Can Masturbation Cause ED? What The Science Says

Spoiler alert: there isn’t a scientific link between your masturbation habits and erectile dysfunction.

Published May 03 2023 8 min read

Can masturbation, or more specifically, the way you’re masturbating or how often you masturbate, contribute to erectile dysfunction? If you’ve been battling ED and are worried that your masturbation habits might be to blame, you’re not alone in buying into the myth that masturbation and erectile dysfunction are linked. The good news is that masturbation does not cause erectile dysfunction, no matter the way or the frequency at which you prefer to pleasure yourself. Take a look at the facts. 

Masturbation does not cause erectile dysfunction 

There is no scientific link between masturbation and erectile dysfunction. While excessive masturbation is often associated with a less satisfying sex life, most research on the topic doesn’t find an actual correlation between the two. One 2022 study for example investigated the relationship between masturbation and erectile functioning in 3,586 men with a mean age of 40, and found that “masturbation frequency shows weak or no association with erectile functioning [or] ED severity.” Another study from the same year analyzed questionnaire data from 4,160 Norwegians between 18-89 to uncover whether masturbation frequency impacted sexual satisfaction. In conclusion, their findings suggest that “the relation between masturbation frequency and sexual satisfaction do not necessarily develop in the same direction.”

But what exactly does that mean, and why is it that even though there is no proven research to suggest masturbation can cause ED that this fear is still prevalent? While the myth that masturbation creates ED is entirely false, there can still be a connection between your masturbation practices and how easy it is for you to get hard and stay hard. 

How did the masturbation and erectile dysfunction myth originate?  

“Despite many benefits related to masturbation,” states the 2022 study out of Norway, “we know surprisingly little about how solo sex is associated with sexual satisfaction.”

This in and of itself explains one reason the myth about masturbation and erectile dysfunction gained prominence. Due to several factors such as the taboo nature of the topic, and the struggle to find willing study participants, there is a surprising lack of proven research on whether masturbation causes ED. One 2022 study even stated that they had their work cut out for them, seeing as prior research seemed inconsistent, cobbled together from “case studies, clinical reports, and simple binary analyses.” 

Without science to state otherwise, society has formed its own conclusion about whether masturbation has toxic side effects. For example, you may have been taught in your youth, through media, culture, or other means, that masturbation is somehow bad or wrong and can contribute to developing ED.

While masturbation can’t give someone ED, experts believe that certain masturbatory habits can make it hard to get hard when it comes to intercourse. If you’re used to masturbating in a specific way, or thinking of a certain scenario that’s difficult to mimic with a partner, you might struggle to become aroused the way you do when you’re alone.

“I’ve worked with many men who report needing a very tight grip, rapid motion, or needing to masturbate in the prone position in order to orgasm,” Natalie Goldberg, LMFT, tells Mysteryvibe. “I don’t believe that masturbation in general causes ED, but if you masturbate in a manner that cannot be replicated during sex, I do believe this can cause challenges in getting or maintaining an erection during partnered sex.”

If this scenario describes how you’re feeling, it’s natural to believe your solo play habits may be the primary reason you can’t get and maintain an erection during sex. Remember: masturbating can’t produce chronic ED but, if your masturbation style is making sex less appealing or less enjoyable, it might be because you’re attached to a certain grip or position and it might be time to revisit your approach. 

Can masturbation cause desensitization? 

No, masturbation can’t make your penis “numb” or desensitized to stimulation, no matter how much you do it. The reality is that if you feel like you’re becoming desensitized to sex due to masturbation, you could just be accustomed to a certain grip, pressure, or feeling that you don’t get during intercourse. 

“The body can become accustomed to a certain level of heightened stimulation necessary to cross the threshold into orgasm,” Dr. Goldberg explains. “So it’s less about masturbation making the penis ‘numb’ and more about masturbation teaching the brain to expect a higher level of stimulation to reach orgasm. If someone is experiencing numbness or physical desensitization, that is most likely more of a neurological issue than a blood flow problem.”

The “neurological issues” that Goldberg mentions span a wide variety of factors that could contribute to your erectile dysfunction - none of which are rooted in masturbating too often. 

