DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I know your stance on porn already, but I was hoping to take it a step further and ask what you think about porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED)
Recently I was with my girlfriend getting intimate, and when it came time to do the deed my little friend became my little enemy. Our relationship is close enough where we brushed past the awkwardness, but I still went searching to find out if that’s something that was likely nerves or something deeper.
What I stumbled across was people talking about PIED, and the debate on whether or not it exists. I myself have been playing whack-a-mole for far too long, and the fact that I have a girlfriend meant that making the choice to kick the habit was a no-brainer for me. But reading through the champion subreddit for it r/NoFap I’m not sure what to believe about it.
I see people talking all the time about how the recovery process could take months or years. People swearing up and down that taking a shower while wearing your underwear (uh, gross) is the way to go, and questioning if seeing a Victoria’s Secret ad on TV broke their “streak”.
So how much of this is legitimate good advice and how much of this is self-fulfilling prophecy for them? Do you think the issue is just a matter of nervousness, or do you think the dopamine from too much masturbation really did rewire my brain?
Thanks for any insight you can give
-PIED in the face
DEAR PIED IN THE FACE: Before we get into your letter, I want to remind you of three crucial concepts that will make your life much easier overal PITF:
1. Correlation is not the same as causation
2. The simplest and most obvious answer is usually the correct one
3. Never trust anything from a subreddit that promises you that giving up masturbation will give you superpowers
#2 is especially important in your case. As the saying goes, if you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.
Now as for your letter:
No, this is f--king awful advice. NoFap is the spiritual ancestor of John Harvey Kellogg — yes, THAT Kellogg — a 19th century physician who had a LOT of… shall we say, interesting ideas about health and physical fitness. Amongst other things, he believed that undigested food in the colon was the cause of most disease, that comfortable beds, warm showers and spicy foods sapped years of people’s lives away and that any sort of emotional “excitement” was detrimental to people’s mental health. This included orgasms of any sort, whether self-provided or through sex with another person. In fact, he believed in this so fervently that he would brag that he had never, ever had sex with his wife of 40+ years — including on his wedding night. He believed in this so fervently that his various “cures” for masturbation and terminal horniness included inventing the graham cracker and corn flakes (bland foods intended to avoid provoking “passion” in the consumer), circumcision without anesthetic done in such a way as to make erection impossible, chastity devices that would stab the penis with needles when someone started to experience an erection and total clitorectomies. Following his advice would, in his mind, prevent a multitude of “nervous disorders” ranging from depression to psychosis as well as epilepsy, uterine cancer, and a host of other ill-defined maladies.
(He was also, incidentally, a profound racist and eugenicist who saw racial integration as destructive to the character and gene pool of America.)
It’s honestly rather astounding to see folks in the 21st century continue to make the same arguments, with “disrupting the humors of the mind” replaced by “dopamine depletion” and the like. It’s also rather annoying having to wade through SEO-bombing websites tied to religious organizations (not to mention groups like The Proud Boys) to get to actual studies investigating porn-induced ED rather than summaries that drastically mischaracterize what those studies have actually said. In fact, one of the most famous studies — a literature review of other studies involving erectile dysfunction — that gets cited as “evidence” of PIED actually says that the studies are inconclusive and more research is needed. Meanwhile, a 2019 study found that there was no likely link between porn use and ED.
Part of the problem is that penises are famous for being divas, and the slightest disruption or change can cause them to not work properly. In a classic example of “correlation is not causation”, one of the most common non-physiological causes of ED is depression… and people who suffer from depression will often use porn and masturbation as a form of self-medication. And then to make matters worse, lots of antidepressants — such as Prozac and Zoloft — will not only kill your libido deader than the dodo, but it’ll make you anorgasmic to boot. So rather being “desensitized” to mainstream porn and needing more and more extreme porn to get off, people find they have to work harder to get off because hey, turns out their SSRIs have made it so they can’t orgasm for love nor money.
Of course, all of this gets obscured or even discarded entirely by groups like Your Brain on Porn or Fight the New Drug, which are thinly veiled religious orgs dressing up their concerns in science drag, and other sites that go out of their way to try to push legitimate studies and science off the front page of Google.
As a general rule: if the site (or forum or…) refers to “porn addiction”, you can rather safely assume it has an agenda that goes beyond “following the science”. The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors or Therapists has stated that the organization “does not find sufficient empirical evidence to support the classification of sex addiction or porn addiction as a mental health disorder, and does not find the sexual addiction training and treatment methods and educational pedagogies to be adequately informed by accurate human sexuality knowledge,” and “sex addiction” was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in the fourth edition.
Now, if you have an unhealthy relationship with porn — you’re spending money you can’t afford to lose on cam sessions, you’re watching porn at inappropriate times (like at work or school) or you’re watching porn rather than having sex with your partner, etc. — then yes, restricting your porn consumption is a good idea. Similarly, if you’re masturbating so much that you don’t have the energy or drive to have sex with another person (and you want to have sex with them), then addressing the masturbation issue is important. But I suspect that, were that the case, then you would have said something.
Getting back to the case of “dicks being divas” — having things fail to rise to the proverbial occasion, especially when you’re relatively sexually inexperienced or you’re with a new partner is fairly common. It’s all too easy to get so in your own head about the import of it all that when the moment finally comes, your penis goes “eeeenh” and just fails to work. And because irony, not gravity, is the strongest force in the universe, that worry puts a whammy on your head, you get all too worried that you’re going to have another failure to launch, which makes you more concerned, which makes it all too likely that you’re going to have a third time you can’t get it up for the first time.
The key to fixing this is to break that self-perpetuating cycle. The easiest — and hottest — way to do so is actually quite simple: you take your penis off the table, so to speak. That is, you and your partner agree that you’re going to deprioritize not just penetration, but penile involvement. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have sex; it just means you put the focus on things like oral sex, using your hands and fingers, penetration toys or vibrators and the like. It’s still sex and you’re still having sex with your partner; you’re just not having penetrative sex with your penis is all. This not only takes the pressure to perform off of you, it also reminds you that you have more ways to share intimacy and pleasure with your partner than “insert tab a into slot b”. It expands your repertoire as a lover, widens the type of activities you and your partner can enjoy together and it encourages more creativity and outside-of-the-box thinking.
…er, as it were.
And the great thing is, once you’re no longer worried about needing the magic wand to be the end-all/be-all of sex and pleasure, you’ll find that you’ll be ready, willing and able to actually add intercourse back into the mix. Getting rid of the jitters is a much more reliable, effective and — importantly — fun way of dealing with stress and anxiety-induced ED than becoming a nevernude who worries that a flesh-toned bra cup is going to ruin one’s streak.
So get off the NoFap, get with your girlfriend and let your fingers do the talking. You and she will be much happier for it.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org