Rx for ED?

Michael Metzger

Erectile dysfunction is on the rise. No pun intended.

Increasing numbers of twenty-something men find they cannot be aroused by their actual, real life partners. Many are becoming convinced that erectile dysfunction (ED) is normal. Most assume Viagra is the solution. But there might be a better Rx for ED.

The rise of erectile dysfunction isn’t new news. If you watch TV commercials, you’d assume ED is approaching epidemic levels in older men. This seems to call for desperate measures, as the most common prescription, Viagra, carries risks of sudden vision loss, ringing in your ears, hearing loss, chest pain, back pain, pain spreading to the arm or shoulder, nausea, sweating, headache, memory problems, upset stomach, irregular heartbeat, swelling in your hands, ankles, or feet; shortness of breath, feeling light-headed, fainting, or “an erection lasting more than four hours.” Yikes.

The new news is the rise of ED in younger men. A 2011 article in Psychology Today concluded that the use of internet pornography has created a generation of young men who cannot be aroused by their actual, real life partners, and that “many are becoming convinced that [erectile dysfunction] at twenty-something is normal.”1 The culprit seems to be the debilitating combination of pornography and subsequent masturbation.

Erotic images have been with us for a long time. As Naomi Wolf notes in her article “The Porn Myth,” “For most of human history, erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women.”2 These images usually portrayed the female form with all its imperfections. Nowadays, men have seen hundreds if not thousands of fake-breasted, airbrushed, aroused-beyond-belief pixelated women, all contorted into positions that would make a yoga coach drool – before they’ve laid with an actual, warm-blooded woman. “For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women,” writes Wolf.

Today, approximately 70 percent of men ages 18-24 regularly visit porn sites. They form desires for sex that cannot be met in reality. Masturbation follows, which releases oxytocin into the male system, a chemical that facilitates human bonding and trust while reducing fear. All the joys, comfort and psychological attachment that nuptial union is designed to bring are being attached to pornography. Small wonder we’re witnessing a generation of young men addicted to pixels but unable to perform with an actual person.

The good news is that neuroscience is discovering a solution. The brain’s plasticity makes porn damage reversible. In The Brain That Changes Itself, psychiatrist Norman Doidge writes about patients who used porn and were able to quit, cold turkey. They turned off the Internet after doctors explained what was happening to their brain and being told to stop watching porn – now. For those who did, “their appetite for porn withered away.”3 The entire rehabilitative mental process requires “unlearning” old pathways by cutting billions of connections in the brain, having a compelling reason to do so, and then hacking out new neural pathways.

The even better news is that science is simply catching up to scripture on this one. The same rehabilitative process can be found in the Bible. In Proverbs 6 we read of a man who is stupid about sex. A woman thrills and then seduces him. Immediately after climax, the thrill is gone. The young man is horrified to learn his bedposts are sunk in Sheol. His life is being sucked out of him. This is why scripture says: “Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body” (I Cor. 6:18). Like Joseph with Potiphar’s wife, porn is the kind of sin that demands you take flight – fast.

The entire rehabilitative process requires more than simply fleeing. It is also filling in new neural pathways. That’s one reason why Jesus told a story about an unclean spirit (Mt. 12:43-45). It went out of a man, passed through waterless places seeking rest, and did not find any. “Then it said, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” Jesus’ point is that simply saying No to porn is insufficient. You have to also say Yes to something new or else lust will return, more virulent than ever. When it reignites, your last state will be worse than your first.

The Apostle Paul reinforces this process in Ephesians 4:22-25: Stop doing this, start doing this, and here’s why. For instance, “Lay aside the old self and put on the new self, because you are created in the likeness of God.” Or, in verse 25, “laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.”

This is not to say science and Viagra are bad. Science is not the problem. It’s scientism, wrote C. S. Lewis, “a certain outlook on the world which is a caricature of the true sciences.” Scientism believes pharmaceutical prescriptions are the only solution for any and every problem. It prescribes Viagra but opposes religion. With the rise of neuroscience, this could change. As the faith community points out how science is catching up to scripture, the Bible might eventually be recognized as offering an effective Rx for ED.

1 Marnia Robinson & Gary Wilson, “Cupid’s Poisoned Arrow”, Psychology Today, July 11, 2011.
2 http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/trends/n_9437/
3 Norman Doidge, The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science (New York: Penguin, 2007), p. 131.


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  1. Mike, great post. Thanks for not fearing real world issues. In a future post, how about talking about what the refilling looks like. The fleeing part is clear. I am sure many are saying “OK, I get that, I need to stop. Now what do I fill the void with?”

    Thanks again!

