America is a rather prudish society, with sex still largely closeted, and sex education absent, limited or whitewashed. And yet, with many kids having free and unsupervised access to the internet, the average age for watching pornography online is getting younger and younger.
A steady rise in the number of young men experiencing erectile dysfunction has spurred a series of research studies about how frequent exposure to porn from a young age may be affecting their psychosexual development; a body of opinion is emerging linking such exposure to this steady rise in ED.
A recent article in The Guardian notes that 14% and 35% of young men are experiencing ED. “It’s crazy but true,” says Mary Sharpe of the Reward Foundation, an educational charity focusing on love, sex and the internet. “Until 2002, the incidence of men under 40 with ED was around 2-3%. Since 2008, when free-streaming, high-definition porn became so readily available, it has steadily risen.”
Habituated Penile Friction
Nationally recognized sex therapist and educator Ian Kerner notes that therapists are reporting seeing a new category of erectile disorder emerging among a group of young men that’s linked — not to performance anxiety, but to what might be called an idiosyncratic masturbatory style. “Because of Internet porn, some young men are masturbating maybe 300 to 500 percent more than they otherwise would. As a result, the nerve endings in their penises literally get habituated to a kind of a friction and pressure that’s not easily replicable by a vagina during intercourse. So they’re losing their erections during sex.”
Intense Novelty and Visual Stimulation
In addition, therapists are also seeing young male clients who are so used to the novelty and visual stimulation of Internet porn that it’s harder for them to sustain prolonged lovemaking and stay connected to an actual flesh-and-blood partner.
Writes Kerner, “The term I’ve coined to describe all that is Sexual Attention Deficit Disorder (SADD). Men with SADD tend to find themselves getting bored or impatient during sex and suffering from mechanical ‘male-functions’: they may be physiologically aroused and even have an erection, but they’re not at peak mental arousal. Guys with SADD may simply lack the mojo for real sex because they’re depleted from masturbation. They’re not running on a full tank, physically, mentally, and certainly not sexually.”
Clare Faulkner, a psychosexual and relationship therapist based in central London, also notes seeing pornography use as a factor in many presentations of erectile dysfunction among her clients, even in their early 20s. “Part of the problem with pornography,” she notes, “is that it is a very dissociated experience. Stimulation is coming externally, which can make it very hard to be in your body. It also perpetuates the myth that men are rock hard and women are ready for sex all the time.”
Finally, lone viewers of pornography become accustomed to being fully in control of their sexual experience – which again, says Faulkner, “isn’t replicated in the real world. Being faced with a real, complicated human being, with needs and insecurities, can be deeply off-putting, and evoke great anxiety (and often generate distancing and avoidance) on the part of the young men.
This, in turn, often triggers insecurities (body image, performance, expectations, desirability) in their young female partners who are in early stages of their own psychosexual discovery and development.