For centuries, masturbation has been the subject of some crazy myths – if you do it too much, you’ll grow hair on your hands, stunt your growth, or even go completely blind.
Of course, none of these are actually true, no matter what you heard in grade school.
Even though the topic of masturbation is still a bit taboo in today’s society, we know now that it is a perfectly healthy and normal part of sexual development, not an evil voodoo curse.
But just because it doesn’t cause hair to sprout from your knuckles and toes doesn’t mean it’s without any health side effects at all.
One of the most common health problems associated with masturbation is erectile dysfunction.
The belief is that the more often you polish your rocket, the more likely you are to develop erectile dysfunction as you reach middle age.
The general thought is that if you keep pumping the well, you’re eventually going to run out of water someday.
It’s a bit of a scary myth, as no man wants to be inhibited by a problem as frustrating as ED, but is there any evidence to back it up?
Or is it just another schoolyard superstition?
What is Erectile Dysfunction?
To better understand how masturbation affects ED, you first have to understand ED itself.
What happens in the body that makes it harder for men to have sex as they grow older, and where does masturbation fit in, if at all?
As you probably know already, an erection is made possible by blood flow – blood goes in, the penis gets bigger, viola.
The penis is mainly made up of spongy tissue, veins and arteries, smooth muscle, nerves, and the urethra.
When you pick up a raunchy magazine or encounter some other form of sexual stimulation, your brain sends signals to your penis via the nervous system telling the smooth muscle cells to relax.
And if all goes according to plan, the aptly named spongy tissue will draw blood into the penis like a sponge, causing it to swell and giving you an erection.
One bad apple spoils the whole bunch, and if just one part of this process isn’t working right, then it could throw off the whole thing.
If your blood pressure is too low or something’s obstructing the spongy tissue, such as internal scarring from an injury, it can weaken your erection or make it difficult to get one at all.
If the nerves in the penis aren’t working right, then it may lose some of its sensitivity to touch and make arousal difficult.
And if the brain is not properly responding to sexual stimuli, it doesn’t even send the signals to the penis to start the process at all.
How Common is ED?
Most of us know about ED from the commercials for products like Viagra and Cialis that show happy older couples walking on the beach or having a romantic picnic while a voiceover warns the audience about erections lasting for more than four hours.
There’s a reason those commercials are always on – erectile dysfunction is an extremely common problem, and so there’s a huge market for those medications.
While the exact numbers are unclear because many men don’t seek treatment out of embarrassment, it’s estimated that over 30 million men in the United States struggle with erectile dysfunction.
It’s most common in men older than 70, but men as young as 40 are still at risk.
The severity of ED varies from man to man.
Partial erectile dysfunction is the most common – your penis gets stage fright from time to time, but still remembers how to perform.
In cases of complete ED, the penis has quit its acting job altogether without so much as a two week’s notice and won’t get firm at all, no matter what.
Like most common disorders, dysfunctions and diseases, people are always looking for something that’s easy to blame, whether there’s evidence to back it up or not.
For example, you may have heard that using deodorant or eating certain types of food can cause cancer – but because they’re things that everyone uses, it’s hard to make a direct correlation.
But the truth is that these conditions are the result of many different factors, not just one.
The same goes for masturbation and ED – over 90% of men over thirty say that they’ve masturbated at some point in their life, so the odds of someone with ED having a history of masturbation is extremely common.
But like cancer and deodorant, it’s not a strong direct case of cause and effect.
A Brief History of Masturbation
We’ve come a long way when it comes to talking about masturbation.
While American and European cultures have long struggled with the subject, others have been more accepting, even embracing it.
Evidence of humans stimulating their own genitals goes back as far as recorded history goes.
Ancient Egyptians and Greeks viewed the activity in a positive light, even incorporating it into their respective religions.
We start to see masturbation being scorned as a heinous sin in Christian European cultures in the 18th century, when even doctors published material warning of the evils of touching oneself for pleasure.
Ever had a bowl of Kellogg’s cereal?
Did you know that the brand that makes your favorite Froot Loops has a rather bizarre history?
John Kellogg was one of the most outspoken leaders in the great fight against “the sin of masturbation”, truly believing that it corrupted the youth and poisoned their souls.
He believed that one cure for the “disease” of masturbation was a strictly bland diet – so in 1878, he invented Corn Flakes.
The more you know.
The Facts about Masturbation
With time, we’ve managed to (mostly) overcome the fire and brimstone rhetoric of masturbation to uncover the facts.
As pointed out earlier, regular masturbation isn’t without side effects – but for the most part, they are positive side effects.
Masturbation is the safest type of sexual stimulation there is because there’s absolutely no risk of pregnancy of STDs.
