Science Now

Study finds no link between viewing porn and erectile dysfunction

Viewing porn does not desensitize men to 'normal' sex, researchers say

Can surfing the Internet for porn make you a better lover?

Viewing sexual stimuli online will never make society's list of highly effective habits, but new research suggests that porn may be getting a (slightly) worse rap than it deserves.

Specifically, researchers at UCLA and Montreal's Concordia University contend that an oft-repeated claim among activists and clinicians that a man's habitual porn viewing can lead to erectile dysfunction and other problems in the bedroom is simply lore and not fact.

Although previous research has found that greater time spent viewing sexual stimuli may be linked to depression and other negative mental health outcomes, a new study found that it was "unlikely to negatively impact sexual functioning."

In a paper published Monday in the journal Sexual Medicine, researchers found that more hours spent viewing pornographic stimuli was "unrelated to erectile functioning with a partner, and was related to stronger desire for sex with a partner."

"Many clinicians claim that watching erotica makes men unable to respond sexually to 'normal' sexual situations ...," said coauthor Nicole Prause, a UCLA sexual psychophysiologist and neuroscientist. "That was not the case in our sample."

Prause conducted the research with James Pfaus, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Concordia University. Together, they enlisted the help of 280 straight male volunteers -- mostly white men in their 20s.

The participants were surveyed on how often they viewed sex films (answers ranged from zero to 25 hours a week); what their relationship status was (127 had regular sexual partners); and whether they experienced erection problems.

When the study authors reviewed this information, they saw no link between increased porn viewing and erectile dysfunction.

"While many people think easy access to porn leads to problems in the bedroom, our study suggests the opposite," Pfaus said in a statement. "The erectile dysfunction is most likely caused by the same issues that have been known for some time, such as performance anxiety, poor cardiovascular health or side-effects from substance abuse."

That wasn't the end of the research, however.

The participants were also invited into the lab and shown a series of 20-second- to three-minute-long films depicting a man and woman having "consensual vaginal" intercourse.

The films were less "deviant" than what study participants could access online and did not feature such activities as bondage or anal sex. 

Afterward, the viewers were asked to rate their level of sexual arousal while watching the flicks. (The men were seated in a room by themselves and were told they would not be observed by researchers.)

"We found that the men who had watched more sex films at home were more aroused when they watched sex films in the lab," Prause said.

"They are responding more strongly to very vanilla erotica than the guys for whom the films are more novel. While this association doesn't establish a cause, it proves viewing erotica at home is not desensitizing and perhaps even sensitized the men to respond more strongly," she said.

The researchers noted a number of limitations to their study, including the fact that study participants self-reported their experiences with erectile issues and were not examined for genital response.

"It would be useful in the future to assess erection maintenance directly," the authors wrote.

Follow @montemorin for science news.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
71°