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According to new research, one in four men in the UK diagnosed with erectile dysfunction (ED) is now under the age of 40. This is despite the fact that ED is more traditionally associated with men in middle age and beyond. It is thought that in younger men, the causes are more likely to be psychological rather than physical. 

Mental health conditions including depression, stress and anxiety are well-known causes of ED. According to some sex therapists, the vastly increased availability of pornography is also contributing to a rise in body dysmorphia, performance anxiety, and sexual inhibition in younger men. 

The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction refers to this phenomenon with the acronym PIED  (pornography-induced erectile dysfunction). However, it’s an issue that is still in the early stages of research, and experts hold differing views on the matter. 

Sexual therapist Dr Catherine Hood says: “In younger men, ED is often rooted in psychological issues such as anxiety, depression and sexual ­inhibitions. There is also evidence that easy access to pornography is an increasingly common factor.”

She continued: “The main issue is that pornography increases expectations. You don’t go and watch a Marvel movie and come out thinking you can fly. It’s fantasy. But people watch porn and think that’s reality.”

It is important to point out that this is a subjective opinion, and some researchers even think that porn could help men to overcome ED. Whatever the truth of the matter, it’s likely the situation is slightly different for all men, with no one single reason to blame for their problems. 

Those who advocate for men to use porn less or avoid it altogether claim that increased exposure to hardcore images over time desensitises their natural sexual response, making it harder for them to become aroused when they are with a sexual partner. 

The unrealistic body images of both men and women in porn may create false expectations in less sexually experienced men, who find it difficult to become turned on by a person with a  ‘normal’ figure. 

It may also lead to some men putting themselves under unnecessary pressure to achieve a certain idealistic body shape, which is very difficult to acquire without an intensive diet and exercise programme and a certain genetic inheritance. 

Furthermore, a third of men with ED also report poor mental health, which could either be the cause or the result of their sexual difficulties. Dr Hilary Jones says: “We know that ED often causes anxiety and depression so it’s very difficult to know which came first, their erectile dysfunction or poor mental health.”

Whether the cause of ED is ultimately mental or physical, it’s important to get all symptoms checked out by a doctor to rule out a serious underlying health condition. 

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