Journalists have discovered The Reward Foundation and are spreading the word about our work including: our lessons about risks from long term bingeing on porn; the call for effective, brain-focused sex education in all schools; need for training of NHS healthcare providers on pornography addiction and our contribution to research on porn-induced sexual dysfunctions and compulsive sexual behaviour disorder. This page documents our appearance in newspapers and online. We hope to post many more stories as 2019 progresses.
If you see a story featuring TRF we have not put up, please send us a note about it using the contact form at the bottom of this page.
Published online on 6th December 2019
Advocate Mary Sharpe discusses pornography and criminality on The Nine
Advocate Mary Sharpe appeared last night on the BBC’s The Nine to discuss the normalisation of violent pornography, which has been highlighted following the conviction of a man for the murder of Grace Millane last November.
Ms Millane – a 21-year-old British backpacker – was killed in New Zealand while on a date with the man.
Ms Sharpe, whose charity The Reward Foundation makes research in this area accessible to the public, discusses the phenomenon and the age verification legislation which has been put on hold by the UK government.
Mary Sharpe is quoted in this very strong article on the behaviour of the pornography industry. WARNING: this item contains material which some readers might find distressing. Published 27 September 2019.
How a sadistic industry is being sanitised
A number of councils have produced suspect sex and relationships guidance aimed at children and young people, which fails to draw attention to the widespread harms of pornography. JO BARTOSCH reports
JESSICA REDDING died last week; the Los Angeles County Coroner confirmed that she was 40 years old.
She acted in pornography under the name Jessica Jaymes. Her premature death is not unusual for those in what is euphemistically called the “adult entertainment industry.”
The first pornographic film Redding performed in was Little Girl Lost, when she was just 16.
Today, as the body of Jessica Redding lies awaiting post-mortem in Los Angeles, at least one council website here in Britain is telling kids younger than Redding was when she acted in her first film that they need to get over their hang-ups about pornography.
Warwickshire County Council’s “Respect Yourself” guidance, which is endorsed by Public Health Warwickshire, helpfully sets out to bust what it describes as myths about pornography.
Warwickshire is just one of many councils to have produced suspect sex and relationships guidance aimed at children, teenagers and young adults.
Some readers might imagine that the problem of children watching pornography is that it distorts their understanding of sex, arguably leading to an epidemic of boys mimicking what they’ve seen and sexually assaulting girls in schools (interestingly “peer on peer” sexual abuse in schools increased by 521 per cent in Warwickshire between 2013-16).
Both would be wrong, according to the Respect Yourself guidance, which confidently states one “of the biggest issues for young people watching porn is that it’s seen as something they ‘shouldn’t be doing’.”
In their pathetic attempt to seem “down wiv da kids,” those behind such guidance betray themselves as ignorant, porn-addled misogynists.
Critics who dare to suggest watching “Lesbian Anal Trainers 2,” “All Anal 3” or “Slave for a Night” (all best-selling titles of the aforementioned late Jessica Redding) might not enrich a child’s understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like, are clearly out-of-touch pearl-clutching prudes who are probably in need of a good seeing-to.
In fact, the reason many feminists are so devastated about the widespread availability of pornography is that it has robbed the iPhone generation of the right to an authentic sense of sexuality.
There is nothing wrong with reassuring adolescents that masturbation won’t actually make them go blind, and indeed that it can help them feel at ease in their bodies.
But when a 12-year-old girl wrote to Respect Yourself, concerned that she was addicted to pornography and disclosing that she was watching it for “half the night,” the response was not to tell her that pornography was harmful and nor was it to reassure her that the sex and abuse portrayed was not what she might expect as an adult.
In fact, Respect Yourself dismisses the notion that pornography is addictive or damaging in any way.
According to Mary Sharp of the Reward Foundation, an educational charity focusing on love, sex and the internet, this is simply not true.
In an interview earlier this year for the Guardian, she explained: “Excess porn is changing how children become sexually aroused … at an age when they’re most vulnerable to mental health disorders and addictions. Most addictions and mental health disorders start in adolescence.”
The results of this can be seen clearly in the rates of erectile dysfunction, which have increased from an estimated 2-3 per cent of men under 35 in 2002 to around 30 per cent since the advent of free-streaming, high-definition porn.
Elsewhere on the site a “relationship quiz” invites users to choose from a list of potential responses if they caught their partner watching pornography.
