Pornography has been blamed for a number of problems over the years. Among the many claims leveled against porn is that it causes divorce and sexual violence (neither of which is true, by the way). Another claim that has becoming increasingly common is that porn causes sexual difficulties, including erectile dysfunction in men. But is this really true? Is porn really impairing men’s sexual functioning? Despite how often this claim is made, there has been surprisingly little research to date that can speak to it one way or another. However, a new study just published in Sexual Medicine suggests that this claim, like so many of the others directed at porn, is not supported by the science.
Researchers recruited 280 men to learn about their porn habits and sexual functioning. All of the men reported being sexually attracted to women, were relatively young (average age of 23), and were mostly White. In addition to being asked how many hours per week they spend viewing visual sexual stimuli, participants also completed measures of their desire for sexual activity and their current erectile functioning (both in general and with a partner). As part of this research, some participants also watched a series of sexual video clips in a private room and reported how aroused they felt during each one.
First and foremost, the researchers found no statistical link between the number of hours per week men spent watching porn and their erectile functioning. This finding held for the general measure of erectile function, as well as reports of erectile function with a sexual partner.
Second, when watching the sexual video clips, those who reported watching more porn each week reported greater arousal than those who watched less porn. Thus, contrary to the claims that some have made about porn use causing a habituation or desensitization response (i.e., diminishing levels of arousal with repeated pornography exposure), porn use was actually linked to enhanced arousal to sexual stimuli in this study.
Lastly, frequency of porn viewing was linked to greater sexual desire for both solo and partnered sexual activity. This doesn’t necessarily mean that porn causes more desire, though; it could very well be that those men who watch the most porn just tend to have the highest sex drives.
These data are limited in that the sample was not representative and also because the researchers did not administer physiological measures of genital arousal; however, the results appear to refute the idea that pornography use is linked to poor sexual functioning in men. This is not to suggest that porn use can never be problematic (indeed, this could be the case for men who use porn excessively or who have broader issues with compulsive sexual behavior)—but to the extent that porn does contribute to erectile problems, the effect is likely limited to a very small segment of the male population.
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To learn more about this research, see: Prause, N., & Pfaus, J. (in press). Viewing sexual stimuli associated with greater sexual responsiveness, not erectile dysfunction. Sexual Medicine.
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