How are Porn And Performance Anxiety Related?

Updated October 22, 2021

While everyone may experience the issues mentioned in this article, please note that as part of our initiative responding to the APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men (2018), these articles will focus on how these topics affect men and boys. We use “men” to refer to people who identify as men.

You may have heard porn blamed for all manner of things, including hurting relationships and intimacy. Some people have even suggested that watching “too much” porn can cause performance anxiety, resulting in difficulty becoming aroused and climaxing.

But is porn really to blame? The answer, like so much involving mental health in the modern world, is complicated.

After first providing an overview of performance anxiety, this article will examine how porn and performance anxiety may be related and how you can overcome performance anxiety in bed.

Demystifying Performance Anxiety

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Performance anxiety can affect everyone. For example, some women might face a considerable drop at times in their interest in sex, struggle to become aroused or orgasm, or even feel pain during sex.

Men, on the other hand, may have trouble maintaining an erection or ejaculating. Unfortunately, such an experience may worsen any existing feelings of inadequacy, likely leading to further performance anxiety down the road. In this way, performance anxiety can feel like a vicious cycle.

Since many people experience mental and physical difficulties regarding sex, demystifying performance anxiety can be a challenge. It depends greatly on individuals and their given situations and histories.

Anxiety affects some forty million adults in the United States, making it an extremely common condition. As anxiety can cause us to project our potential problems that might be real or imagined, individuals dealing with this anxiety may be at a higher risk for sexual dysfunction.

However, there are many possible factors for performance anxiety, including fluctuating hormones, chronic pain, and subpar or nonexistent sexual education. This last reason is where porn may factor in as a possible contributor to performance anxiety and an unhealthy sex life.

Below, we will examine this and some of the other possible links between porn and performance anxiety.

Porn And Performance Anxiety

In theory, porn in itself can be a healthy part of an active sex drive. The problem, however, is that the nature of Internet pornography—seemingly limitless and scripted—may condition people for a type of arousal that is more difficult to achieve in real-life sexual encounters, particularly with a pre-existing partner.

A 2016 review of clinical reports suggest that Internet pornography use may partially explain “the sharp rise in erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation, decreased sexual satisfaction, and diminished libido during partnered sex in men under forty.”

Other studies, however, have shown that there is no concrete correlation between pornography viewing and erectile functioning, according to Nicole Prause, a sex researcher and psychologist at UCLA.

Guilt And Abstinence-Only Sexual Education

So, what to make of this conflicting information? Well, it’s possible, according to Prause, that men with more conservative backgrounds may be more likely to experience erectile dysfunction as a result of the sense that viewing porn and having nonmarital sex conflicts with their moral upbringing.

These types of men are also more likely to have experienced an “abstinence-only” style of sex education. This form of sex ed, found throughout the United States, focuses on sex as a means to pregnancy.

By failing to learn about sex for the sake of pleasure as a healthy part of adulthood, people who received abstinence-only sex ed are more likely to look elsewhere to learn about sex, namely the Internet and its endless libraries of pornography.

Porn May Establish Unattainable Desires

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Pornography can lead to dysfunction between couples because one partner may now have difficulty becoming aroused or climaxing without the particular type of sexual fetish or fantasy they seek out in pornography.

The result is that the other partner may feel embarrassed or as though they are not desirable enough. The person experiencing sexual dysfunction will typically have trouble recognizing or admitting to the source of their issue.

Porn May Deepen Insecurities

Another significant way that porn may affect men is that it could fuel insecurities.

Many men, for example, face insecurities about their penis size. They may not know that the average penis size is roughly five inches, usually less than the typical penises portrayed in porn. As a result, some men who watch porn may feel inferior and insecure about their size, despite having a penis within a perfectly normative range.

Men might also feel inadequate in their ability to pleasure their partner compared to the porn actors they see online, even though this is their literal profession as well as a highly edited and acted production.

Compulsive Porn Viewing May Heighten Risk

In general, the concern is that porn may establish unreasonable and unhealthy expectations in some viewers. While many people can likely view porn occasionally without experiencing any performance anxiety, it is more likely to affect people who have an unhealthy porn habit.

For example, people who watch porn compulsively, without self-control, or who might watch multiple scenes at once could potentially set themselves up for performance issues, as this type of stimulation is not generally possible in real life.

Combatting Performance Anxiety

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For many, an important first step in combatting performance anxiety is understanding that it’s likely a symptom rather than a condition. For example, sex anxiety may result from generalized anxiety, sexual trauma, insecurities, or an unhealthy relationship with porn.

To help alleviate performance anxiety, you can try the following approaches:

  • Start With Your Doctor – Prior to investigating mental health issues, there may be a perfectly reasonable explanation relating to a physical issue, e.g., erectile dysfunction caused by poor heart health, or fluctuating hormone levels.
  • Try New Things In The Bedroom – Men's performance anxiety typically revolves around difficulty with penetration and completion. As such, it may be a good idea to focus more so on foreplay and your partner’s pleasure. This should reduce the pressure that can cause erectile issues.
  • Stay Intentional – Retaining control of your thoughts and emotions during sex can help prevent your anxiety from taking over. For example, by focusing on enjoying the moment instead of stressing about your performance, you’re more likely to eventually achieve an erection rather than falling into a negative loop of anxiety.
  • Speak Up – The only way your partner is likely to know about your fantasy or fantasies is by telling them. It can be quite awkward to broach this topic the first time, but doing so will only enhance your sex life for both you and your partner whether you both decide to try it out or not. It should have the effect of greatly lessening your anxiety the next time around.
  • Take A Break From Porn – If you feel you may have a problem with porn—including the issues outlined above—it may be helpful to take a break. Give yourself one to three months without any porn and see if you experience any improvements in your performance anxiety.
  • Check-In With A Professional – If your performance anxiety is causing you a great deal of stress, it’s not limited to the bedroom, or you’ve been trying unsuccessfully to overcome it, it’s time to consult a mental health professional.

To this last point, professionals at BetterHelp have helped many men strengthen their relationships. For example:

“Utterly phenomenal, without this man, I would be in a significantly worse place; I was able to face my fears, get the girl, all whilst overcoming depression and anxiety issues. Not a cure-all pill, required a lot of work, but his capabilities, friendliness, and approachability can’t be beaten!”

“She is just amazing! Her constant, consistent, and steady voice of encouragement and support has definitely had a stabilizing influence in my life in such a short time. I have gone from being discouraged and maybe even a little depressed to my wife sitting up and taking notice that I am now a man on a mission. Her counsel has propelled me forward and held me accountable to myself. She has driven me to identify my deepest values and keep me moving forward in small, consistent actions against achievements that would bring my family and me the ultimate happiness in this long journey called life. The highest testimonial I can give her is that my wife told me that if she ever meets Jennifer, she is going to give her a great big hug.”

Wrapping Up

Performance anxiety is a widespread issue and may have many causes. The important thing is to figure out its source and go from there. A mental health professional can help you locate the problem and work through it more effectively if this is something that you’re having trouble with on your own.


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