High-speed internet and constant access to connected devices put porn at your fingertips every second of the day. For some people, this is a dream come true. But for others, the temptation to overindulge might bring with it some unintended consequences.

Frequent porn use could leave men unable to perform sexually, military doctors reported in a presentation to the American Urological Association on Friday. This isn’t just because porn creates unrealistic expectations of sexual encounters that real life simply can’t match; it’s because porn, they write, can act like a drug. In much the same way that cocaine and methamphetamine users compulsively seek and use their drug, porn can encourage addictive usage patterns. And just like drug users, fervent porn fans can gain a tolerance, needing more and more porn to satisfy their cravings.

Jonathan Berger, Ph.D., a urologist at the Navy Medical Center in San Diego, and his colleagues report that porn could play a significant role in sexual dysfunction. Their results were also published in The Journal of Urology.

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There is such a thing as too much porn, some doctors argue.

The participants in the study filled out self-reported questionnaires about erectile dysfunction and pornography use. Of the people involved, only 3.4 percent of subjects preferred masturbating to pornography over sex as the best way to satisfy sexual desires. Compiling the questionnaire data using a linear regression analysis, the researchers found that the respondents who prefer masturbating to porn over having sex also had less erectile function, orgasmic function, sexual desire, intercourse satisfaction, and overall satisfaction.

The study size was relatively small — just 312 military service member men between the ages of 20 and 40 — but the results are statistically significant.

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While this study is just one look at the phenomenon of porn and sexual dysfunction, it raises some concerns about increasing porn use among men. One of the most discussed issues in this arena is the possibility that porn is actually addictive in a chemical sense. When people use drugs like cocaine, the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with the brain’s natural reward system, is released; in light of this, some researchers and porn critics argue that the dopamine release associated with porn use is evidence of its addictive nature.

While the “porn is a drug” argument is compelling, it remains highly controversial. In 2013, an unrelated study using brain activity data of 52 so-called “sex addicts,” published in Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology, showed that there was no evidence that people become desensitized to porn. In fact, these researchers found that these so-called sex addicts had higher libidos, a conclusion that runs counter to the conclusion reached by Berger and his team.

Porn addiction is one of those issues where studies seem to go back and forth every week. That being the case, the strongest takeaway here is that since some people use porn a whole lot and seem to have trouble in their sex lives, porn is generally an area that merits further and larger-scale studies. This way, scientists can get a better handle on how porn use actually affects people’s brains and whether it should be cause for concern.

Abstract: In evaluating a male with sexual dysfunction, psychosexual factors should be considered. One potential but not well examined psychosexual factor is the impact of pornography use on sexual function. Given the large proportion of young men in the military and the potential detrimental effects of sexual dysfunction on quality of life, we sought to determine if there exists a correlation between degree of pornography use and sexual dysfunction.

Photos via Flickr / esteban_/, Flickr / jlndrr