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December 3, 2021

Do Porn And Masturbation Cause ED? Here's What The Science Says

We’re here to debunk the myths you may have heard.
Written by
Emily A. Klein
Published on
December 3, 2021
Updated on
What's changed?

You may have heard that porn and masturbation can cause erectile dysfunction (ED), but is there any truth to this at all? We’re here to tell you what the science says about the relationship between ED, masturbation, and porn, and debunk the myths you may have heard. 

There’s no evidence that viewing porn causes erectile dysfunction

There is no concrete evidence that simply viewing porn is a cause for ED. That said, people’s beliefs about porn might have an impact on their sexual health in other ways. (1) That’s because sexual performance and our ability to get and stay hard is impacted by how we think and feel. A sense of shame around porn-watching habits, and/or sex in general, can make it difficult to be in the moment and get aroused in sexual situations. (2

Negative beliefs about porn may stem from online communities like the NoFap forum on Reddit — a forum that promotes the idea that porn is addictive and causes problems with sex, relationships, and daily life. Negative ideas about porn may also come from what you hear from family members or friends, or they may be rooted in religious teachings. Studies have shown that people who believe that porn is sinful or wrong may be more likely to feel that porn is causing problems in their life, including sexual changes. (3; 4

Sex therapist Dr. Janet Brito tells O.school, “Research suggests that individuals with religious conflicts may experience guilt and shame with viewing porn, and thus their erectile health is impacted.” To reiterate, your ability to get and stay hard may be impacted by your beliefs about porn but not the act of viewing porn itself. 

Masturbation also does not cause erectile dysfunction

There is no evidence that masturbation causes erectile dysfunction or other problems. The idea that it does have something to do with ED, however, may originate from the NoFap movement and some religious communities that claim that masturbation can have negative effects (4) on your sex life. Masturbation has often been portrayed as sinful or unhealthy, but advances in science and medicine and changing attitudes towards sex have mostly debunked these myths. On the contrary, masturbation is a healthy form of sexual expression that is completely normal, whether you’re single or in a relationship. 

While masturbation does not cause ED, for some people masturbating in a very specific way over a long period of time (using an unusually tight grip, for example) might make it more difficult to stay hard or have an orgasm while having sex with a partner. (5; 6) Research suggests that this is rare, however, and can be avoided by using different masturbation techniques, like stroking the penis more softly and using plenty of lube. (5; 6)

So, what causes ED then? 

There are many potential causes for ED that have nothing to do with porn viewing or masturbation. Changes in your ability to get or maintain an erection can often be a sign of an underlying health condition. If you experience difficulties getting or staying hard, it’s best to check in with a healthcare professional to get to the bottom of what’s going on. Read our guide to learn more about potential causes for ED

5 things to try if you’re worried porn and masturbation are impacting arousal

Dr. Brito tells O.school, “The individual is the only one that can determine if masturbation [or porn] is a problem for them.” If you feel bad about the way you masturbate or view porn, or if you think masturbation and porn are negatively impacting your relationships or other aspects of your daily life, here are five things you can try. 

1. Explore why you feel porn or masturbation are a problem for you. Getting to the root of the issue is an important first step to managing sexual habits you feel are negatively impacting you. Porn and masturbation may sometimes be used to manage anxiety or distract from underlying relationship problems, mental health concerns, or other challenges. (6

A therapist who has experience with sexual health can help you to figure out what role masturbation and porn are playing in your life and how to find greater balance. Moving beyond shame and guilt, as well as addressing underlying mental health, social, or relationship challenges, can help you to feel more connected to your body and more sexually confident. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists is a good place to find a judgment-free mental health professional.

2. Reframe negative narratives around porn or masturbation. Reframing negative narratives around porn and masturbation may be a long journey — especially when it comes to unlearning religious messages about sex, But those negative feelings can be a cause for arousal issues. To reframe the narrative, a good place to start is simply seeking resources that normalize masturbation and porn viewing. You may also be interested in speaking to a sex therapist on these issues, and finding more progressive religious texts on why porn viewing isn’t a sin. Dr. Brito tells O.school that if an individual is “feeling bad, ashamed, worried, troubled by their porn use [or masturbation habits], I suggest they seek the support of someone they trust.” Dr. Brito adds, “I suggest practicing self-compassion. Instead of jumping into shame, step back and ask yourself what is the function of the porn, what purpose is it serving you (filling a lonely gap, helping you to avoid intimacy, to manage anxiety).” 

Talking about subjects like masturbation and porn can be embarrassing, but many people have firsthand experience with both. Opening up to a trusted, nonjudgmental friend or family member can help you to feel less alone and give you a broader perspective. 

3. If you’re in a relationship, talk to your partner. Letting your partner know what’s going on with you can give them an opportunity to be supportive. Many people who feel that porn or masturbation are a problem for them also feel inadequate or afraid of judgment from sexual partners. (4) But sharing your concerns with a partner can help you work together to find strategies to increase sexual satisfaction and pleasure, whether or not your dick gets hard.

4. Get involved in things that are important to you. Focusing on things that are meaningful to you — volunteering for a cause you care about, investing in a hobby you enjoy, spending time with loved ones — can have mental health benefits (7) and can help you to build confidence in yourself. This in turn can lead to less worry about ED, which may help you to feel more comfortable in sexual situations.

5. Move your body. Research has shown that exercise has many physical and mental health benefits. (8) Connecting with your body in this way can increase your overall wellbeing and help you to feel more positive about your body. And because physical inactivity is a risk factor for ED, exercise may also help to reduce ED symptoms. (9)

The bottom line 

ED is something that affects people from all walks of life and is nothing to be ashamed of. Masturbating and viewing porn don’t cause ED and can be part of a healthy sex life. If you feel that your porn viewing or masturbation habits are causing problems in your life, or making you feel bad, it’s a good idea to seek support from a caring and nonjudgmental mental health professional.

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Emily A. Klein is a freelance writer with deep interests in science, culture, and health. As a student of cultural anthropology, she researched and wrote about kink, reproductive rights, cross-cultural medicine, and humans’ relationship with technology. She has designed and implemented a sexual health curriculum for adolescent girls, worked with foster youth and people experiencing housing insecurity, and volunteered as an emergency first responder. Her writing has appeared in The Establishment, Edible magazine, The Seattle Lesbian, Slog, and elsewhere.

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