Some people believe that masturbation can cause erectile dysfunction, but this is a myth. Masturbation is a common and beneficial activity.
While most men have trouble getting or keeping an erection at some point in their lives, frequent difficulties getting an erection is called erectile dysfunction (ED).
Learn more about ED and masturbation, how watching porn may affect sexual function, and when to see a doctor.
Can masturbation cause ED?
No, masturbation cannot cause ED — it is a myth.
Masturbation is natural and does not affect the quality or frequency of erections.
Research shows that masturbation is very common across all ages. Approximately 74 percent of males reported masturbating, compared to 48.1 percent of females.
Masturbation even has health benefits. According to Planned Parenthood, masturbation can help release tension, reduce stress, and aid sleep.
A person may not be able to get an erection soon after masturbating. This is called the male refractory period and is not the same as ED. A male refractory period is the recovery time before a man will be able to get an erection again after ejaculating.
What does the research say?
Universally, researchers are confident that masturbation does not cause ED. However, difficulty getting and keeping an erection either while masturbating or while having sex may be a sign of other conditions.
Age is the most significant predictor of ED. Erectile dysfunction is common in men over 40 years old, with approximately 40 percent being affected to some degree.
Rates of complete ED, or the inability to get an erection, increase from 5 percent in men aged 40 to about 15 percent at age 70.
Other risk factors for ED include:
• being overweight
• heart disease
• lower urinary tract symptoms (bladder, prostate, or urethra issues)
• alcohol and cigarette use
ED in younger men
Although ED generally affects older men, a 2013 study found that as many as a quarter of men under 40 years old received a new ED diagnosis.
In younger men, ED is more likely to be caused by psychological or emotional factors. Younger men also have higher levels of testosterone in their bodies and are less likely to have other risk factors for ED.
Anxiety about sexual performance or erection quality can lead to further stress, sometimes creating a "vicious circle."
Factors that can contribute to ED in younger men include:
• depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder, or medications for these illnesses
• being overweight
• insomnia or lack of sleep
• urinary tract problems
• a spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, or spina bifida
• having a high-stress job
• relationship stress
• performance anxiety
Porn and ED
ED can be a result of psychological or emotional factors, especially in younger men.
While watching porn does not cause ED in a physical sense, it may contribute to anxiety and behaviours related to sexual function in some people.
Internet porn usage rose at the same time that the rate of ED diagnoses increased in men under 40 years old.
This led some researchers to believe that porn might affect male viewers' ability to get and maintain erections.
The main argument by researchers is that exposure to internet porn decreases sensitivity to real sexual stimuli.
They hypothesized that this effect might be due to the characteristics of internet porn; there are limitless types, it is readily available, and images can change from mild to extreme in seconds.
Researchers think that his might result in sexual activity with real-life partners not meeting these expectations, causing sexual arousal to decline.
One study into male sexual dysfunction asked compulsive internet porn users to self-report their sexual desire. Of the 19 male participants, 11 reported that they felt less sexual desire towards women, but still enjoyed porn in the same way.
While it is true that internet porn access and diagnoses of ED in younger men increased at about the same time and rate, this does not prove a link between the two.
Until recently, there was little research into ED in young men, making numbers difficult to interpret. Also, due to stigmas and reluctance to speak to a doctor about sexual health, ED may be underreported in both younger and older men.
It is also difficult to separate the psychological effect of watching porn from other psychological factors, such as performance anxiety.
Research from 2016 suggests that healthcare providers can separate internet pornography-related ED from other causes, such as performance anxiety, by performing a simple test.
The test involves asking the individual whether masturbating without pornography is difficult, but masturbating with pornography is easy.
If this is the case, then the person's ED may be the result of pornography use, and taking a break from using pornography could help with ED.
When to speak to a doctor
ED is sometimes a sign of underlying conditions, such as heart disease or anxiety.
Telling a doctor about ED can prevent potential problems that these conditions might cause, and also provide solutions to ED.
For example, doctors may recommend that men with ED who are overweight lose some weight. This is because maintaining a healthy weight can increase testosterone levels, making it easier to get an erection.
A doctor may also recommend stress-relief techniques or cognitive behavioural therapy for those dealing with ED due to emotional or psychological issues.
Masturbation does not cause ED, but many underlying health problems, including heart disease, urinary tract symptoms, alcohol use, depression, and anxiety, can.
Research also suggests that masturbation using internet porn could potentially cause desensitization to real life sexual stimuli. This may increase performance anxiety, resulting in difficulties with erections.
Anyone experiencing problems getting or maintaining an erection should speak to a doctor, as ED is often treatable.
This story was originally published on Medical News Today.