Is Porn Really the Problem? Correlation doesn't equal causation when it comes to erectile dysfunction.

Time magazine just published an article called, Porn and the Threat to Virility (Luscombe, 2016). The premise of the article, is that young men who have had a decade of full access to porn via the internet claim that watching porn has cause

Time magazine just published an article called, Porn and the Threat to Virility (Luscombe, 2016). The premise of the article, is that young men who have had a decade of full access to porn via the internet claim that watching porn has caused them to have erectile dysfunction. One young man claims, “The reason I quit watching porn is to have more sex” and that, “Quitting porn is one of the most sex-positive things people can do.” Luscombe goes on to describe several studies that support the increase of erectile dysfunction in men under the age of 40, as well as research that shows large numbers of adolescent males watch porn regularly.

Correlation doesn’t Equal Causation

Just because the prevalence rates of erectile dysfunction (ED) are increasing, and adolescent males are devouring online porn, doesn’t mean that watching porn is causing ED. 

Unfortunately, as Luscombe points out, there isn’t much research on pornography to help settle the debate over whether watching porn compulsvily is the cause or effect of sexual difficulties.  And much of the research that we do have is conflicting, leading to some confusion and disagreement between researchers and therapists over whether or not one can become addicted to watching porn. It also doesn’t help that well-know couples therapist, John Gottman released a statement on his blog in support of the Timemagazine article, insisting that porn threatens intimacy among couples. What’s disappointing here is that The Gottman institute is well-known for its research on couples, however this statement came purely from John Gottman’s opinion, without evidence to support it. 

Factors that Contribute to Erectile Dysfunction

Despite the lack of research on porn, we do know the many factors that can contribute to ED. In young men, for instance, anxiety, lack of sexual skills and knowledge, and questions about one’s sexual orientation are all factors that can contribute to sexual difficulties, including ED (Rosen, Miner & Wincze, 2014).  

Porn as Sex Ed
A major contributing factor for sexual issues among young people is the lack of quality sex education. Abstinence only programs aren’t the only problem—even comprehensive sex ed programs tend to stick to teaching basic “plumbing” without discussion of self-knowledge and pleasure (Ornstein, 2016). 

Recent Research on Porn 
Here’s some interesting recent research on porn use: 

  • Despite beliefs that porn viewers must to some degree, “hate women”  research speaks otherwise. According to a study by Kohut, Baer & Watts, (2016), pornography users held more egalitarian attitudes toward women than non-users of pornography. 
  • In heterosexual relationships, open communication about watching porn leads to more sexual and relationship satisfaction, and that deceit about watching porn can lead to distress in relationships (Resch & Alderson, 2013). 
  • Brain activity research does not support the theory that watching pornography is anaddiction. A more accurate term to describe problematic porn viewing is to view the behavior as a compulsion (Prause, et al., 2015). 

And finally, why is it that most research and discussions on pornography discuss only heterosexual couples? Where is the discussion on porn use amongst same-sex couples? 


Rosen, R.C., Miner, M.M., Wincze, J.P. (2014). Erectile dysfunction: Integration of medical and psychological approaches. in Leiblum, S. R. (Ed.). Principles and practice of sex therapy (5th ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Follow me on Twitter or my Facebook page for more information about me and to follow my posts.