Porn-induced Erectile Dysfunction

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We talked to Clare Faulkner, a psychosexual and couples’ therapist, about Porn-Induced Erectile Dysfunction given our recent survey of 1,000 men which revealed that 1 in 10 men blame porn for their erectile dysfunction (ED). Here's what she had to say:

Whilst Porn-Induced Erectile Dysfunction (PIED) is not a recognised medical condition, perhaps due to limited research into the topic, I do see men presenting in my practice who believe that porn usage is linked to the quality of their erection and ability to sustain an erection. In therapy addressing how and why it might be impacting sexual performance, and the meaning porn has is an important process. I have seen an increase in younger men presenting with ED and in these cases porn habits were formed at young age providing the basis of their sex education and early sexual experiences. For some clients they have been watching porn for many years before embarking on partnered sex. It can be hard to break the cycle as it becomes a self-soothing mechanism and an effective behavioural strategy to deal with affect. As porn is a dissociative experience it can lead to challenge in focusing attention inward leading to partnered sex feeling out of control or simply not doing it for them.

How to go cold turkey on porn:

Historically presentations of ED where seen in older men, but over the last twenty years we have steadily witnessed numbers increases in the under forties. Contributing factors for ED can be psychological, physical or both and therefore it is recommended that you see a doctor if you develop ED to check for any underlying causes and to discuss treatment. However recent thinking also considers a link with porn. According to the clients I see in practice this stipulation is indicated. Some clients in their early 20’s have grown up with porn as their primary sex education and source of arousal.

Browse wisely

The web is ubiquitous. Gone are the days when teenagers nervously reached for the top shelf in their local newsagent. Growing up in the 1980s/1990s the dictionary provided a technical definition for the words young people now look up online. Research shows children as young as 7 years have stumbled across porn in this way. Half of children between 11-16 years have watched it, with numbers increasing with age.

Reality vs what you see on screen

Excess porn changes how the person becomes sexually aroused and for some clients it becomes challenging to maintain an erection without fantasising about porn. Porn is a dissociative experience which means it can be challenging to focus attention inwards in the body. It can also perpetuate false representations of body image and healthy sexual relationships. Like any movie the content might be true to life or extreme in its content. Some clients report that usage and content might escalate as the original material ceases to have the same impact.

Watching porn doesn’t make someone an expert at sex. Closeness and intimacy can be an issue, along with the lack of control that being in a real-life intimate relationship/ sexual relationship brings. Furthermore real-life bodies don’t look the same as they do in porn which might add to low self-esteem and issues with partnered sex. Lone viewers can become accustomed to being in control which isn’t mimicked in real life sexual experiences with others. The Journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour noted millennials are the first generation having less partnered sex than any generation previously.

Anecdotal evidence from working with clients has shown me that a significant reduction or fully stopping can lead to improvements in arousal in real life sex.

So here would be my top tips for going ‘cold turkey’ on porn over the festive season:

  1. Remind yourself that going cold turkey is a mindset and ultimately you are in control.
  2. Before you start take some time to identify your cues that trigger porn use. This will give you an opportunity to rewire the habit circuit. Ask yourself what was going on before the behavioural response to watch porn. How were you feeling? What were you thinking? What was going on physiologically. Once you have clarity on this you can start to identify alternative strategies.
  3. Set an intention. If you notice your cue is frustration have a plan in place to deal with this when it occurs: When I feel frustrated I take time out to go for a walk. You have a plan waiting to be implemented.
  4. Clear out your computer/ devices to make it hard to gain access to material.
  5. Leave phones and computers out of the bedroom. Buy an alarm clock if necessary!
  6. Find alternative ways to get the dopamine hit porn provides. Identify which would work best and try and incorporate: Exercise, belly laughs, working on a project.
  7. Use the additional time to do something else you really enjoy.
  8. Separating porn from masturbating by doing sensation exercises: Connecting to the body by engaging in self-touch. Bringing attention inward to the body, focusing on the physical sensations that generate pleasure, as opposed to the visual information that’s received viewing porn.
  9. Try writing an erotic story and engage your imagination with the process.
  10. Believe you can succeed, but if you fall off the horse don’t be too harsh on yourself.

If you continue to have issues with arousal or ED see your doctor to check for any other underlying causes and to make sure you receive the correct treatment (which may include psychosexual therapy.)

Clare Faulkner is a psychosexual and couples’ therapist who aims to build a warm and respectful relationship with clients to explore current and past concerns. She is a graduate member of the British Psychological Society (BPS) and a registered member of the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists (MBACP). She is also an accredited member of the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists (COSRT).

She supports clients in clearing and changing limiting beliefs, allowing them to release and free themselves from emotional blocks. This brings insight and a deeper understanding of behavioural patterns. She recently worked with Zava on a campaign to raise awareness of PIED.