Realistically we know that the “partner” watching pornography is likely to be male, though Respect Yourself cheerfully reminds us “both guys and girls watch porn.”
Whether you choose the “it’s degrading” or “it’s hot” option, the answer is to put any personal discomfort aside because everyone “likes a fiddle.”
To be clear, having “a fiddle” isn’t the problem, the crushing impact of pornography use by a partner on one’s self-esteem is.
Far from bringing people closer together, use of pornography is a key factor in relationship break-ups.
With visits to pornography sites topping those of Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined, the sex industry will undoubtedly survive without public relations help from the woke of Warwickshire.
Nonetheless, the Respect Yourself guidance does a fair public relations job for the industry, explaining: “The sex industry is one of the few in which women make much more money than men.”
For a tiny minority this is true. Take Sheena Shaw, for example. She has made a name for herself as “queen of rosebudding.”
Rosebudding is the term used in the pornography industry for anal prolapse, whereby the rectum is forced out of the anus.
This is apparently sexy, as Shaw so astutely notes: “Culture teaches us what to like and what not to like.”
The women who perform this risk excruciating pain, severe bowel problems and anal leakage.
When Vice magazine asked Shaw about what she could do in the event of an injury, she replied: “No-one ever talks about that. They make you sign waivers before you do these scenes. You’re absolutely not going to get workers’ comp.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the physical demands of today’s pornography, those who leave the industry report that drugs, abuse and coercion on set are rife; most women last between three and 18 months before leaving.
Let’s be honest, there is nothing empowering about having your rectum poke out your anus while being called “whore,” spat at and choked on camera.
Despite these brutal realities the Respect Yourself website claims “studies show that in fact female porn stars have higher self-esteem and job satisfaction than the average population.” These studies are not referenced.
In a porn-soaked society, we need to be realistic and prepare children for what they in all probability will see online and, in fairness, some of the guidance in Respect Yourself is compassionate and thoughtful.
But the sanitisation of a sadistic industry built upon the misery of women and girls is unforgivable.
In its mission to seem relevant, youth-focused and relatable, Warwickshire County Council risks grooming a generation to think that the abuse portrayed in pornography is not only normal, but desirable.
Jo Bartosch is director of Click Off, a campaign to end demand for pornography. Please visit its website and consider donating www.clickoff.org.
Mary Sharpe is quoted extensively in this piece by Peter Diamond, published on 19 April 2019.
Upcoming ‘porn block’ in the UK is welcomed by campaigners, but free speech concerns are highlighted by Church.
Catholics have welcomed an upcoming age block on pornography in the UK, which is due to be implemented in the coming months, and said the Church can take a lead on combating the harms of porn addiction.
It was announced this week that age-verification for porn sites will be introduced on July 15.
Once introduced, adults will have to prove they are over 18 by registering their details or buying a voucher, in order to access porn.
Catholics who help combat addiction and the Church in Scotland have welcomed the move, though caution that freedom of speech must be protected from government censorship.
Matt Fradd is a Catholic author and speaker on the subject of porn in the US.
He has recently launched a new 21-day programme Strive21 to deliver people from the harms of pornography addiction.
“I’m excited about the UK porn ban,” he said. “It won’t stop young people trying to access porn but thankfully we are now seeing this kind of deterrent introduced.
“The Church has a role to play in the battle against pornography. As the Catholic catechism says, ‘we were created in the image and likeness of God,’ and because of this it changes how we think about people. The Church teaching on this particular subject is that porn enslaves us—we are called to be master of our passions.”
Mr Fradd added: “Porn use has rocketed in recent years and most children aged 8-12 are viewing porn and they are basically guinea pigs for something that we won’t fully know how harmful it is until 50 years down the line.
“I think it is something that in 50 years people will be shaking us with frustration saying, ‘how could you do this, how could you let us watch this stuff.’
“It is a disaster waiting to happen but thankfully people are beginning to listen and wake up to the harms of children watching porn.”
Strive21 launched in the US two weeks ago and has already had over 1,000 men sign up to the porn-addiction programme, and a Catholic seminary has shown interest in using the tool.
A Scottish priest involved in healing ministry has also welcomed any ban that would help combat porn addiction.
Canon William Fraser, parish priest of The Visitation Church in Taynuilt, said: “Sadly I have seen the harms of addiction through my work in healing ministry.
