – increasingly so since the beginning of the online porn boom in 2008. So now we can officially add “reduced or even nonexistent interest in real-world sexual encounters” to the ever-growing list of porn addiction symptoms and consequences.

Interestingly, this problem is not entirely (or even mostly) related to the frequency of masturbation and orgasm (and the need for a “refractory period”). Instead, it is primarily related to the fact that sexual arousal in men is increased through visual stimulation, and the more that visual stimulation changes, the better. This means that a young man like Sam who spends the majority of his sexual life viewing and masturbating to digital pornography is likely, over time, to find his actual girlfriend less interesting and less stimulating than the endless and constantly changing array of imagery he finds online.

Common symptoms of porn-induced male sexual dysfunction include the following:

  • The porn user can easily achieve an erection and orgasm with porn, but not with an in-the-flesh partner.
  • The porn user can get an erection and reach orgasm with an in-the-flesh partner, but it takes longer than he (or his partner) would like.
  • The porn user’s real-world partners say he seems disengaged and/or disinterested during sex.
  • The porn user can only reach orgasm with in-the-flesh partners by replaying porn imagery in his mind.
  • The porn user increasingly prefers pornography to in-the-flesh sex, finding it more intense and stimulating.
  • The porn user keeps secrets from real world partners about his porn use – frequency, amount of time spent with porn, types of imagery looked at, etc.
  • The porn user’s real world long-term partner say she (or he) feels like the other woman (or the other man).

Any man who is suffering from porn-induced sexual dysfunction, regardless of whether he is addicted to porn, should step away from porn for at least a few months. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this helps the brain and body to “reboot,” and eliminates the sexual dysfunction[iii] in ways that erection-enhancing medications cannot.

Regrettably, porn addicts are often reluctant to seek help for their addiction and/or its symptomatic sexual dysfunction. Sometimes they just don’t understand that their solo sexual activity is an underlying cause of their inability to perform sexually with real-world partners. Other times they are simply too ashamed of their behavior and its consequences to talk about it, even with a medical or psychotherapeutic professional. And even when they do seek help, perhaps visiting a medical doctor to seek help with erectile dysfunction, they are rarely asked about porn use. Instead, doctors simply check for obvious physical causes and if/when they don’t find any, they write out a prescription for Viagra or a similar drug. This unfortunately leaves the patient’s core problem undiscovered and untreated.

 

Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of Clinical Development with Elements Behavioral Health. A licensed UCLA MSW graduate and personal trainee of Dr. Patrick Carnes, he founded The Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles in 1995. He is author of Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men and Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction, and co-author with Dr. Jennifer Schneider of both Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Parenting, Work, and Relationships and Always Turned On: Sex Addiction in the Digital Age. He has developed clinical programs for The Ranch in Nunnelly, Tennessee, Promises Treatment Centers in Malibu, and the aforementioned Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles. He has also provided clinical multi-addiction training and behavioral health program development for the US military and numerous other treatment centers throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. For more information you can visit his website, www.robertweissmsw.com.

[i] American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Fifth Edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing, and, Mayo Clinic Staff, Erectile Dysfunction, retrieved Nov 25, 2014 from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/erectile-dysfunction/basics/causes/CON-20034244.

[ii] O’Sullivan, L.F., Brotto, L.A., Byers, E.S., Majerovich, J.A., & Wuest, J.A. (2014). Prevalence and characteristics of sexual functioning among sexually experienced middle to late adolescents. J Sex Med 11 (3) 630-41.

[iii] Wilson, G. Your Brain on Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction. Richmond, VA: Commonwealth Publishing.

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4 Responses to Can Porn Addiction Cause Male Sexual Dysfunction?

  1. Craig Perra June 8, 2015 at 3:07 pm #

    I really appreciate that you are writing about this subject. Great article.

    If you are struggling with porn addiction, I can help. My name is Craig Perra and I founded a company called The Mindful Habit. It is for people from all walks of life, religions, cultures, etc. My program is science based, goal-centric and action oriented. This is not a 12 step program. We break down your habits to rebuild a new life. Please know that you can overcome porn and sex addiction if you commit and open mind and heart to intensive treatment from home. Here is more info: http://www.themindfulhabit.com

  2. so hurt, but learning is helping January 18, 2016 at 6:27 am #

    Being the wife of an addict I can attest to the validity of this article. If you’re a married man or want to be a married man get away as fast as you can. It will destroy your relationship, and hurt who you’re with.

  3. Robert Hill June 11, 2016 at 9:28 pm #

    The question Weiss and others putting forward this porn addiction theory never explain is WHY men come to prefer porn over partner sex. Low self esteem, sexual and performance anxiety and especially a fear if intimacy can often in themselves cause sexual dysfunction and are just some of the reasons men prefer porn. Often these men do not suffer these sexual difficulties when masturbating to porn alone. I suggest that these “sexperts” consider investigating and treating these and other underlying psychological reasons instead of focusing on the porn use which is simply a symptom of something else.

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