Cell Phones and Erectile Dysfunction: A HealthCentral Explainer


People are addicted to their cell phones, plain and simple.  Smart phones these days are powerful technology, capable of computing at speeds similar to most home computers, utilizing both wifi internet services and cell-phone radio waves to spur user activity.

But is all of this exposure really safe?  We've discussed the health consequences of cell phone use, and, though the claims that phones cause cancer are unconfirmed, some effects are undeniable.  And there is one potential side effect of cell phone use that we haven’t covered: erectile dysfunction or ED.

Those two words may be the bane of every man's existence.  But actually, it happens to a lot of men.  This isn't just your girlfriend trying to console after a sub-standard performance – it's the truth.  An estimated 30 million American men suffer from ED, and countless others have periodic inability to perform.

There are also a variety of causes – some are psychological, some are due to obesity, diabetes or heart problems.  And yet, there may be environmental factors that could also contribute to dysfunction, including cell phones.  In a report from the 2012 Proceeding of the World Meeting on Sexual Medicine, men with ED are 2.6 times more likely to keep their cell phones in their front pants pocket.   This should raise a major red flag, as many men DO keep their cell phones in their front pockets and do so for long hours each day, exposing themselves to any potential harm that is being radiated from the mobile device.

Of course, the question can also be raised about causality – which came first, the ED or the cell phone use?  The reported study looked at men who suffered from ED, and concluded that these men were more likely to carry their phones in their front pockets than men who did not have ED.  But what does this really tell us?  It does not necessarily mean that ED was caused by the cell phone in the front pocket, but rather that these just both happen to occur at the same time.  These men could be older, stressed, addicted to work, or among the millions of men who suffer from the condition regardless of cell phone usage.

The researchers also did not seem to distinguish among different types of phones – one would assume that Firefly phones and iPhones could have significantly different radiation outputs.

Of course, the concerns are many.  Cell phones have not been around long enough to fully study long-term health problems.  Cell phones that could reasonably fit in a pocket have been around for roughly 15 years, meaning it would be impossible to see decades-later effects.  Smartphones are only additions of the last half-decade, which also could not be studied on a long-term scale.

Despite all of these questions, ED is a scary thought, and if it could be avoided by keeping your phone somewhere other than your front pants pocket, why not?  Better safe than sorry, even if the information that led to the correlation is lacking.


Proceedings of the World Meeting on Sexual Medicine.  (August 2, 2012).  The Journal of Sexual Medicine.  doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2012.02863.x

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.  (March 28, 2012).  "Erectile Dysfunction."  National Kidney and Urological Diseases Information Clearinghouse.  Retrieved from http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/KUDiseases/pubs/ED/index.aspx.