Dear Dr. Joe: Can Masturbation Reduce My Prostate Cancer Risk?

photo by Anika Malone

Once a month, Dr. Joe DeOrio, a urologist in Chicago, answers your questions on male sexual health. To ask him your own question, click here.

Dear Dr. Joe,

I’ve heard that regularly ejaculating (whether via masturbation or sex) can reduce a guy’s risk of prostate cancer –- is that true?

— Hairy Palm

Dear H.P.,

In the past, frequent sex, and especially masturbation, has gotten a bad rap. Just think Victorian England. And I’m sure that most of you readers have heard that masturbation causes blindness, hairy palms, acne, and a host of other ailments. Of course, it doesn’t — those are all myths. In fact, in recent decades, the medical community has finally begun to tout the benefits of sexual release, either via sex or self-pleasure.

The possibility that frequent ejaculation may reduce the risk for prostate cancer is one of those purported benefits. Medical researchers have been examining this question for years, but unfortunately there is no good answer. In fact, there are those that fear frequent ejaculation may indicate a higher risk for prostate cancer.

From a prevention point of view, frequent ejaculation seems to make sense. One theory suggests that frequent ejaculation may “flush” the prostatic ducts of carcinogenic materials. The prostate, along with the seminal vesicles, is responsible for semen production. Seminal fluid contains various components, as well as sperm. Generating semen involves concentrating these materials from the blood. During this process, some harmful chemicals, such as the byproducts of cigarette smoke, can also accumulate in the prostate. It is logical that regularly expelling this harmful material would be beneficial.

Another theory rests on the fact that, post-ejaculation, the amount of testosterone circulating in the blood temporarily decreases. Since it is well-established that testosterone stimulates prostate cancer growth, it is feasible to hypothesize that lowering the level of testosterone, even temporarily, could decrease the risk for cancer. More frequent masturbation would thus lead to a greater cumulative effect.

An opposing viewpoint, however, argues that frequent ejaculation indicates a greater sex drive, which we understand to be at least partially affected by circulating testosterone levels. If we assume that a man with a higher sex drive has a greater amount of circulating testosterone, it follows that he may also have a higher risk for prostate cancer. While this hypothesis does not imply that frequent ejaculation causes prostate cancer, it does suggest that the behavior may indicate a subset of people at high-risk for the disease.

So the simple answer to your question is, we just don’t know. Several studies have examined this issue, and the best of them imply that frequent ejaculation neither increases nor decreases one’s risk for prostate cancer. A few suggest that ejaculating greater than 21 times per month (especially in your ’20s) may decrease your risk for prostate cancer later in life, but even this data is not particularly convincing. Happily, no decent study has ever compellingly demonstrated that frequent ejaculation can increase your risk for prostate cancer.

My advice? Ejaculation helps reduce stress, potentially boosts immunity, can be a mood-elevator, strengthens pelvic floor muscles, and even helps you sleep better. Within the confines of a healthy lifestyle, I cannot recommend it enough. Need a prescription?

— Dr. Joe

Dr. Joe earned his undergraduate degree in Molecular Biology from Princeton University. After attending the Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine, he completed his residency training in urological surgery at the Los Angeles County Medical Center. He lives and works in Chicago, IL. Keep an eye out for his upcoming blog at docjoe.net.

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