Middlebury College physician sees rise in ED - blames porn

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Parton medical clinic sees rise in erectile dysfunction

By Saadiah Schmidt. Thu, 05/03/2012

The last three years have witnessed an upsurge in the number of male students reporting erectile dysfunction and other sex-related problems at Parton Health Center, according to Director and College Physician Dr. Mark Peluso.

“They can’t get an erection or maintain an erection with a female partner,” Peluso said. “They think they need Viagra.”

In a typical office visit, Peluso will ask his patient a series of questions: Are you attracted to your partner? Are you intimate? Do you have a sexually inhibiting medical condition? Are you using substances, such as alcohol, that impair sexual performance? Do you feel attracted to other men? According to Peluso, the answer to all of these questions is usually “no.”

However, “in the majority of cases, the patients were habitual viewers of pornography, and had no difficulty with sexual performance when they were by themselves,” Peluso said.

Noting the increased use of online pornography, Peluso suggests an inverse relationship between porn and potency — as porn use increases, so do sexual insufficiencies.

Senior Nurse Practitioner at Parton Health Center Laurel Kelliher often talks to female students about their partners’ erectile dysfunction.

“I would say in the last couple of years, it has been more prominent,” Kelliher said. She also believes that porn use is a major factor and advises women to encourage their partners to abstain from its use.

Both Peluso and Kelliher reported that the majority of patients who seek help for erectile dysfunction are starting a relationship.

“I see both, but more often people are in relationships than just random hookups,” said Kelliher.

Men “come in because they want Viagra,” said Peluso. “They are going to be with a female partner, going to visit a girlfriend, starting a new relationship and feel bad about [their erectile dysfunction].”

“You feel inadequate and ashamed,” said a male sophomore who has suffered from erectile dysfunction. “It’s a very awkward situation.”

Awkward though it may be for men, erectile dysfunction affects women as well.

“You automatically assume that [erectile dysfunction] is your fault,” said a female sophomore, “even though it doesn’t make any sense, because it is a guy’s body’s reaction to you.”

IS PORN TO BLAME?

How can pornography consumption affect sexual performance?

“The exact mechanism has yet to be determined,” Peluso said, but there may be neuroadaptive changes in the brain that impair sexual function in habitual pornography users.”

Peluso cited a study in which researchers treated Internet sex addiction with naltrexone. They found that dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the brain may be impacted by habitual pornography use in a manner similar to drug addiction.

Italian urologist Carlo Foresta carried out a 2011 study in which he found a strong link between pornography and erectile dysfunction. Seventy percent of men in the study who suffered from erectile dysfunction were regular pornography users, and interviews suggested that the actual figure was greater than this. The team concluded that “regular use of Internet pornography leads to hyper-stimulation of young men’s erotic sensibilities and … desensitization.”

According to some medical professionals, pornography can become an addiction.

“Studies suggest that there might be some people who would be vulnerable to pornography taking on an addictive quality to the point where it is interfering with their lives and they can’t seem to manage their viewing,” said Executive Director of Health and Counseling Services Gus Jordan.

According to Assistant Professor of Spanish Juana Gamero de Coca, who has done research on the topic of pornography and teaches a first-year seminar called Heterosexual Relationships, today’s pornography is significantly more “hard-core” than it was even 15 years ago.

“Pornography is somehow based on crossing a limit,” said Gamero de Coca. “It has to be in order to indulge people with erotic imaginations … Porn has become more violent, more perverse [in recent years]. At the beginning of the 20th century, novels like Madame Bovary and Lady Chatterley’s Lover were illegal because they were considered ‘pornographic.’

“I think that porn as we know it will end,” she continued. “Torture, rape and child molestation are becoming normalized.”

According to Gamero de Coca and other scholars, the trend affects users: tastes change to be more extreme as they become normalized to what previously aroused them.

The Campus has withheld the names of students who feared social repercussions.

“In the beginning it was always pictures,” said a male first-year. “Now it’s videos on the Internet. I guess it was easier to get erect before.”

Pornography consumption may further divorce students’ porn-inspired fantasies from the private intimacies with another person.

“For many, real sex does not always live up to the expectations pornography provides,” said Peluso. “Therefore, [men] might experience sexual difficulties when they are faced with the real thing.”

Another male first-year said that he compares real sex to porn.

“I see things in porn and want to try them out,” he said. “But I do not compare the girls I sleep with to the girls in porn.”

“There is a closed line of communication when talking about sex with boys,” said a female sophomore. “So much of what we do is based on what we think guys want and what we think they watch in porn, but you never know.”

Gamero de Coca cited a recent study that showed the average worldwide age at which boys begin to use pornography is nine.

“This is very scary,” she said. “All the information that they are learning about sexuality — a fascinating subject for every boy and girl — is being fed to them by the media and porn.”

Many male (and female) students at the College admit to having watched pornography before they had experienced sex.

“I watched a lot of porn before I had sex for the first time,” said a male first-year.

SKEPTICISM

Some students remain skeptical about the link between porn and erectile dysfunction.

“Becoming used to any specific mode of arousal can render a person less erotically flexible, but to vilify pornography is misguided,” said Claire Sibley ’13. “I’m not convinced that’s the issue our campus is dealing with. It’s telling that we’re talking about erectile dysfunction and pornography — after all, the stereotype dictates that men watch porn.

“What I suspect is being ignored is dysfunction in general — less obvious in the case of women, but just as real. If the problem really is porn, the solution is — try masturbating without porn. If that doesn’t work, get some sleep and reduce your stress.”

OTHER EFFECTS

Men also face “condom collapse syndrome,” or the inability to maintain an erection when using a condom. Foresta’s Italian research team also found that porn-influenced erectile dysfunction was linked to a decline in condom use.

“Condoms are definitely desensitizing, and a porn addiction will not help the problem,” said Peluso. “In a way, you are being desensitized twice.”

“I think that sometimes men use [condoms] as an excuse [for] why they cannot have or sustain an erection,” said Kelliher. “However, more often than not there is some porn viewing going on as well.”

Condom-collapse syndrome can lead to risky behavior — sexual partners frustrated by the man’s inability to maintain an erection with a condom might choose to forego protection altogether in favor of having sex immediately.

Kelliher claims to have seen a large increase in demand for Plan B since around 2005. She also claims to have seen more cases of genital herpes in the past five years than previously. The test for genital herpes, at $110, is the most expensive sexual transmitted infection test.

“It is sad to see that [the porn] industry has taken something so simple and basic away from your generation,” Kelliher said. “This should not be a problem for kids your age. Hopefully we can start talking about it more and make it more comfortable for students to come in if they have a problem. We can help then and we can get them through this.”

Peluso, Jordan and Kelliher encourage students who are suffering erectile dysfunction to seek help for erectile dysfunction at Parton Health Center.