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Last updated: May 24, 2022
5 min read

Does masturbation cause ED?

 

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If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Some claim masturbation is a cause of erectile dysfunction (ED). But while erection problems are common and ED can be caused by a number of things, there is no evidence to support that masturbation is one of them. Let’s sort through this myth and look at what the research shows about masturbation and erectile dysfunction. 

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Does masturbating cause ED?

There is no evidence that regular masturbation causes erectile dysfunction or the inability to maintain an erection sufficient enough for satisfying sex. In fact, a study of men aged 30–75 found that having an ejaculation at least once a week reduced the likelihood of having ED (Qin, 2012). 

Masturbation can boost feel-good hormones like dopamine and oxytocin—elevating mood and reducing stress (Love, 2018). It also flexes the pelvic floor muscles, which can improve your sexual function and enhance sexual pleasure in some cases (Alwaal, 2015).

What the research says about ED and masturbating

Some conditions can be mistaken for ED. For instance, after you masturbate and have an orgasm, there is a time called a refractory period that temporarily prevents erection or ejaculation. This is perfectly normal and should not be confused with ED (Alwaal, 2015).

That said, while masturbation has not been shown to cause ED directly, certain masturbation approaches and techniques can negatively affect erections. For example (Jenkins, 2015): 

  • Aggressive, forceful masturbation techniques can reduce the sensitivity of the penis. That means that during sexual activity with a partner, you may have a harder time achieving an erection or orgasm because you’re used to more forceful stimulation. To avoid penile desensitization, experts suggest not using too much pressure when masturbating.
  • Unique masturbation techniques may make you used to a certain approach to reach orgasm, making it more difficult for you to climax with a partner. Switching up masturbation techniques and keeping them more in line with the sexual stimulation you’d get with a partner can help.
  • Excessive masturbation using pornography can lead to a distorted view of what sex can be. When you’re with a partner, this could lead to a lack of ability to get aroused or performance anxiety (Karila, 2014)

Masturbation techniques or approaches aside, psychological stress—which has been linked to ED—can also play a role in whether you’re able to get an erection. 

For example, if you feel guilt or shame after masturbating, this may lead to depression and erectile dysfunction (Chakrabarti, 2011; Hehemann, 2016). So, in this case, it’s not masturbation that’s causing your erectile dysfunction; it’s the psychological stress you feel that can contribute to ED.

What does cause erectile dysfunction?

Erections involve blood flowing to the penis in response to signals from the brain. That’s why many health problems that affect blood flow can also lead to ED (Yannas, 2021).

Some health conditions that have been linked with erectile dysfunction are (NIH-a, 2017):

There are other causes of ED as well, including (NIH-a, 2017):

  • Excessive alcohol or drug use
  • Medications like certain blood pressure medications, antidepressants, or diuretics
  • Injury or nerve damage to the penis, spinal cord, prostate, bladder, or pelvis from an acute trauma or surgical complication 

And as we noted earlier, some psychological factors can also cause ED, including (NIH-a, 2017):

  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Guilt
  • Anxiety
  • Stress
  • Relationship problems
  • Sexual performance anxiety

How to prevent ED

The following lifestyle approaches may help prevent ED and improve your overall health (NIH-b, 2017):

  • Exercising regularly 
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Seeking treatment for medical conditions like diabetes
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Quitting smoking 
  • Avoiding recreational drugs and too much alcohol 
  • Talking openly with a partner about sexual desire and intercourse
  • Seeking counseling if there are psychological issues that may be causing sexual dysfunction 
  • Reducing stress

Treating ED

Treatment for ED depends on the cause. Exercising, eating a balanced diet, and maintaining a healthy weight can all make a difference. 

If your ED is based on performance anxiety, stress, or relationship issues, counseling may help to resolve your ED. Some healthcare providers specialize in sexual medicine and sex therapy.  