“Normally porn addiction becomes a habit for someone not just through porn itself but as a reaction to ‘hurt.’ This is like any form of addiction whether it be drink or drugs and more often than not if the ‘hurt’ part is healed then it becomes easier to deal with the ‘habit.’”
Canon Fraser added that to ‘remove’ someone from a porn addiction can take one session but in ‘extreme cases’ can take several months or even years to address.
“We constantly have to be reminded that the power that exists within us through Jesus Christ is far greater than any power in the world,” Canon Fraser said, adding that ‘God will set us free just like He defeated all sin on the cross.’
Porn is a £75 billion global industry. A 2016 study published in the Eastern Economic Journal revealed people who view porn regularly are less likely to get married than those who do not.
Mary Sharpe is chief executive at The Reward Foundation, an educational charity based in Scotland that looks at the science behind sex and love.
Ms Sharpe said: “We are totally in favour of the incoming legislation. Parents often think porn is the same as it was 20 years ago, but it is now much worse. It is driving a lot of sexual aggression.
“It is having a major impact on people’s brains, particularly young people who are primed to becoming hooked on things.”
The Pope has endorsed Ms Sharpe’s charity, and it is working with Catholic schools to develop lesson plans for teachers.
“We think the new legislation is critical. It’s not going to cure the problem but education is vital in schools and in homes,” she said.
“We are creating and developing lesson plans for schools across Scotland, including Catholic ones, where we will create them in line with the teachings of the Church and God’s loving plan resources.
“Churches and parishes can play a massive role in combating the issue. It is critical to educate Catholics on this subject and the Church can’t just pray such an issue will go away—they have to listen and act with good faith and if they do so they can lead on the issue.”
Mary added that priests could also be ‘empowered’ to speak on the issue or offer people advice on where to go for help.
Freedom of speech campaigners have however raised concerns that the new legislation will see a clamp down on free speech. The porn ban is part of wider government efforts to restrict what it deems as hate speech online.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: “It is essential, that any new legislation purporting to tackle ‘online harms’ and ‘offensive material’ upholds the fundamental right to freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion which allows a robust exchange of views and debate, without fear or favour.
“Securing the online safety of children and vulnerable groups is extremely important. In the absence of an objective definition of ‘harms’ however it is difficult to see how this might be done.”
“Allowing an independent regulator to decide whether or not content is harmful and potentially ban it, could in theory lead to restrictions on the expression of religious beliefs.”
Scotland’s Catholic parent body has welcomed the porn block.
Jo Soares, chair of the Scottish Catholic Education Service’s parents’ group, said: “The new legislation should make it far more difficult for children to access inappropriate sexual material online either accidentally or experimentally.
“It is important that we do restrict pornographic content so that our children do not develop unsafe attitudes to sexual behaviour and consent or unrealistic views of relationships and body images.
“The restriction of online pornography to adults will hopefully make it less difficult to guide our children towards material which teaches in accordance with our belief in the dignity of every human person.”
Viagra as a lifestyle drug saw Mary Sharpe quoted in this Huffpost lifestyle article from 3 April 2019.
‘They Take It Before Going To A Club’: Why Viagra Is Being Used By A New Generation
No longer just a drug for older men, Viagra is being used recreationally by boys in their prime. By
It was the third time Alex* had tried to put the condom on and failed. Despite being aroused and aware that this was probably his only chance to have sex with the woman he’d met earlier that evening, he couldn’t stay erect. No matter how much his brain wanted to have sex, his body wasn’t complying.
Eventually he accepted the situation, apologised to his date for “performance anxiety” – made worse by a cocktail of alcohol and cocaine – and vowed not to let it happen again. The next day he went to the chemist and bought a packet of 8 sildenafil tablets, more commonly known as Viagra.
Alex, in his mid-twenties, does not fit the stereotype of a Viagra user: society still sees the blue pill as synonymous with older married men, possibly with ill health and suffering with age or illness-related erectile dysfunction. But Alex’s case, and his decision to use viagra to deal with the problem, is far from unique.
It is 12 months since Viagra became available in the UK without a prescription. Pharmacists decide whether to sell men the drug, brand named ‘Viagra Connect’ and made by manufacturer Pfizer, based on their health and what other medication they might be taking. The initial intention when increasing the accessibility of the drug in 2018, was to combat the number of counterfeit erectile dysfunction pills being sold illegally online. But the decision has also had the perhaps unforeseen consequence of introducing the drug to a new segment of the market.
