As Porn Goes Up, Performance Goes Down?

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Is there an unsuspected link between today's porn and potency?

Porn addiction can lead to erectile dysfunctionThrough a fluke of fate, my website has become a hangout for some amazing people, including men determined to wean themselves from porn. Their efforts have taught me more than I ever wanted to know about this subject. A few years ago one wrote,

I am sure that if a study were actually done with honest men, we would see correlation between porn viewing and erectile dysfunction. The porn industry takes advantage of the uninformed public and makes billions. Then the pharmaceutical companies sell us costly sexual enhancement drugs to treat the side effects—and make billions.

Turns out he wasn't an exception.

I've been looking at Internet pornography since I began college 13 years ago. Around age 24, I noticed difficulty getting aroused with real women. Generic Viagra off the Internet allowed me to have real relationships with few problems until the age of 29. Then, it became increasingly difficult to have real sex, even with the pills.

Realizing my problem, I tried several times to give up porn. The longest I lasted without it was 3 weeks. During this time, I could not get aroused thinking about normal sex, so the frustration built. My only escape was to fall back into the only thing that would arouse me: fantasizing about fetishes I developed when watching porn. Then it was back to porn. I need to be cured of this.

As Internet speed has soared, so has masturbation to videos. They are easily accessible, increasingly extreme—and much more stimulating than Playboys of the past. Alas, most experts are not thinking in terms of "degree of stimulation affecting brain chemistry balance/wiring." They're still thinking of all porn as "nothing more than a masturbation aid," and therefore harmless, or even beneficial. Since Internet videos are such a recent trend, it's possible that the standard thinking simply hasn't had time to catch up with the reality of today's porn and its risks.

Pornography addiction can foster erectile dysfunctionThe porn/potency connection is surprisingly treacherous. Most men's potency isn't affected by porn...until it is. So the problem seems illusory until it catches up with someone—at which point he tends to mistake hotter porn as the cure. More extreme material further desensitizes his brain. At this juncture, most men clutch at any explanation other than porn use for their symptoms, due to their growing dependency.

Often experts assume shame is the cause of such potency problems, but for many men it's likely that brain chemistry desensitization from heavy stimulation is the culprit. Not only have they been using porn quite contentedly for years, but also, if shame were the cause, the problems would likely show up sooner. Many men experience NO problems until years of heavy porn use have passed. Then there is a further decline as their search for more extreme material escalates. (Shame is not always irrelevant, of course. It can make sexual activity more intensely arousing, thus speeding up the desensitization cycle.)

The good news is that erectile dysfunction brought on by heavy porn use is apparently reversible. The painful part is that the sufferer has to surrender his compulsive porn use—a sacrifice that is surprisingly tough.

Here's what men shared:

After years of porn, I was having trouble with erections. It had been getting worse and worse for a couple years. Needed more and more types of porn stimulation, and it still was not helping. I was really worried, but the anxiety just pushed me deeper into porn. Hard to believe, given the progression. I probably used every type of porn image and vid out there except for one: child porn. What scares me is, could I have gone that route, too, one day?

The more I go without porn, masturbation, fantasy and orgasm, the more difficult it becomes to not get an erection. LOL. No ED problems or weak ejaculations like I had just a few months ago. My body has healed. So, if you stay away from porn and masturbation your sexual desire will go up. It will go up in a good way. Giving it up for just this short period of time has been a big step in healing the damage I did to myself. Now the challenge is to find a partner, or a masturbation interval that works.
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After a 90-day period of abstinence from porn/masturbation, I noticed that I was more sensitive than before; I didn't need any other stimulation to make me horny. Also the semen leakage stopped. Now that I have returned to some masturbation, I notice that I have been the most interested in women (and have ended up in bed with them) during my experiments with low masturbation frequency.
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While I was consuming porn and beating off, I had severe performance anxiety when it came to actual sex. That is gone. I have no problem. It is nice to get aroused by little things: a revealing blouse, some innocent cleavage, a summer dress, or just a woman's flowing, shiny hair and fragrance, instead of "Cum Gurgling sluts" video clips.
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I'm glad this porn-ED issue is becoming more recognized. It's gonna help prevent a lot of problems. I've read things about people being able watch porn occasionally and then still perform with a significant other. However, if they went a long stretch without any type of partner sex, and watched a lot of porn with masturbation, then they had difficulties—difficulties they didn't previously have.

According to psychiatrist Norman Doidge, a heavy porn user is not unlike

a drug addict who can no longer get high on the images that once turned him on. And the danger is that this tolerance will carry over into relationships, as it did in patients whom I was seeing, leading to potency problems and new, at times unwelcome, tastes. When pornographers boast that they are pushing the envelope by introducing new, harder themes, what they don't say is that they must, because their customers are building up a tolerance to the content. The back pages of men's risque magazines and Internet porn sites are filled with ads for Viagra-type drugs—medicine developed for older men with erectile problems related to aging and blocked blood vessels in the penis. Today young men who surf porn are tremendously fearful of impotence, or "erectile dysfunction" as it is euphemistically called. The misleading term implies that these men have a problem in their penises, but the problem is in their heads. ... It rarely occurs to them that there may be a relationship between the pornography they are consuming and their impotence.

Here's the bit that most men don't know. A period of discomfort or intense horniness during the days of recovery after intense stimulation seems like a sound reason to self-medicate with another porn binge. But doing so actually worsens the problem. If someone climaxes before his brain is back to balance, he's likely to seek out hotter and hotter stimuli. Why? A primitive part of his brain is still temporarily less responsive. This is why regular sex/porn "isn't doing it for him."

Couple in hot tub
Hotter stimuli produce arousal, but further dysregulate dopamine levels in a key part of his brain. As his hangovers and cravings for hotter relief come to dominate his life, the user can forget what equilibrium felt like. Often he experiences uncharacteristic depression and anxiety—which he won't connect with the changes in his brain brought about by heavy porn use. And because the problem is developing in the brain's wiring, Viagra's temporary fix won't halt the deterioration. (It only addresses blood flow to erections.)

As my visitors discovered, the solution seems to be to stop masturbating to porn. In fact, foregoing masturbation entirely for as long as two months speeds the "unwiring" of the acquired association between arousal and extreme, synthetic erotica. This offers a fresh start, sexually speaking (although the brain is likely to remain very sensitive to porn-related cues indefinitely).

This lengthy, often agonizing, "rebooting" process can be scary. Some men fear their libido will vanish completely. This is not the case. As the brain comes back to balance it tends to become more sensitive and responsive, not less. At first, however, some experience a gray period, during which nothing turns them on because their brains are so desensitized.

As the brain is prevented from pursuing porn-acquired associations, it eventually looks around for other sources of pleasure. It rediscovers the ones it evolved to find: friendly interaction, real mates, time in nature, exercise, accomplishment, and so forth. In fact, many men find exercise particularly beneficial. It improves self-image and eases anxiety and depression while the brain is returning to homeostasis.

Obviously, lots of factors can be at work in performance anxiety. Yet as people learn to regulate their sexual responsiveness to real potential partners using changes in their own behavior, they can more confidently address any other issues contributing to performance anxiety.

[Also see: “How I Recovered from Porn-related Erectile Dysfunction”]

For more on understanding erectile health, see Gary's Erectile Dysfunction and Porn slide show.