A look at the science behind porn-induced erectile dysfunction.
Ever come across the acronym PIED? It stands for ‘Porn Induced Erectile Dysfunction’, and it’s a condition affecting young Australian men.
In fact, according to relationship counsellor, sex therapist and associate of Impotence Australia, Alinda Small, not only are cases of PIED on the increase, it’s what she deals most with at her Sydney private practice.
“Porn-induced erectile dysfunction is actually the biggest presentation I’m seeing at the moment,” Small told The Huffington Post Australia. “A lot of guys I’m seeing are addicted to porn and are having erectile dysfunction issues as a result.”
So what is PIED?
First up, let’s talk about erectile dysfunction. ED is a condition whereby a man is unable to get or keep an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse. There can benumerous reasons as to why a man might have ED (both physical and psychological), including health reasons.
One of the psychological causes, which is a fairly recent phenomenon, is thought to be an over-dependence on Internet pornography for stimulation. This is PIED.
“We have a situation whereby a whole generation of men have grown up looking at porn on the internet,” Small explained. “It changes the way the basic systems of our brain — the reward system — actually operates.”
“It gets to such a point where the expectation of pleasure is so high, normal sex with a real life partner doesn’t provide that same hit.
How does it work?
“Basically, what happens is your dopamine levels get a kick when you have a ‘novel’ factor, and porn is the most novel factor of all,” Small said.
“Once you get hooked, porn gets more and more extreme, and so people start upping the ante on it.
“It gets to such a point where the expectation of pleasure is so high, normal sex with a real life partner doesn’t provide that same hit. It’s not as novel, especially in a situation where, for instance, the guy is with a long-term girlfriend.
“In many cases they would actually prefer to be wanking alone because they get that hit.”
If preferring the fantasy of on-screen sexual scenarios to actual, real-life sex sounds strange to you, Small says it’s because the availability, accessibility, diversity and sheer amount of porn out there is just too much to compete with.
“Not one [real-life] story can beat 20 different stories on 10 different screens all at once,” Small said.
“And we’re talking anything from [sexual relations] with animals to pissing all over each other — the viewer’s brain just goes into overdrive.
“Instead of one picture you have five or six and you just get addicted to that particular hit.
“Sadly, with a real life partner, you don’t get that same rush. It’s actually very, very scary.”
Why is it happening now?
Though pornography has obviously been around for ages, the internet has ushered in entirely new levels of demand, and it continues to rise. In fact, it has been suggested because so many people are accessing porn today, the porn industry is making more money than all professional sports combined.
“Porn addiction is an incredibly huge issue at the moment,” Small said. “It’s particularly scary for younger kids because [accessing porn online] is all they know.
“For instance, one client I am seeing is a 23-year-old virgin. He can keep it up until the point of penetration, but then loses his erection.
“It’s because he doesn’t know what he’s in for. He has no idea what a vagina will actually feel like, and he is incredibly anxious about it. All he knows is what he has seen online.
“In fact, scientists are discussing now how we are losing that natural pair bonding humans have always had. There are changing ideas of what love is, what romance is.
“The truth is, sex is fumbly and messy for the first time. But they don’t see that when they are looking at porn. It’s perfectly choreographed and perfect and the woman going crazy with pleasure.”
What science tells us
While PIED is yet to be fully understood and researched, an increasing number of experts are recognising porn-induced sexual issues and the problems they represent in modern day society.
As Small touched on previously, there is a developing scientific belief that porn addiction can lead to an interference with pair bonding, and as a consequence,”less attraction to one partner may be the outcome of over exposure, according to research.”
Consuming too much internet pornography also appears to affect the brain’s reward circulatory system and the way it works, an outcome which only becomes more pronounced given how easy it is to access inexhaustible novelties with only a single click.
In short, too much porn consumption can impact sexual function as well as emotional interaction, and, as Small wrote in a recent blog, “Given the fact that 35% of all internet downloads are pornographic we can be certain that porn is here to stay and we will find out more about the impact… in the future.”
What to do
According to Small, one of the biggest issues facing those who may have porn-induced ED is the fact they often refuse to talk about it.
“The problem is a lot of people don’t talk about it, especially young guys,” Small said. “It takes a lot of courage to go and present to your GP, which is what people tend to do. A GP might give out some numbers of sex therapists but often men don’t have the courage to call for some time.
“It’s part of human nature. Men see it as a reflection of their manhood, so it stands to reason that presenting something that’s essentially them in all their masculinity, and to admit it’s not functioning… well, people don’t talk about it because it’s embarrassing.”
This can also present major challenges to those involved in a long term relationship.
“When you are with a partner, especially a hetero partner, it can be difficult,” Small said. “Women take it personally. They think they aren’t sexy enough or they are are not doing something.
“What they don’t realise is it’s never that — it’s the male thought processes.”
“Don’t live with it. It’s not something you can overcome on your own.
Small recommends those who are concerned they might have some issues with erectile dysfunction should seek out professional help.
“Go to your GP or go and see a sex therapist, first and foremost,” Small said. “We deal with sexuality on a daily basis. There’s never any judgment, it’s something we see all the time.
“It’s important to have the courage to make that first phone call, because there are options out there.
“Don’t live with it. It’s not something you can overcome on your own. Sitting in your room reading a book won’t help you overcome it by yourself.”