Like fat, salt and booze, masturbation is one of those touchy health-related topics for which the latest medical news always seem to contradict the advice of the past. Eat no fat! Or, just good fat – but not too much! But not too little, either! And hey, salt is a killer – but it can be deadly if you don't eat it! Such is the progress of science. Similarly, studies have long shown that masturbation is perfectly normal and can even be a physically healthy activity – in middle-aged men it cuts the risk of prostate cancer. It can also reduce anxiety, and thereby help restore stress-racked immune systems. And yet according to experts, there is now emerging evidence suggesting that overly frequent masturbation – aroused by the vast cornucopia of freely available porn we enjoy today – is leading to serious cases of erectile dysfunction (ED).

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That may sound like anti-onanistic propaganda, but medical professionals say that masturbating too much is actually a pretty standard form of addiction, but it's worsened by pornography. "When people start watching porn, there is a huge flood of dopamine in the brain," explains Dr. Elizabeth Waterman, a psychologist at Morningside Recovery Center in Newport California. "Over time, the receptors that were once very sensitive become less sensitive, and normal physical intimacy does not produce enough dopamine to stimulate the dopamine receptors." In other words, the more porn you watch, the more – and harder and more graphic – porn you need in order to get it up. If the trend continues, men can find themselves physically unable to maintain an erection, much less enjoy sexual contact with another person.

Not surprisingly, porn-induced ED can create further performance-anxiety concerns, compounding into a problem that is both biological and psychological. "People can start developing real self-confidence issues," Dr. Waterman says. "They can feel irritable, sleepless, frustrated, anxious. One can lose relationships quite easily from it." According to Dr. Waterman, there isn't a magic number that indicates you are masturbating too frequently. Even masturbating every day isn't necessarily a problem; it's conditional – only if it's interfering with your work, your social life, or your sex life (i.e., erectile dysfunction) should you be concerned. Fortunately, if you do have an issue, the cure is simple: Stop watching porn and resist the urge to masturbate as much as possible. Within six to 12 weeks your brain will rebound to a more typical dopamine sensitivity (though recovery time varies). "Some people's brains reach homeostasis [or, physiological equilibrium] much quicker," Dr. Waterman explains. "Time is your best friend when it comes to reestablishing homeostasis in the brain."

The rub, as it were, is that during their recovery period, most men experience a libido flatline, possibly for up to several weeks depending on the severity of addiction. But Dr. Waterman assures that the effect is temporary and eventually passes. She advises that the key to recovering is holding yourself accountable, but also remembering that recovery is a process, so you shouldn't feel like a jerk if you aren't a complete saint. "If you do slip up, it's not the end of the world."