Lifestyle changes and treating health issues like heart disease or diabetes may not be enough to solve every case of ED. It is best to talk with a healthcare provider to see which treatment is right for you. Treatments may include the following (Sooriyamorthy, 2022):

ED Medications

The drugs most commonly used to treat ED are oral medications called phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE-5) inhibitors. The most commonly prescribed are: 

These prescription medications work by relaxing muscles in the penis and improving blood flow to help maintain erections. They are taken about a half-hour to an hour before you plan to have sex. They do not impact arousal and only take effect when you are sexually excited. 

Hormonal treatments

If low testosterone is the cause of ED, testosterone replacement therapy may be used in the form of a patch, pill, or injection to help balance out your testosterone levels.

Injections and suppositories

An injection using a tiny needle, or inserting a suppository into the urethra that contains a medication called alprostadil, can create an erection. This is not easy to use, has a number of risks (such as causing very low blood pressure), and can be painful. However, it can work well for some people and produce satisfactory results. 

Penis pumps

A penis pump—also known as a vacuum erectile device—brings blood into the penis using suction. Once the blood is in the shaft of the penis, a ring is placed around the base to keep the penis erect. It’s removed after intercourse and should typically be removed after 30 minutes to prevent damage to the penis.

Penile implants

Penile implants are inflatable or bendable rods that are surgically placed in the shaft of the penis. A small pump is implanted in the scrotum to inflate the rods.

The bottom line

There is no evidence that masturbation causes erectile dysfunction, and masturbation can be a healthy part of your sex life. Being active, eating well, and managing health conditions all go a long way to preventing ED. 

If you’re dealing with ED, there are a variety of solutions. Talk with a healthcare provider to determine what may work best for you. 

References

  1. Alwaal, A., Breyer, B. N., & Lue, T. F. (2015). Normal male sexual function: Emphasis on orgasm and Ejaculation. Fertility and Sterility, 104(5), 1051–1060. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2015.08.033. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4896089/ 
  2. Chakrabarti, N., Chopra, V. K., & Sinha, V. K. (2011). Masturbatory guilt leading to severe depression and erectile dysfunction. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 28(4), 285–287. doi:10.1080/00926230290001402. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00926230290001402 
  3. Hehemann, M. C. & Kashania, J. A. (2016). Can lifestyle modification affect men’s erectile function? Translational Andrology and Urology, 5(2), 187–194. doi:10.21037/tau.2016.02.05. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4837314/ 
  4. Jenkins, L. C. & Mulhall, J. P. (2015). Delayed orgasm and anorgasmia. Fertility and Sterility, 104(5), 1082–1088. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2015.09.029. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4816679/ 
  5. Karila, L., Wery, A., Weinstein, A., et al. (2014). Sexual addiction or hypersexual disorder: Different terms for the same problem? A review of the literature. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 20(25), 4012–4020. doi:10.2174/13816128113199990619. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24001295/ 
  6. Love, T. M. (2018). The impact of oxytocin on stress: The role of sex. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 23, 136–142. doi:10.1016/j.cobeha.2018.06.018. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6863168/ 
  7. National Institutes of Health (NIH-a). (2017). Symptoms & causes of erectile dysfunction. Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/symptoms-causes 
  8. National Institutes of Health (NIH-b). (2017). Preventing erectile dysfunction. Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/erectile-dysfunction/prevention 
  9. Qin, Z., Tian, B., Wang, X., et al. (2012). Impact of frequency of intercourse on erectile dysfunction: A cross-sectional study in Wuhan, China. Journal of Huazhong University of Science and Technology [Medical Sciences], 32(3), 396–399. doi:10.1007/s11596-012-0068-9. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22684564/ 
  10. Sooriyamoorthy, T. & Leslie, S. (2022). Erectile dysfunction. StatPearls. Retrieved May 20, 2022 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562253/ 
  11. Yannas, D., Frizza, F., Vignozzi, L., et al. (2021). Erectile dysfunction is a hallmark of cardiovascular disease: Unavoidable matter of fact or opportunity to improve men’s health? Journal of Clinical Medicine, 10(10), 2221. doi:10.3390/jcm10102221. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8161068/