It’s a safe way for young people to explore their sexuality and learn what they like so that when they do eventually become sexually active, they’ll have a better understanding of their body.
Research has shown that masturbating can help relieve stress and stress-related headaches, help you sleep better, relieve muscle pain, and is a safe sexual outlet.
Masturbating regularly can even significantly reduce your risk of prostate cancer
– in a study of over 2,000 men, researchers found that those who ejaculated more than four times a week were 36% less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer before turning 70 than men who did so less frequently or not at all.
Finally, something pleasurable that’s actually good for you!
Well, mostly good for you. A dark side to masturbation does exist – and yes, it has to do with erectile dysfunction, but it may not be exactly what you think.
The Link Between Masturbation and ED
There’s good news and bad news regarding masturbation and erectile dysfunction.
The good news is that masturbation, on a physiological level, cannot cause permanent impotence.
Fundamentally, ED is caused by a lack of blood flow to the penis, or damage to the nervous system, and not even daily masturbation can do that.
You’d have to jerk it so hard that you actually injure your penis in the process, and that’s unlikely to happen and easy to prevent with a small dose of caution.
The bad news is that on a psychological level, masturbating too much can make it difficult to get an erection and have an orgasm during sex for a period of time.
Your body hasn’t changed, but you’ve become so used to a certain sensation or so used to a particular type of porn that anything else just doesn’t do it for you.
You’ve gotten so deep into a habit and a rhythm that when it comes time to have sex with a living, breathing human being and not a laptop screen and a box of tissues, you come up short – literally.
There’s nothing wrong with your blood flow or any part of your penile anatomy, but your brain has come to expect one thing and doesn’t react to anything else but that.
Another piece of evidence to support over-masturbation as more of a psychological problem and less of a penis problem is that it affects women too.
While statistically much less likely, women can become addicted to porn and masturbation in the same way that men can, and suffer the same adverse effects and problems orgasming during sex with a partner.
Simply put, it’s not a problem that requires a penis – it’s a problem that requires a brain.
Is ED Caused by Masturbation Common?
In most cases, masturbating is a perfectly healthy indulgence, and rarely turns into an obsessive activity that causes erectile dysfunction.
However, in the age of the Internet, we’ve seen a dramatic rise in the amount of pornographic material and people’s ability to access it discretely.
Because of this, porn addiction has become a huge problem for many young men. As you may have guessed, comparing a porn addiction to a masturbation addiction is like comparing apples to apples.
It’s estimated that over 200,000 Americans spend 11 hours or more looking at porn online per week – searching for the right erotica can be a time-consuming quest.
But is this rise in porn availability necessarily mean a rise in erectile dysfunction rates?
Currently, online porn addiction seems to be more a problem with younger men than older men, who are at higher risk of developing erectile dysfunction.
The older men get, the less likely they are to masturbate, and some quit altogether.
When asked in a survey if they had masturbated at all in the past year, nearly 70% of men over 70 said no.
To be clear, masturbating frequently in your youth does not put you at risk for ED when you’re older – you do not possess a latent disposition for ED just because you jacked off every day as a teenager.
Because of this gap in age between men who masturbate and men who are likely to develop ED, erectile dysfunction caused by masturbation isn’t all too common, but it can still happen.
Other Side Effects of Masturbating Too Often
A lot of heavily religious groups paint masturbation as an evil, life destroying addiction – just masturbating once will send you to the flaming depths of hell, or at the very least make you impotent for life.
While the purpose of this article is to inform, not scare, and it’s important to remember that masturbation has more positive effects than negative, the fear-mongers do make one valid point.
While uncommon, masturbation does have the potential to become a harmful addiction in addition to causing erectile dysfunction.
Addiction isn’t limited to drugs and alcohol.
Anything that you develop an unhealthy dependency on can be an addiction, and masturbation crosses the line from a positive stress relief activity to vice when it starts to prevent you from doing other activities and hurting your relationships.
Masturbating daily isn’t an issue on its own, but if you can’t possibly bear to go a day without watching porn or masturbating, you might have a problem.
If you feel ashamed of yourself for doing it, you’re choosing it over work, school, or time with family and friends, and you devote hours a day to it, you may need to seek help from a professional.
Curing ED Caused by Masturbation
Luckily, also unlike most causes of erectile dysfunction, masturbation related ED has a pretty simple solution – masturbate less.
It sounds easy, but habits can be hard to break. And depending on the situation, it may have even spilled over into a serious addiction.
Because of this, erectile dysfunction caused by masturbation is a problem better suited for a therapist rather than any other doctor.
When your phone goes berserk and stops working the way it’s supposed to, you turn it off and turn it back on again.
In this way, a penis is a lot like a smartphone – you’ve got to “turn it off” for a while to fix your porn-induced erectile dysfunction.