  2. Start by memorizing more scripture. Since next Monday is Memorial Day, I’ll describe why we tend to memorize a great less these days.

  3. Circumcision of the heart comes to mind.

    C. S. Lewis, “a certain outlook on the world which is a caricature of the true sciences”

    The Trojan horse of deception.

    Celebration of singleness and self-control have a place here. Creating a balance of the PERSONA (physical,emotional,rational,spiritual,optional,notional, aspirational) rather than a simplistic tension between the physical and spiritual.

  4. A couple things I appreciate about this post:
    1. Talking directly about men’s sexual problems. Most of us know this is a costly problem that is can no longer be treated at a surface level as it has been in modern religious thought (whether conservative or liberal).
    2. Noting the congruence of the best science and Biblical wisdom. A talented Christian counselor challenged me saying, “you need repentance not just insight.” Insights give us compelling reasons to change and wisdom gives us a new path to act on. I agree with Mike that this is what the Apostle Paul is advocating in Ephesians 4.

  5. This is a very good article.However this is not the whole story. I took prednisone high dose for a year. This gave me low grade hypertension which over a period of years destroyed the veins in my penis. Eerections were impossible. I had to have a penile implant done in April. I suffered with the after effects about a month.It is wrong to say to ALL men that their ED is due to porn. You are not a physician and have no right to generalize. ED can be the first sign of serious heart trouble.
    Can porn cause ED? Yes, but not all or most ED.
    Thanks, Gary Cummings,RN

  6. Well done, Mike! We’ve seen this for years in marriages where the husband loses interest in his wife because he’s meditating on images (and thousands of them) depicting fictional women. Still, I’d never made the porn – ED connection before.

    A quick response to Bailey Mark’s comment: Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4 gives guidance on the “refilling” through “put on the new self, because you are made in the likeness of God.” We find that unconsciously, most men are pouring through images of porn looking not for the perfect woman so much as looking for affirmation of their own unique value as a man. It’s a legitimate search (God’s gift of naked Eve certainly affirmed Adam’s value among all the other creatures, and vice versa) but ultimately a futile place to conduct it.

    So as a man abstains from porn and masturbation, he does well to receive the affirmation of his own God-given value through pressing into real (and flawed) relationships with others, meditating on Scriptures, listening to the voice of the Father, and through coming to know himself as one who bears the image of God in his body–including all that makes him sexual (Theology of the Body is a great resource for this). There’s so much more I could say here, but this is already unsolicited feedback… Blessings.

    Again, Mike, thanks for taking on such an important topic. I look forward to your upcoming posts!

  7. Gary makes a valuable contribution. No all ED is the result of porn, and Viagra is indeed a helpful remedy in many situations. In trying to keep my column brief, I failed to include what Gary’s fine point.

  8. For filling, his recent death has led me back to rereading Dallas Willard’s book “The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives.”

  9. Other resources: on diagnosing the neuroscience connection, see “Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex Is Affecting Our Children,” by Drs. Joe McIlhaney and Freda Bush (Northfield, 2008) and on the positive alternative, “Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing” by Christopher West (Image, 2013). Finger wagging is not the solution. We need a new vision of embodiment and sexuality, a reframed imagination.

  10. One out of four men with ED do not seek medical attention. ED can be caused by heart trouble,diabetes,stress,prostate cancer,pituitary tumors, and much more. If you or Friend or relative has ED,get checked out by an MD. Porn addiction can cause problems as well.All I am saying is get medically checked out ASAP, then pray and. seek spiritual guidance before, during, and after medical treatment.

  11. “Every Man’s battle” by Stephen Arterburn, Fred Stoeker and Mike Yorkey is a valuable resource on this topic. As an addict who struggles with this problem, it is important to findout what hurts are driving you to acting out fantasies. Turning to God when you hurt and finding solace in Him rather than Porn is the only way to I have found to lessen the cravings.

  12. Where does the Woman talk come into this. Many Christian women get married and turn off their husband for their kids. I have seen this over and again. Men are turned out of their own relationships because their wives have a family/kids and then have no interest in being either interesting for their husbands or responsive. Men are not the root of all evil, as some Christians like to spread around. A relationship is a two way street. If one person is wondering looking for something else, it is both partners responsibility to find the root cause and work on it together. All too often I have seen wives check out of their relationships for their kids and leave the husband out in the cold both sexually and relationship wise. Six marriages ended in 1.5 years amongst our friends. The majority were the wives doing the leaving/cheating. And yes, women watch Porn. The percentage is rising rapidly.

    Porn is a bad thing. I know that. I also know it desensitizes us. In our relationships we need to find our way back. If both partners are not interested in working towards a solution, then much worse opportunities are on the horizon.

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