Murray Blacket, a sexual therapist in north London, says he is seeing more young men taking Viagra as an “insurance policy” or a “booster shot” to life in the bedroom. Often this will be before they go on a night out.
“We talk about the LGBT chemsex scene but in the straight scene there is the equivalent of lost weekends where you hook up with someone, take a load of cocaine and Viagra, go down the rabbit hole, come out on Monday,” Blacket says.
As early as August 2017, eight months before it was sold on the high street, doctors in the UK were reporting a growing trend of younger men anonymously buying the drug over the internet in a bid to improve sexual performance or, like Alex, to counter the use of other recreational drugs that make it harder to maintain an erection.
People in the UK are more likely than those elsewhere in Europe, America, Australia or Canada, to combine sex with drugs, according to the 2019 Global Drug Survey, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The most common substances used were alcohol, cannabis, MDMA and cocaine – all of which can inhibit sexual performance if taken in high doses.
Viagra works by ensuring sufficient blood flow within the penis to keep it erect. It doesn’t have an instantaneous effect and only works when the man is sexually aroused. So you aren’t walking around a nightclub with an erection for hours on end, but will be able to rely on it if you get lucky at the end of the night.
Blacket says that many of the young men taking it are professionals – teachers, lawyers, personal trainers. Viagra isn’t as expensive as it once was, but still retails at £19.99 for a four-tablet pack or £34.99 for eight. Not cheap for what is, effectively, a ‘just in case’.
“Younger men are increasingly not so confident in their sexual abilities,” says Blacket. “These people take a Viagra just as a boost to confidence. It’s not about having more adventurous sex – it’s just about being able to perform in ‘normal sex’.”
This decline in confidence is often linked with a rise in the number of people regularly watching pornography online. Recent studies found between 14% and 35% of young men say they experience erectile disfunction compared to 2-3% before 2008. Mary Sharpe of the Reward Foundation, an educational charity focusing on love, sex and the internet told the Guardian: “Since 2008, when free-streaming, high-definition porn became so readily available, it has steadily risen.”
The changing dating landscape also has a role to play,” argues Blacket, with the growth of dating apps and a focus on casual sexual interactions meaning people have to impress sexually. “If it doesn’t go well for you then people can move on and meet someone else,” he says. “The one night stand culture is transactional in that regard. You have one chance.”
Not only is there more pressure to always be ready for sex, but the majority of sexual interactions are framed by the presence of alcohol and other drugs that inhibit performance. “These men are so often having sex after drinks, if not drugs as well. Taking the Viagra seems to link with the thought of ‘I can have a few more pints and I’ll still be able to do it’.”
And that thought is becoming more mainstream, as Viagra becomes more established in mainstream culture, Blacket says. “There are now adverts on the Underground and on the side of buses for a Viagra [delivered] on a Vespa. These companies have seen a change in the market and are capitalising on it.”
It seems having a Deliveroo-style company bring Viagra to your door has played a part in making the drug more appealing to young people. Rather than something you need to steal from your dad’s bathroom cabinet, you can order it in the way you would a pizza. The influence of this culture shift has resulted in Blacket seeing a handful of men with no concerns about performance, who thought taking Viagra would make them “even harder” and sex more pleasurable.
Blacket has concerns that some of those who choose to use Viagra recreationally take higher doses than he would normally recommend. Many take 100mg tablets, while the NHS recommends a dose of 50mg once a day. “People don’t really know what the doses mean – they apply a vitamin mentality of just taking more.” he explains.”
Taking too much sildenafil can cause unpleasant side effects like headaches, dizziness, indigestion, blocked nose and altered vision. “I’ve asked some of them how they felt the next day and they say pretty rough,” he says. “A few of them have come to me and asked ’Should I be worried? How long can I do this for?”
It makes him worry that people are using the pills to plaster over larger, deeper-rooted issues that are inhibiting their sex life. “They’re putting a band aid over the problem with Viagra. This has to be a temporary fix.”
Quotes from Mary Sharpe in the March 11 Story in The Guardian appeared in this piece on the Catholic website LifeSiteNews. The article quotes sources we respect including neurosurgeon Dr Donald Hilton and yourbrainonporn.com.