Some experts recommend quitting masturbating cold turkey for as long as a month to reset the body’s preferences, but depending on your situation you may require a shorter or longer period of rest.
In time, your body will rewire itself and unlearn the stimulation you’ve gotten too used to, allowing you to enjoy sex again.
The best thing that you can do for masturbation induced erectile dysfunction is see a therapist.
Usually, there’s an underlying psychological problem that’s causing you to use masturbation as an escape more often than you should, like anxiety or depression.
A therapist can help you get to the root of the problem and find a solution that works for you.
What Is Most Likely to Cause ED?
Anything that causes damages to the nerves or impairs blood flow in the penis can cause ED.
These include things within our control, like tobacco and alcohol use, and things outside of our control, like diabetes and other diseases.
Especially when you consider that masturbation rates are relatively low in older men, you’re much more likely to develop ED as a result of one of these risk factors instead of from excessive masturbation.
The ideal BMI for a 40-year-old man is between 18 and 25, depending on your height.
Men with a BMI over 35 were found to be more than twice as likely to develop erectile dysfunction.
Excess fat inhibits the function of blood vessels that line the inside of the penis, and when less blood is able to flow to the penis, the less likely you are to be able to get it up.
Alcohol & tobacco use:
Tobacco use also affects the flow of blood into the penis by damaging blood vessels, while alcohol is an antidepressant that damages the body’s nervous system.
So while getting drunk may increase your sex drive, it actually inhibits your performance and can lead to permanent problems down the road.
It’s estimated that 60% of men with diabetes also struggle with erectile dysfunction.
Once again, when there’s a vascular problem, such as high blood sugar in the case of diabetes, there’s also usually a penis problem – so much of your penis health rides on healthy blood flow.
As the number of Americans with diabetes continues to climb, so does the number of Americans with erectile dysfunction.
Blood clots, a heart attack, or plaque build-up in a man’s arteries can inhibit overall blood flow and cause erectile dysfunction.
In older men, the inability to get and keep a firm erection may be an early warning sign of heart disease.
While this isn’t always the case, it’s still a good idea to see your doctor if you experience erectile dysfunction.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and in turn is the most common cause of ED.
Because we know that ED has a psychological side, it should come as no surprise that mood disorders like anxiety and depression can cause men to underperform in the bedroom.
Depression and ED is a two-way street – the disorder can either result from depression or end up causing it.
Studies show that around 40% of men who were taking antidepressants also had symptoms of erectile dysfunction.
Unlike diabetes or heart disease, mood disorders affect the brain’s ability to kick-start an erection by causing a chemical imbalance.
How to Prevent ED
To best way to prevent erectile dysfunction is to prevent the underlying conditions that cause ED, like diabetes and heart disease.
For erectile dysfunction that’s the result of frequent masturbation, a good preventative measure would be to cut back on it and step away from porn from time to time as detailed above.
But aside from that, all of the underlying causes of ED illicit the same preventative advice from doctors – eat healthier and exercise more often.
Urologists hope that if their patients’ cardiologists weren’t able to convince them to change their lifestyle to save their heart, they can convince them to change their lifestyle to save their penis.
It’s both a sad and funny reality that men are often more motivated to take steps to improve their health more to improve their sex life and less to prolong their life, but if it works it works, and doctors certainly aren’t complaining so long as patients are making the effort.
We’ve become a bit complacent when it comes to erectile dysfunction in America.
We’ve come to assume that losing function of your penis is just a natural part of growing older, but the truth is that it doesn’t have to be.
It is preventable, and men of all ages should be able to enjoy sex fully.
We’re all tired of hearing “diet and exercise” over and over again, but those really are the building blocks of a healthy body that lasts us well into our twilight years.
Points to Keep in Mind
So while yes, masturbation can cause erectile dysfunction, this type of ED isn’t permanent and can be reversed by a change in habit.
With the increased availability of pornographic material on the Internet, cases of masturbation related ED are on the rise, but they’re still rarer than cases caused by vascular diseases.
And bear in mind that the health benefits of masturbation far outweigh the health risks.
But just because ED caused by masturbation is becoming more common doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider other possibilities.
This might sound preachy, but erectile dysfunction is often the result of an underlying medical problem and is usually a good sign that you need to check in with your doctor.
And if you suspect that masturbating too often is what’s causing problems in the bedroom and are unable to stop or cut back, consider checking in with a mental health professional.
It may seem like an embarrassing problem, and it can be hard to admit for a lot of people, but erectile dysfunction common and treatable.
There’s no shame in asking for help, and if you aren’t struggling with ED caused by masturbation, now you’re armed with the information you need to prevent it from happening to you.
Even in old age, every man should be able to enjoy sex with their partner.
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