Is too much pornography affecting your sex life? You don’t need to have a porn addiction for your sexual function to suffer. Here’s how to know if cutting back on porn could solve your sexual problems.
Last Updated: 04/13/2023
A lot of guys watch pornography to enhance sexual arousal. A whopping 98% of men have used Internet porn in the last six months, according to an online survey of 1,036 people mainly between the ages of 18 and 35.1
You’ve probably heard that watching too much porn can trigger problems with sexual function. But how much porn is too much? And does it matter how many hours of porn you watch or are there other factors involved? Do you really have a porn addiction and what are the symptoms?
During Part Nine of our 90-Day Challenge, we’re going to dig deeper into how much porn is okay to watch without affecting your sexual function.
The goal of the 90-Day Challenge is to change one or more aspects of your lifestyle each week. By changing your lifestyle and trying other strategies like acoustic soundwave therapy, you’re well on your way to toe-curling good sex.
In Part Nine of the challenge, you’ll discover if too much porn is impacting your sex life and what you can do about it.
Studies have linked watching pornography to worse sexual function in men. For example, one study found that men who had a preference for pornography while masturbating were more likely to be suffering from sexual decline.2
The least amount of sexual decline (about 22%) occurred in men who preferred sex with a partner without pornography. Problems with sexual function occurred significantly more often in men who preferred pornography over sex with a partner.
In another study of men 18 - 44 years old, even though internet pornography use alone didn’t predict sexual decline, men who perceived they were addicted to pornography were more likely to suffer from poor sexual function or premature ejaculation.3
Researchers first reported on the negative sexual effects of porn in 2007, when they found that pornography could cause problems with sexual function and abnormally low libido.4
The researchers found that watching a lot of pornography videos led to an increased need “for more extreme, specialized or ‘kinky’ material to become aroused.”
The question is, how much porn do you need to watch for it to impact your sex life—and not in a good way?
One group of scientists wondered about this, too, so they conducted a study on the topic. The researchers created a 118-item online survey and analyzed the responses of 3,419 men between the ages of 18 and 35.5
Although the frequency of porn use didn’t affect sexual function, men who watched pornography for more than 30 minutes at a time had a slightly increased occurrence of sexual decline. However, 89% of the men who responded to the survey did not use porn for more than 30 minutes at a time.
In the men who did watch more than 30 minutes of porn, there was a significant relationship between the time spent watching pornography and reduced sexual function when having sex with a partner. Usually, the men who watched the most porn scored high on porn addiction measurements. And men with a porn addiction were more likely to suffer from sexual decline.
How porn impacts your sexual function may involve more than just the time you spend watching it. One group of researchers divided people who watch porn into three categories of users: recreational, highly distressed non-compulsive, and compulsive.6
Recreational users made up about 75% of the people in the study. This group watched porn an average of 24 minutes per week and included women and people in relationships. The people in this category were sexually satisfied and weren’t compulsive about sex. Their sex lives were healthy and their sexual function was good.
The distressed, non-compulsive group actually watched less porn than the recreational users, an average of 17 minutes per week. This group made up a little more than 12% of the participants. They weren’t compulsive about watching porn, but they were sexually less satisfied and reported more sexual problems and avoidance of sex with a partner. They felt distressed about viewing porn and felt uncomfortable and shameful. A higher number of people in this group watched porn while alone.
People in the compulsive group—mostly men—watched pornography for an average of 110 minutes per week. They rearranged their schedules so they could watch porn and frequently thought about porn and sex. They weren’t satisfied when having sex with their partner and often avoided it. When they did have sex, they had poor sexual function. Just under 12% of the participants fell into this category.
The takeaway? Compulsive porn users whose sexual function suffers from watching porn watch more porn than recreational users whose sex life isn’t affected by porn. However, the porn-using group who watched the least amount of porn also had sexual problems and often avoided sex with a partner due to their feelings of guilt and shame about watching pornography.
Consuming porn triggers the release of dopamine, a brain chemical tied to feelings of pleasure. Over time, porn can make some men more resistant to those pleasure signals from dopamine, so you need to watch more and more of it in order to feel satisfied. Likewise, sex with a partner might not boost dopamine levels as high as during porn watching, leaving you feeling dissatisfied.
In one study, 21.6% of men needed to watch an increasing amount of porn or increasingly extreme pornography in order to have the same level of arousal as they did when they first started watching porn.5 About 10% of those men needed to scale up their porn watching in order to stay as hard as they were when they first started watching porn.
Men who watch pornography usually masturbate while they’re doing it. Masturbation has a lot of benefits, as you’ll see from this previous blog post we wrote. But, like porn, the key is moderation. Excessive masturbation can desensitize or even harm the penile tissue, so you don’t want to overdo it.7
Masturbating too hard or too much can cause friction, leading to sore, red skin. On rare occasions, this could lead to a skin infection.
Going at it with too much gusto can rarely lead to a condition called penile fracture. Masturbating too hard may lead to this problem by tearing the tunica albuginea, tissue on the penis that supports its rigidity during sex.
Penile fractures can be painful and interfere with urine flow. A penile fracture is considered a medical emergency, so immediately visit the ER or your doctor.
Research shows that watching more than 30 minutes of porn at one time can cause problems with sexual function in men. Watching too much porn can be a red flag that you have a porn addiction, which is linked to poor sexual function when having sex with a partner. In some men who feel guilty or shameful about watching porn, even as little as 17 minutes per week can cause sexual problems or prompt them to avoid having sex with a partner.
Most of the research shows that watching too much porn can cause your libido to tank. For example, in one study, men who had the best sexual function (about 22% of the study subjects) were those who preferred sex with a partner without pornography. Problems with sexual function occurred significantly more often in men who preferred pornography over sex with a partner.
Another group of scientists surveyed 3,419 men between the ages of 18 and 35. Men who watched pornography for more than 30 minutes at a time had an increased risk of sexual decline. Researchers first reported on the negative sexual effects of porn in 2007, when they found that pornography could cause problems with sexual function and abnormally low libido.
Scientists debate whether there’s such a thing as true porn addiction or whether it’s just compulsive behavior. Regardless of whether it’s an addiction or compulsion, porn becomes a problem if it meets some or all of these criteria:
You’re rearranging your schedule to watch porn.
You can’t stop yourself from watching it.
You’re neglecting your responsibilities.
You’re preoccupied with thoughts about porn and sex.
You’re more likely to watch it alone than with a partner.
You avoid having sex with a partner because you’d rather watch porn or you feel too ashamed that you’ve been watching it.
Another warning sign? You need to watch more and more porn in order to feel satisfied or need to watch increasingly extreme pornography in order to have the same level of arousal as you did when you first started watching porn.
If you’re noticing problems with your sexual function or other areas of your life, cutting back on porn is a good idea. If you’re having a hard time reducing your porn use or eliminating it altogether, experts recommend seeing a professional therapist, participating in group therapy, or trying hypnosis and replacing porn with something else you enjoy. These strategies may also help with porn addiction withdrawal.