Ejaculation: How Often for Good Health?

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Will an orgasm a day really keep the doctor away?

sperm and eggSeveral years ago, men began showing up in my website's forum struggling to end compulsive porn use. Gradually, they worked out that a period of abstinence often helps reboot their brains. (Initially, their sexual arousal is so tightly wired to porn images and flashbacks that foregoing orgasm for a time can speed re-wiring and stave off binges.) 

Discussions naturally arose about whether frequent ejaculation is needed for health reasons. Surprisingly, there is no consensus on the answer. There is, however, a wide gap between popular lore and the views of most reproductive health experts.

Interestingly, men who cut back often remark on changes: more energy, better concentration, interacting with potential mates more easily, greater gains from workouts, stronger erections, healthy dietary changes, return to earlier sexual tastes, more optimism, seeing women differently—even deeper voices. As with other aspects of life, it seems that finding a middle ground pays. Yet when it comes to ejaculation, few people are talking about what might constitute a healthy middle ground.

In his book on American campus life, I Am Charlotte Simmons, Tom Wolfe remarked that, "Many boys spoke openly about how they masturbated at least once every day, as if this were some sort of prudent maintenance of the psychosexual system." More recently, British authorities campaigned to encourage kids to masturbate daily: "An Orgasm A Day Keeps the Doctor Away." They offered no evidence that daily masturbation is beneficial apart from a claim that it improves cardiovascular health. (So does walking up stairs.)

The absence of a reliable consensus could be a problem. Having heard that frequent ejaculation is vital to good health, many men now fear to cut back—even for a time, even when they have sound reasons. They may resort to risky sexual enhancement drugs or more intense sexual stimuli to increase/maintain ejaculation frequency. Some also mistake withdrawal discomfort (when rebooting) as evidence that avoiding ejaculation is harmful, rather than recognizing it as an unavoidable phase in the return to balance.

Intercourse is good for us, but the belief that the benefits are coming from ejaculation may also be changing the focus of some men's sex lives away from real partners. After all, today's extreme sexual stimuli can certainly produce more intense (and frequent, though not more satisfying) ejaculations than most partnered sex (because partners aren't always cooperative). Today's stimuli also spare users the bother of mastering interpersonal skills.

This may not be such a good thing. Primates are a funny bunch. Even the sexy bonobos and their cousins the macaque monkeys frequently don't ejaculate when they engage in sexual activity. It seems primates need sex for the social bonds that soothe their brains—rather than mere ejaculation. In fact, comforting contact may be even more vital for pair-bonding brains like ours. In any case, too much sexual stimulation can actually leave people less contented.

One thing is certain: It takes a lot of effort to uncover objective information about ejaculation and health. Said one young man,

On the men's sites that I frequent, the number one rationalization for masturbation is that it is good for the prostate. All you have to do is tell a guy that jerking off is good for his health and he's a lifer. Does frequent masturbation really prevent prostate cancer?

Curious, my husband and I began digging around for the answer. We learned that the medical profession considers ejaculation frequency irrelevant as far as prostate cancer rates are concerned. That's right, ejaculation frequency is not a risk factor for the disease. Research studies on the matter have gone both ways. The most recent study we saw found that men who had masturbated very frequently had slightly higher rates of prostate cancer later in life. However, only one set of results makes compelling headlines, so it's not surprising that most men have only heard about research that went the other way. (Incidentally, communicable disease is a more likely prostate-cancer culprit than ejaculation frequency.)

Wanker's crampSaid another guy,

There are so many contradictory beliefs regarding masturbation (orgasm) out there. Such as, ‘Masturbation creates more testosterone;' ‘If you masturbate, you won't act so desperate (Something About Mary):' and ‘If you don't masturbate you will build up excess testosterone, and lose your hair.'

Upon investigation, we learned that ejaculation is not, in fact, an important influence on testosterone levels (although normal testosterone levels support sexual performance). Testosterone is slightly higher when abstaining from orgasm. And it does rise slightly during sexual activity—before dropping back down to normal. (Orgasmic frequency and plasma testosterone levels in normal human males) It also spikes and then drops back around day 7 after ejaculation, indicating that orgasm triggers a subtle hormonal cycle that lasts at least a week.

That said, men often notice very real changes in libido and energy over the days and weeks following ejaculation. These shifts probably have more to do with changes in key neurochemicals and nerve cell receptors in the brain's reward circuitry than they do with serum testosterone levels.

What is the ideal ejaculation frequency?

A forum member recently asked his urologist this very question. The doctor said that, in the absence of the "irritation of frequent masturbation," a man's wet dream interval would be a good guide. He advised his patient to wait until he had two wet dreams, without disrupting the cycle by climax. The resulting interval was suggested as a good guide for the sake of reproductive health, whatever one's age.

The doctor explained that glands are not muscles, and do not need exercise. Glands secrete fluids all on their own (e.g., wet dreams), and manual intervention is simply not needed. Therefore, if a man cares to take a time-out, he can rest assured that his body will meet his ejaculation needs (if any) without his intervention. The forum member added:

Since I have not had a wet dream for a decade or more (always masturbated) I asked the doctor, "What if I don't have a wet dream?" His reply was, "Well then, you no longer need to ejaculate."

Is there such thing as too frequent ejaculation? The classic view of sexologists is that climax is self-regulating: No one can ever ejaculate too much, because he'll simply stop when his body has had enough.

