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A recent study, published in Sexual Medicine and released by UCLA and Concordia, seems to signal that, contrary to popular belief, viewing sexual stimuli is unlikely to result in erectile dysfunction. Instead it may increase a man’s level of real time sexual arousal.

Whilst clinicians have bandied about the idea of a link between erectile dysfunction and the amount of erotica men watch, this is the first study of its kind to actually test the relationship.

The study was conducted by Nicole Prause, an associate research scientist in the Department of Psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behaviour, and Jim Pfaus a professor in Concordia’s Department of Psychology and Centre for Studies in Behavioural Neurobiology.

The study consisted of 280 male volunteers, the majority of which were in their early 20’s. The aim was to examine whether or not the time men spent viewing erotica was related to sexual responsiveness experienced in the laboratory or with a sexual partner. However, it should be noted that the findings were based on the self reported responses of the men involved and, therefore, are subject to the possibility of distortion.

The men were asked to disclose how many hours, on average, in a week, they spent watching sexually stimulating videos. This ranged from 0-25 hours. They then completed a questionnaire that measured levels of sexual desire. Of the 280 volunteers, 127 of them had regular partners and, additionally, were asked to complete the International Index of Erectile Dysfunction questionnaire.

The men then watched erotic films that varied in length from 20 seconds to 3 minutes. The films all portrayed a man and woman participating in consensual intercourse. The level of sexual stimulation reported did not vary with the length of the film and so the data was collapsed across the study for this variable.

“When we analysed the data from these prior studies, we found that the men who had watched more sex films at home were more aroused when they watched sex films in the lab,” says Prause. “While one could object that this was expected since they like sex films, the result is important because clinicians often claim that men get desensitised by watching these films,”

She also observed that these men were responding more strongly to “vanilla” erotica than the guys for whom the films are more novel. While not providing a cause, it does show that watching erotic films at home is not desensitising and perhaps even resulted in the men being more sensitised to sexual stimulation.

No correlation was found between the viewing of sex films and erectile dysfunction.

“While many people think easy access to porn leads to problems in the bedroom, our study suggests the opposite: that 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,” says Concordia’s Pfaus.

Another issue raised was the recent concerns expressed that viewing porn can lead to addiction and, in turn, ruin relationships.

Pfaus says their data disputes those claims: “The study participants represent a good cross-section of men that view porn on a regular basis. The fact that doing so increased their arousal to the erotic stimuli should cause clinicians and sex therapists to rethink their attributions.”

However, many field experts, such as Ian Kerner, a sex therapist and author of numerous books on sex and relationships, have backed the view that porn can lead to sexual difficulties in your relationship.

Ian Kerner cautions that poorly managed porn consumption can result in disorders such as SADD, or “Sexual Attention Deficit Disorder”. The increase in the availability of a wide range of porn on internet sites has resulted in the over consumption of porn and the cultivation of a negative attitude towards sex.

“Just as people with ADD are easily distracted, guys with SADD have become so accustomed to the high levels of visual novelty and stimulation that comes from internet porn that they’re unable to focus on real sex with a real woman. As a result, guys with SADD often find it difficult to maintain an erection during intercourse, or they experience delayed ejaculation and can only climax with manual or oral stimulation,” says Ian Kerner.

The study conducted by UCLA and Concordia only measured the subject’s ability to display an initial erection response and did not measure their ability to sustain an erection during intercourse. As such they have acknowledge that more investigation needs to be initiated in this area before the results can be considered conclusive.

Another factor not considered in the study is that while men might become more sensitised to stimulation and therefore more interested in real sex, if they have been watching an excessive amount of porn and their levels of masturbation are increased, they may be physically depleted and therefore unable to perform sexually in a real life context.

Men with SADD have reported feeling bored or impatient during sex. They might be physiologically aroused but they are not at peak mental arousal.

The most common signs of SADD are:

• The inability of the man to ejaculate during vaginal sex and, instead, only with intensive manual or oral stimulation.
• His display of disinterest and a lack of connection during sex.

Kerner explains that easy access to internet porn, and the sheer variety of novelty it offers, has affected men who normally wouldn’t have had an issue.

“Because of this, these men have rewired their brains to crave the instant gratification of a porn-enabled orgasm. This means that they’re developing what’s clinically referred to as an idiosyncratic masturbatory style: They’ve accustomed themselves to an intense type of physical stimulation that’s not approximated during real sex.”

The effect of porn on relationships and sexuality is an ongoing debate that has encouraged the discussion of a wide variety of perspectives. This is healthy, as it has fuelled the further investigation and release of information for public consumption regarding these vital areas of human relating. It is important that we keep ourselves educated, informed and open to new findings such as the UCLA and Concordia study, which has sought to challenge the view that no positive elements can arise out of the viewing of mild erotica.

Ana Bridges, Ph.D, a professor of psychology at the University of Arkansas, says that the two key things to remember when dealing with the potential health dangers of viewing sex films are: The point in an individual’s sexual development when they are first exposed to erotica, and the motive behind engaging with it.

When a person is exposed to erotica too young, before they have had the opportunity to gain sexual experience, their expectations are unrealistic and distorted. This can result in an unhealthy sexual development.

“If you’re seeing this (erotica) but have a long history of relationships and have other role models for sexuality, it’s probably not going to have the same impact as if this were your first glimpse into the world of sex,” says Bridges.

The individual’s motive has also been found to have a direct impact on their psychological health, with those who viewed sex films for reasons of instinctual, sexual desire, fostering stable relationships, whilst those who used it to cope with stress or loneliness reported an increase in relationship problems.

Paul Wright, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Indiana University who researches the social aspects of sex, agrees with Bridges.

“If you’re looking at pornography for sexual learning—to give your significant other a more pleasurable oral sex experience, for example—you may be less likely to become compulsive than someone who views it because he is depressed and lonely.”

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Guest Writer

This post has been curated by a Longevity Live editor for the website.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.