OBJECTIVE: To characterize themes of discussion and specific concerns expressed by users of an internet erectile dysfunction (ED) community using a mixed-methodology approach involving quantitative natural language processing (NLP) and qualitative annotation of content.
METHODS: We extracted posts and responses from the Reddit community r/ErectileDysfunction (3100 members) during June 2018 to May 2019. We applied an NLP technique called the meaning extraction method with principal component analysis to computationally identify themes of discussion. We manually annotated a subset (30%) of posts based on NLP-derived themes to evaluate specific content.
RESULTS: We analyzed 329 posts and 1702 responses. Meaning extraction method with principal component analysis identified key themes: hypogonadism symptoms, masturbation/sex, evaluation/treatment, alternative therapies, and partner factors (posts); and performance anxiety, hypogonadism evaluation, pornography, and pharmacotherapy (responses). Subset annotation of 100 posts revealed a median author age of 24 years (Interquartile Range (IQR): 20-31). 48% of discussants believed their ED was psychogenic, 38% reported depressive symptoms, and 2% mentioned self-harm/suicidality either attributed to or associated with their ED. 28% of discussants reported seeing a health care professional for ED, and 20% attempted abstinence from pornography/masturbation as a self-prescribed intervention.
CONCLUSION: Social media platforms like Reddit empower young men to discuss ED concerns. Fewer than one-third reported seeing a doctor for ED, suggesting that men turn to peers on the internet first, despite risk of misinformation. A majority attributed symptoms to psychological etiologies and excess pornography/masturbation. Depression, self-harm, and suicide emerged as potent concerns. These data underscore the importance of engaging proactively with young men, both in the consultation room and online.