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What’s Behind the Erectile Disfunction Phenomenon Among Teens and Millennials?

PART I: ED Problems in Young Men Today

We at Modern Sex Therapy Institutes have noticed a growing phenomenon in recent years: young men showing up in our offices with erectile dysfunction (ED) problems. They come in depressed, stressed, ashamed, and thinking that something’s wrong with them. They’re not alone. Some reports claim that up to a third of young men now experience ED.

So, what’s behind this? There are a number of factors, I believe, and some sad misconceptions.

First, a few of these misconceptions:

  • Frequent masturbating to porn is bad. Some claim it’s so desensitizing and addictive that it’s ruining sex. Their solution: Stop watching porn and masturbating, and you’ll gradually begin to be able to get an erection again and have real sex with a flesh-and-blood partner. However, my clients tell me they’ve long since stopped watching porn and still can’t stay hard.
  • Watching masturbating to porn poisons the soul. Religious legislators have even tried to pass laws banning porn. History should tell us that when you make something illegal it only increases the desire for it, and that abstinence, celibacy, and righteousness about moral purity have been the downfall of many a religious leader.

Here are some actual contributing factors:

  • False sexual imagery. Kids can easily find porn on the internet today, and without understanding the dynamics and requirements of having an intimate relationship, they come to think that it’s all about limited foreplay, quick penetration, and orgasm. In mainstream movies sex happens quickly with little foreplay or conversation (sometimes even with violence). These portray none of the realities and frequent awkwardness real people experience during sex. No wonder we have unrealistic expectations or feel bad about ourselves when real sex proves more difficult. When a real sex partner comes along, it requires a wholly different set of mental skills than someone whose entire sexual education has come from watching porn and movies. Masturbation doesn’t require any of the real sexual skills such as honest, erotic conversation between partners, learning how important foreplay is, or how penetration and orgasm are not the end goals, but enjoying the full experience of intimacy between partners is.
  • Lack of sex education. In too many American communities, we refuse to talk with our children about sex or sexual pleasure, or even allow our schools to do so. Isn’t it ironic that the very act that creates children is so taboo that we can’t even talk to them about it? In countries such as the Netherlands, such an education begins in kindergarten with four-year-olds. The Dutch call it “sexuality education” or “comprehensive sex ed” consisting of open and honest conversations about love and relationships. Here, abstinence-only sex education is prevalent, and numerous studies have shown that these programs neither succeed in reducing rates of teen pregnancies or STDs nor have they demonstrated efficacy in helping adolescents to delay intercourse. Sex education here focuses on sexual functioning. Porn focuses on sexual pleasure and offers a false education. We need something in between.

There are other factors that we believe contribute to young men’s ED problems. We’ll discuss these in PART II of this series: ED Problems in Young Men Today.

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