March 29, 2019, (LifeSiteNews) — Young men are being robbed of their ability to enter into natural sexual relationships with women as frequent pornography viewing rewires their brains, undermining their ability to perform sexually.
In a sense, males in their teens through their 30s are being inoculated against sex, against intimacy, against procreation, against expressing love, against marriage, against happiness.
And that vaccination is administered free of charge via the internet.
“Until 2002, the incidence of men under 40 with ED (erectile dysfunction) was around 2-3 percent,” Mary Sharpe of the Reward Foundation told The Guardian. “Since 2008, when free-streaming, high-definition porn became so readily available, it has steadily risen.”
“(P)orn is changing how children become sexually aroused,” continued Sharpe, and it is happening, “at an age when they’re most vulnerable to mental health disorders and addictions. Most addictions and mental health disorders start in adolescence.”
The Guardian article suggested that, “Up to a third of young men now experience erectile dysfunction.”
The phenomenon has grown so common that it has a name: “Porn-Induced Erectile Dysfunction” (PIED).
“Instead of wiring his sexual arousal to real people, today’s adolescent is often found in front of a screen, and he’s wiring his brain’s sexual circuits to being alone in his room, to voyeurism rather than participation,” noted an instructive video, Adolescent Brain Meets High-speed Internet Porn.
“Alien is the word I’d use to describe how it felt when I tried to have sex with real women,” said one young man quoted in the video. “It felt artificial and foreign to me.”
“It’s like I’ve gotten so conditioned to sitting in front of a screen (masturbating) that my mind considers that to be normal sex instead of real actual sex,” he added.
“Women don’t turn me on, unless they are made two-dimensional and behind my glass monitor,” said another.
Others report their only hope of achieving and maintaining an erection during intimacy is to “imagine porn.”
Since the phenomenon is new — after all, high-speed internet access coupled with easy, private access through smartphones, iPads, and laptop computers are recent innovations — empirical studies need to be undertaken.
In the meantime, anecdotal evidence is piling up as experts — including psychologists, psychiatrists, and urologists — report that they are hearing these sorts of laments from young men who in ages past would’ve been at the peak of sexual prowess.
Urologist Paul Church told LifeSiteNews that while currently there is no conclusive evidence for the association between porn usage and erectile dysfunction, the causality “makes sense and many clinicians and therapists, including myself, firmly believe it to be a HUGE problem for this next generation.”
“It’s hard to know exactly how many young men are suffering from porn-induced ED. But it’s clear that this is a new phenomenon, and it’s not rare,” noted Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, director of Men’s Health Boston and clinical professor of urology at Harvard Medical School.
“I know this to be true just because of my experience with this happening to people I work with,” said Maureen Newberg, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) practicing in the Washington, D.C. area.
“I’m in private practice in which 95 percent of my clients are boys and men. Almost all these clients have a porn problem or porn addiction,” licensed marriage and family therapist David Pickup told LifeSiteNews.
“My experience of their issues and their success getting out of porn usage has resulted in the discovery that porn is a powerful ‘drug,’” said Pickup.
Porn addiction, like other addictions, is impoverishing the lives of a whole generation of young men. Europe’s eminent psychologist, Dr. Gerard van den Aardweg, sums it up:
The porno-enslaved are poor men, isolated in their human contacts. Lone wolfs. The more porno, the more they strengthen their infantile preoccupation with the wish to be a “big man,” and the less they are capable in real live contacts.
The unintended, unanticipated consequences from frequent porn usage by young men perhaps extend beyond erectile dysfunction and the undermining of healthy marital relationships.
Mark Regnerus, professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and a senior fellow at the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture, suggested a correlation between porn use and support for same-sex marriage back in 2012.
The researcher noted that “Young adult men’s support for redefining marriage may not be entirely the product of ideals about expansive freedoms, rights, liberties, and a noble commitment to fairness. It may be, at least in part, a by-product of regular exposure to diverse and graphic sex acts,” witnessed through internet porn.
“The web’s most popular pornographic sites do little to discriminate one sex act — or category of such — from another,” said Regnerus. “Gazers are treated to a veritable fire-hose dousing of sex-act diversity.”
“These are not your grandfather’s Playboy,” he added.
