Increasing Sexual Dysfunction in Young Men: Could Porn be Responsible?

MI Science Staff: October 2016

It is often difficult to get young people to be concerned about the risks involved with sex outside of a committed, long-term monogamous relationship. Even as we present the facts to them about sexually transmitted diseases, and emotional consequences, their adolescent brains have difficulty believing that bad things will happen to them when they engage in risky behaviors.  So too, the warnings about engaging in internet pornography have often gone unheeded. Now, however, a new consequence is coming to light that may be more likely to garner the attention of adolescents and young adults. That consequence is sexual dysfunction.

A recent Canadian study using sexually active adolescents reports that over the two-year period of the study, 78.6% of the males and 84.4% of females reported a sexual problem. The problems reported by females were inability to achieve orgasm (59.2%), low satisfaction (48.3%) and pain (46.9%).1 Those of us who have worked in women’s health recognize these as common historical problems among sexually active females.  It is the male sexual problems that are surprising and somewhat alarming.

Common problems among the male adolescent participants were low sexual satisfaction (47.9%), low desire (46.2%), and erectile dysfunction (45.3 %). 1 Erectile dysfunction has historically been associated with aging.  A review of research on the prevalence of erectile dysfunction reported, “the prevalence of ED (erectile dysfunction) ranged from 2% in men younger than 40 y to 86% in men 80 y and older.2 The review was on research that was done in the 1990s and early 2000s. It is just in the last few years that the numbers of young men experiencing erectile dysfunction has shown a significant increase.  A 2012 Swiss study showed erectile dysfunction in 30% of Swiss men between the ages of 18 and 24years.3

Why is the problem of erectile dysfunction, along with other sexual dysfunctions, increasing among young men? That question is being studied by researchers currently, and although no cause can yet be proven, associations with pornography are clearly being made.  An article published in Behavioral Science this year reviews both historical and current studies and suggests that there is a definite link between the sharp rise in sexual dysfunction in young men and high speed internet pornography.4

Further evidence of pornographic induced sexual dysfunction comes from the clinical experiences of physicians, including urologists and psychiatrists.4&5 A key factor in the case studies involved masturbation while viewing the pornographic materials. Notably, one problem with the research done regarding this new sexual dysfunction among young men is that factors, such as masturbation while viewing pornography, are not consistent from one study to the next. But, perhaps the most convincing evidence linking porn to sexual dysfunction is the return of normal sexual functioning after a patient abstains from internet pornography with masturbation for a period of time.6

Author and speaker, Gary Wilson shines a light on the issue of pornography and its effect on sexual function in his book, Your Brain on Porn and on his website with the same title.7&8 On his website, Wilson uses videos with graphic design to bring a clear message in layman’s language out of the complex neuroscience involved.  He also gives very practical advice to those caught in the trap of porn:

“If you suspect your porn use might be adversely affecting you, by all means make a simple experiment: Give it up for a time and see what you notice for yourself. There’s no need to wait until experts reach a consensus.”

 

References:

  1. O’Sullivan LF, Byers SE, Brotto LA, et al, “A Longitudinal Study of Problems in Sexual Functioning and Related Sexual Distress Among Middle to Late Adolescents,” Journal of Adolescent Health 59 (2016) 318-324
  2. Prins J, Blanker MH, Bohnen AM, et al, “Prevalence of erectile dysfunction: A systematic review of population-based studies,” Inter. J. Impot. Res. 2002, 14, 422-432 http://www.nature.com/ijir/journal/v14/n6/full/3900905a.html
  3.  Mialon A, Berchtold A, Michaud PA, et al, “Sexual dysfunctions among young men: prevalence and associated factors,” Journal of Adolescent Health 2012 Jul: 51(1) 25-31.
  4. Park BY, Wilson G, Berger J, et al, “Is Internet Pornography Causing Sexual Dysfunctions? A Review with Clinical Reports,” Behavioral Sciences 2016, 6, 17; doi:10.3390/bs6030017
  5. Porto, Robert MD, “Male Masturbation Habits and Sexual Dysfunctions,” Sexologies Aug 16, 2016.
  6. Dodge N., The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, 1st edition; Penguin Books: New York, NY, USA, 2007
  7. Wilson G, Your Brain on Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction, Commonwealth Publishing, UK, 2014. Quote from page 151.
  8. YBOP, www.yourbrainonporn.com
 

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