There’s this episode of the TV show Scrubs, where the main character JD is having some problems downstairs. Lil’ JD is not performing like he should and its causing him grief. In the episode, when he finally shares the problem with Turk and Dr Cox, it puts their problems into clear perspective. At least they don’t have that problem.
A few years back, I was watching the FIFA world cup, and was struck by this ad that kept being played. Now, to be fair, it was SBS I was watching and it wasn’t prime time. But this ad, for medicine that treats ED (erectile dysfunction - or a peep on the fritz…) featured a young man in his twenties with a beautiful woman. The confusion for me was that I thought these pills were for older men. But here was a young man, supposedly struggling to get it up. Surely this company had got its target market wrong.
Here’s what’s going on. Over the last decade, the number of young men suffering from erectile dysfunction has skyrocketed. What was once a small percentage of the male population with sexual dysfunction issues has become increasingly common.
For example, a report recently came out that surveyed men in the US Navy, and found a large percentage of these men could not adequately stand to attention (sorry - I know this is a serious issue, but I feel at least one piece of wordplay is warranted). The article reporting on the study pointed out that whereas 15 years ago only 2-5% of men experienced ED, the number has now risen to 30%. These scientists reported an increase of 1000% in the number of reported cases.
So is there something in the water? Are men simply increasingly lacking in libido? Are the men in the US Navy so stressed by their jobs that its impacting upon their sexual health?
One prominent theory that is backed up by this particular study, and others, is that porn is the major contributing factor. It’s even got a name - porn-induced erectile dysfunction, or PIED for short.
Here’s how it works: a man who frequently masturbates while watching porn slowly trains his brain to be aroused by porn, and not a real woman. Over time, he needs increasing levels of more hardcore porn to get aroused, which is a result of porn’s effect on the reward systems of the brain. This man eventually finds that he can’t gain and maintain an erection without pornography. Often, upon realising the downtown issue, the man will go back to porn as that is the only time he can get an erection, and so he becomes stuck in a vicious cycle.
At this stage, some guys start taking viagra. But viagra treats a lack of blood flow often found in older men and it does nothing for the guy whose issue is not the plumbing, but the brain.
Add to this the complexity of a relationship, and a man will become increasingly frustrated and distanced from his partner. He'll start to wonder whether he is the problem, or whether she is. And this is only going to decrease intimacy within a relationship. And as a man gets increasingly worried, and sexual intimacy becomes increasingly difficult, he will likely go back to porn because it makes him feel good for a fleeting moment and doesn't have the complexity and difficulty of a real-life relationship. And so things just get worse.
How do you know if this is your problem? Well, the Navy doctors suggested a simple test. Men were asked to see if they could masturbate without porn and maintain an erection and orgasm. It may seem ironic that continued and habitual use of pornography leads to ED, but the scientific and anecdotal evidence is clear.
But here’s the good news. When men stop watching porn and masturbating, their normal sexual function improves. Just as the brain is conditioned to porn, so too can it be conditioned back to a real person.
Porn by its very nature becomes used compulsively, and when the user is a young male, who already has a hard time exercising self-control on a good day, porn can grab hold of his mind and body and refuse to let go. No longer can we maintain the idea that porn is harmless fun. While the thrill for a short time might be real, the effects can be shocking.
So if you’re reading this, and can see some of the symptoms in your own life, maybe it’s time to stop. And if the symptoms aren’t there just yet, it might be worth asking if your usage has escalated since you started viewing porn. Because if you’re on a trajectory to watching more porn, more frequently and more compulsively, then you may be headed towards to the same problems as those men in the US Navy.
If you want to read more why try this article from Robert Weiss, or check out Your Brain On Porn's page on ED and sexual dysfunction.