The toxic omnipresence and power of pornography via the internet
As the battle over the “freedom of speech” rights of pornographers and their industry has been waged for decades, few noticed that young male viewers were themselves becoming collateral damage. Now the carnage is becoming impossible to ignore.
Dr. Donald Hilton, an adjunct associate professor at the Department of Neurosurgery, University of Texas Medical School at San Antonio and a member of the Board of Directors of Medical Institute for Sexual Health, wrote in an article titled Pornography: Fueling the Fire of Sexual Toxicity:
It’s everywhere. Pornhub, the second most visited site on the net, had 92 billion people visit in 2016, enough for 12.5 videos for every person in the world. It has become the primary mode of sexual education for teens and even preteens now, with many teens having seen sexual intercourse, including between more than two people.
This unleashing of toxic sexuality on humanity is damaging those who view it and is addictive to those who continue to use it. However, these points are vigorously opposed by the porn industry and the academic apologists who support it. They say that the only problem with porn is the shame and moral construct that religious mores place upon it.
Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, in a statement delivered to U.S. Senate committee in 2008, explained: “It has always seemed self-evident that pornography is nothing more than a form of ‘expression.’ Its putative merits, lack thereof, or evils always therefore have been debated in terms appropriate to ‘expression,’ and our laws reflect as much. We argue over the ‘morality’ of pornographic literature; its nature as ‘high’ or ‘low’ art; whether it has any ‘redeeming value.’ References to ‘works’ of pornographic ‘literature’ and ‘acts’ of pornographic ‘dance’ are enshrined at the highest levels of American constitutional jurisprudence-the words in quotation marks making it clear that the understanding of pornography as expression is foundational and unquestioned.”
“With the advent of the computer, the delivery system for this addictive stimulus (internet pornography) has become nearly resistance-free,” continued Satinover.
“It is as though we have devised a form of heroin 100 times more powerful than before, usable in the privacy of one’s own home and injected directly to the brain through the eyes,” added Satinover. “It’s now available in unlimited supply via a self-replicating distribution network, glorified as art and protected by the Constitution.”
Undoing the damage
“Porn-induced sexual dysfunction is a phenomenon here to stay,” declared Dr. Tim Lock, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, Divine Mercy University.
PIED will be with us “until men can be raised with the virtue of self-control and parents can be convinced of the need to use internet filters (and internet accountability) to prevent their children from accessing inappropriate websites,” said Lock in a statement to LifeSiteNews. “It is neither simple nor effortless to raise a child who values self-control, chastity, purity, and modesty. The teachers of the children must first be convinced of these values.”
“It’s a hard sell,” said Lock. “Unless you are aware that Our Lord came to give life, and to give it abundantly.”
Dr. Hilton outlines four essential steps:
- First, we must protect the next generation from the toxic sexuality promoted by the porn industry and its apologists;
- Second, we must return to a society where adults reject the inhumanity of porn;
- Third, our culture increasingly is intolerant of racism and sexism, yet we celebrate both if people are having sex and the cameras are rolling. We must hold the porn industry to the same standard;
- Fourth, we must return to a culture of respect, empathy, and compassion, which is the antithesis of modern porn culture.
A wealth of information about quitting porn and escaping its potentially damaging effects can be found at the helpful secular website, Your Brain on Porn.
A Christian-based answer to bondage to porn use is offered by Strive.
There is an ad campaign adorning the tunnels of the London Underground bearing the slogan “ED IS DEAD” next to a photograph of a wholesome-looking man in his prime. “Don’t worry,” it says in smaller writing beneath. “Ed’s not a guy. It’s a guy thing. It’s short for erectile dysfunction.” The posters are promoting a new brand of sildenafil (most commonly known as Viagra), which we are supposed to think is slaying the problem. But, as it stands, ED is far from dead.
Viagra’s core market used to be older men in poor health, but according to the latest studies and surveys, between 14% and 35% of young men experience ED. “It’s crazy but true,” says Mary Sharpe of the Reward Foundation, an educational charity focusing on love, sex and the internet. “Until 2002, the incidence of men under 40 with ED was around 2-3%. Since 2008, when free-streaming, high-definition porn became so readily available, it has steadily risen.” The evidence, clinical and anecdotal, is mounting that pornography use is a significant factor.