Causes of ED that have nothing to do with masturbation

4 causes of ED that have nothing to do with masturbation 

Erectile dysfunction can be caused by numerous factors, from the mental to the physical. Here are a few to consider if you’re exploring the main cause of your ED.

1. Psychological causes

It’s not always a problem with the piping. A myriad of psychological issues can cause ED. Depression and anxiety can suppress arousal, while trauma or guilt around sexual behaviors can make getting an erection challenging. If you think there could be a mental health component to your ED, consult a counselor or sexuality-oriented therapist. 

2. Medical complications

A number of physical ailments, particularly diabetes and heart conditions, have been known to cause ED. Thankfully, there are plenty of available treatments for ED to explore that can alleviate some of these conditions and make it  easier to get erect. 

3. Relationship troubles

Problems within your relationship can sometimes bleed into the bedroom. If you and your partner are quarreling or suffering from poor communication, it can be easy to get in your head during sex and lose your desire in the heat of the moment. It’s hard to stay in a sexy headspace if you can’t stop reliving your last argument. Communicating with your significant other about why you think you’re having a hard time staying erect can go a long way. 

4. External risk factors

From drug and alcohol use to lifestyle conditions such as your weight, to what medications you’re taking on a day-to-day basis, and many other external or environmental factors can contribute to erectile dysfunction. Speak to your doctor if you think your current medication regimen could be weighing on your libido, or if you’re looking to make a lifestyle change that could lead to better, healthier sex. 

What to do if your masturbation is negatively impacting you

What to do if your masturbation is negatively impacting you

Masturbation may not be related to your ED, but if you believe the way you’re used to pleasuring yourself or your current beliefs around solo sex are causing you grief when it’s time to have sex, there are a few things you can try. 

• Reflect on your relationship with masturbation

Goldberg states that it’s important to understand why you masturbate and what you get out of it.

“I would learn more about why you believe masturbation is negatively impacting you and why you do it. For boredom, anxiety relief, pleasure etc,” she suggests. “Explore what other coping tools or activities you have access to that might yield similar results with fewer problems or consequences.”

For example, if you find yourself habitually masturbating when you’re bored, and therefore associating sexual pleasure with passing the time, what hobby can you pick up to fill that space in a more productive way?

• Mix up your masturbation routine

When you do masturbate, see how it feels to mix it up from your favorite position, space, or circumstance. Try a different pressure level or speed. Indulge in a fantasy that you normally wouldn’t. By taking yourself out of your comfort zone, you might unlock ways to give yourself pleasure you didn’t know existed, and open yourself up to new forms of arousal when you’re with your partner. 

While you’re experimenting with new ways to masturbate, you may want to invest in sex toys that will help you in doing just that. Tenuto 2 is a great place to start - it’s a flexible, wearable male vibrator designed to help you get hard and stay hard. Tenuto 2 can help you delve into brand-new sensations or tap into erogenous zones you usually wouldn’t. 

• Communicate with your partner

Talking to your partner about your difficulties with erectile dysfunction can be daunting, but it's an important step in finding a long-term solution that will work for both of you. Try to be honest and direct when sharing your masturbation history, and any beliefs or habits you’re holding onto that might be leading to less fulfilling sex. Remember, erectile dysfunction is common no matter its root cause, but it doesn’t have to be a barrier to mind-blowing sex. 

• Consult the experts

If you’re deeply concerned about your masturbation practices and how they might be impacting your overall sexual health, don’t be afraid to reach out to a counselor or consult your urologist. There’s no shame in asking for help from medical professionals. 

The bottom line

As you’re navigating erectile dysfunction, remember that it’s a complicated issue linked to a slew of different underlying causes. Anything from generalized anxiety to high cholesterol can cause a bout of impotence, but there is no research supporting the myth that masturbation causes ED. In fact, masturbation is a normal and healthy sexual behavior that can have a positive impact on your life. Consider the fact that blaming your masturbation habits could be feeding unnecessary shame, and making it even harder for you to have a rich sex life. Take a different approach, make the time to understand what pleasure looks like for you, and know that you can have great sex with erectile dysfunction.

Have better sex