Is Porn REALLY A Problem?


I remember a study in 2016 that implied that many young men, after a decade of high-speed internet access, were experiencing erectile dysfunction as a result of the overuse of pornography. The study was featured in Time magazine, which quoted a number of such young men who claimed they “quit pornography to have more sex”, and that “Quitting porn is one of the most sex-positive things people can do.” The article then goes on to recount more studies that seem to support the idea that porn is instrumental in erectile dysfunction in men under 40, tying it to research that shows high numbers of adolescents regularly watch porn. But, and say it with me now, correlation doesn’t equal causation.

Is Porn a Problem?

The rates of erectile dysfunction do indeed seem to be on the increase. So is porn consumption. But are the two truly related? Is porn causing penis-havers to lose their erections?

There simply isn’t enough research on the subject to prove one way or the other whether there is a direct, causative link between porn and ED. For every study hinting that porn is detrimental to sexual health and wellbeing, I could find another saying that porn is a benefit to sex. They are probably both accurate, in the same way as saying ‘porn is a terrible teacher of sex education’ is just as true as saying ‘at least porn offers some kind of sexual education.’

The upshot is that there’s a lot of disagreement, sometimes quite angry, between researchers and therapists on the subject, since so much of the information available is contradictory and conflicting. There’s no consensus, for example, that pornography is habit-forming, much less addictive. Several prominent sex therapists, among them the respected John Gottman, released statements outlining how porn can threaten intimacy, particularly among couples. 

So what do we know?

Well, we might not know all that much about the impact of porn usage, but we do know a lot about erectile dysfunction, and I recently wrote an article that outlines twenty or so of the most common – but lesser known – causes of ED. 

What it comes down to, though, barring any physical or medical impediment, is that elements like anxiety, lack of experience, lack of expertise, lack of knowledge, and questions about one’s own sexual orientation can all lead to erectile dysfunction in young men. Mental health is also a key player, and depression is often linked to erectile dysfunction by researchers. Sex is often weird and confusing, and using porn as an avenue for sexual expression is not uncommon, particularly among young men. Therefore, porn use might be a symptom of erectile dysfunction, rather than a cause of it. 

Similarly, a lack of quality sex education can play a part, and often, unfortunately, sexual educators in schools are not often qualified to do so, or they enter the classroom with a barrage of hang-ups of their own in tow, which are then imparted onto the vulnerable minds. Abstinence-only sex education might well prove to be one of the most harmful things we can teach the younger generation. Don’t @ me about it. But even more secular sex education tends to focus solely on the physicality of sexual intercourse, and very little on the emotional consequences. Consent is almost never taught in American schools.

There are a few things we know about porn, though, in its defense. For example, it’s easy to assume that straight male porn consumers must have negative attitudes towards women when the truth is quite the opposite. A 2016 study found that porn users have a far more egalitarian attitude towards women than non-users.

In straight relationships, open communication about watching porn often leads to a relationship with more sexual satisfaction, not less, but the deceit around using porn is what causes tension within the relationship. 

Neurological research conducted in 2015 showed no evidence from brain activity that porn is an addiction, and that such behavior was better considered as a compulsion, which has more psychological implications.

It’ll be some time before this argument is put to bed and solid evidence is uncovered to prove one way or another that porn is harmful, or not harmful, or both (as is my belief). Until then, there’s just no point in overthinking it. Porn is part of our society, our culture, our psychology and our artistic expression. We’ve always done it, and we always will.

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