Linking ED and pornography use
Clare Faulkner, a psychosexual and relationship therapist based in central London, is among those who link ED and pornography use. “I now have ED clients in their early 20s,” she says. Part of the problem with pornography is that it is “a very dissociated experience. Stimulation is coming externally, which can make it very hard to be in your body.” It also perpetuates the myth, she says, that “men are rock hard and women are ready for sex all the time”.
Lone viewers of pornography become accustomed to being fully in control of their sexual experience – which again, says Faulkner, “isn’t replicated in the real world”. Being faced with a real, complicated human being, with needs and insecurities, could be deeply off-putting.
In online forums dedicated to porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED), tens of thousands of young men share their struggles to stop using pornography, their progression from soft porn to hardcore and the barriers they face in forming real-life romantic and sexual relationships. It is hard to prove outright that pornography causes ED, but these testimonies replicate findings from the clinical literature: that if men can kick their porn habit, they start to recover their ability to become aroused by real-life intimacy.
Some young men have started their own grassroots support movements, such as NoFap (slang for “no masturbating”), founded in the US by Alexander Rhodes. (Sharpe observes that young men now “equate masturbation with pornography – they don’t see them separately”.) Rhodes, now 31, started using internet pornography at around 11 or 12. “I was in the first generation of people who grew up on high-speed internet porn,” he said in a recent online discussion.
By the time he started having sex at 19, he continued: “I couldn’t maintain an erection without imagining porn. High-speed internet porn was my sex education.” Last year, he told an audience at the US’s National Center on Sexual Exploitation: “Children of the United States and much of the developed world are being funnelled through an online experience where exposure to pornography is practically mandatory.”
Porn users start young
The young age at which Rhodes started watching pornography is not unusual. In 2016, Middlesex University found that , with 60% of children having first watched it in their own homes. And an Irish study published earlier this year in the journal Porn Studies found that 52% of boys started using pornography for masturbation at the age of 13 or under. Social media can be a gateway, says Sharpe. “Porn stars have Instagram accounts so they’re getting kids to look at them on Instagram, and within their material they’ll say: ‘Look at my latest video.’ One or two clicks and you’re looking at hardcore porn. Kids of 12 or 13 aren’t supposed to be looking at hardcore adult material.”
The Reward Foundation isn’t an anti-pornography organisation, says Sharpe, “but excess porn is changing how children become sexually aroused”. And it is happening in their formative years, “at an age when they’re most vulnerable to mental health disorders and addictions. Most addictions and mental health disorders start in adolescence.” She and Faulkner believe that the rise in pornography use may at least partly explain why millennials are having less sex than the generation before them, according to a study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Porn user experiences
Gabe Deem, the founder of the pornography recovery group Reboot Nation, speaks openly about his own experiences. When he was 23, he said: “I tried to have sex with a beautiful girl, a woman I was extremely attracted to, and nothing happened. I couldn’t feel any physical arousal and couldn’t get the slightest bit of an erection.”
As with other addictions, says Faulkner: “People need stronger doses to get high. It’s always about pushing the boundaries to get the same excitement. Which means what they’re watching gets more hardcore and potentially frightening. I’ve had clients tell me they’re not comfortable with the material they’re watching.” When researchers study the brains of compulsive pornography users, says Sharpe: “They’re seeing the same brain changes that are common in all addictions.”
Some still dismiss the rise in ED among young men as performance anxiety, but Sharpe says while that may be true for some, “What we’re hearing from clinicians, sex therapists, doctors and people dealing with compulsive sexual behaviour is that more than 80% of issues are porn-related.” The Reward Foundation has been running workshops with healthcare practitioners across the UK and found that doctors and pharmacists don’t even consider asking their young male patients who have ED about their pornography use. “They’re giving them Viagra and that’s not working for many of them,” says Sharpe. “It’s not dealing with the underlying problem.”
When the drugs don’t work, Sharpe has heard of young men getting penile implants (prosthetics implanted in the penis to help erections). “One of the medical participants at one of our workshops last year said a patient had had two such implants.” No one had thought to ask him about pornography use.
On a recent school visit, Sharpe recalls, a teenage boy asked her how many times a day masturbating to porn was too many. “They’re using it all the time,” says Sharpe, “and nobody’s telling them it’s a problem.”
24 February 2019. Mary Sharpe provided expert commentary in the press on this extremely sad case in the Scottish Courts. It shocked the nation. The story is also available from The Sunday Post as ““