Southpark guy with raging porn addictionUnfortunately, it looks like not all men automatically stop at that point; ejaculation becomes compulsive. (Just as one third of Americans don't automatically stop eating, and become obese.) For example, the online Onania support group is primarily made up of men who describe their masturbation as compulsive, and acknowledge its negative effects. The group even coined the term "copulatory impotence" for their resulting inability to ejaculate with real partners. Clearly, their bodies did not self-regulate with regard to ejaculation. The good news is that this phenomenon is likely reversible.

As we investigated, we discovered research showing that too much ejaculation can cause lingering physiological changes. When men engaged in a "ten-day depletion experience," ejaculating an average of 2.4 times per day, their sperm output remained below pre-depletion levels for more than five months. It's quite possible that there are other effects occurring in the brain, which haven't been uncovered yet. The research hasn't been done.

The absence of comprehensive information may be causing unnecessary suffering. For example, hundreds of men are now recording severe symptoms after ejaculation in the Post-orgasmic Illness Syndrome forum. Not long ago, a psychiatrist noted that the neurochemical changes after orgasm are sometimes associated with depression and anxiety in otherwise emotionally healthy patients. Might today's emphasis on frequent ejaculation be dysregulating brains?

Where can men find sound advice? What would a healthy middle ground look like?



Although their is nothing wrong with masturbation, it may not be the health panacea touted by the popular press. This article from The Archives of Sexual Behavior, was produced after the above post - Masturbation is Related to Psychopathology and Prostate Dysfunction: Comment on Quinsey (2012)

In the following Psychology Today post we disucuss the above journal article, and many others, to bust a few long held beliefs about the benefits of masturbation.

Rethinking the Wonders of Adult Masturbation - Reconsider these five popular myths about solo sex 

Comments

Is it bad while rebooting then? I remember I use to get really bad headaches after Oing to porn, dam headache wouldn't go away till the next day. Its been a month now and I still masturbate, but not with porn, and I try not to the next day but its so hard. Is M & O responsible for one being antisocial and being awkward and never knowing what to say in social situations? Should I try and stop for 90 days then?

reading rebooting tab above, as it eplains M & O and rebooting.. This site isn't about masturbation and orgasm, it's about porn addiction. However, a lot of guys suggest eliminating masturbation during their reboot.

As for social anxiety, I can't say. Some see lots of benefits, other see none. Here's an FAQ. Is porn making my social anxiety/confidence worse?

Just learned of this published letter to a journal editor, which might be of interest: http://www.reuniting.info/download/pdf/Costa.Masturbation.PDF

The author points out that the standard claims that masturbation is healthy contrast sharply with the best available empirical evidence.

It is difficult to reconcile the view that masturbation improves mood with the findings in both sexes that greater masturbation frequency is associated with more depressive symptoms (Cyranowski et al., 2004; Frohlich&Meston,  2002;Husted&Edwards, 1976), less happiness (Das, 2007), and several other indicators of poorer physical and mental health, which include anxious attachment (Costa&Brody, 2011),immature psychological defense mechanisms, greater blood pressure reactivity to stress, and dissatisfaction with one's mental health and life in general (for a review, see Brody, 2010). It is equally difficult to see how masturbation develops sexual interests,when greater masturbation frequency is so often associated with impaired sexual function in men(Brody&Costa, 2009; Das, Parish,&Laumann, 2009; Gerressu, Mercer,Graham, Wellings,&Johnson, 2008; Lau,Wang, Cheng, & Yang, 2005; Nutter & Condron, 1985) and women (Brody &Costa, 2009;Das et al., 2009;Gerressu et al., 2008;Lau,Cheng, Wang, & Yang, 2006; Shaeer, Shaeer, & Shaeer, 2012;Weiss& Brody, 2009). Greater masturbation frequency is also associated with more dissatisfaction with relationships and less love for partners (Brody, 2010; Brody&Costa, 2009). In contrast, PVI is very consistently related to better health (Brody, 2010; Brody&Costa, 2009; Brody &Weiss, 2011; Costa & Brody, 2011, 2012), better sexual function (Brody & Costa, 2009; Brody & Weiss, 2011; Nutter&Condron, 1983, 1985;Weiss&Brody, 2009), and better intimate relationship quality (Brody, 2010; Brody&Costa, 2009; Brody &Weiss, 2011).

Moreover, although less risk of prostate cancer was associated with greater number of ejaculations (without specification of the sexual behavior) (Giles et al., 2003) [Note conflicting evidence, however: "Prostate cancer may be linked to sex hormones: Men who are more sexually active in their 20s and 30s may run a higher risk of prostate cancer, research suggests."], it is PVI frequency that is specifically associated with reduced risk, whereas masturbation frequency is more often related to increased risk (for a review on the subject, see Brody,2010). In this regard, it is interesting to note that masturbation is also associated with other problems of the prostate (higher prostate specific antigen levels and swollen or tender prostate) and,compared with the ejaculate obtained from PVI, the ejaculate obtained from masturbation has markers of poorer prostatic function and lesser elimination of waste products (Brody, 2010). The only sexual behavior consistently related to better psychological and physical health is PVI. In contrast, masturbation is frequently associated with indices of poorer health (Brody, 2010; Brody&Costa, 2009; Brody&Weiss, 2011; Costa& Brody, 2011, 2012). There are several possible psychological and physiological mechanisms, which are a likely consequence of natural selection favoring health processes as cause and/or effect of motivation to search for, and capacity to obtain and enjoy, PVI. In contrast, selection of psychobiological mechanisms rewarding motivation to masturbate is unlikely due to the severe fitness costs that would occur if it deterred one from PVI by making it irrelevant for well-being (Brody, 2010). More plausibly, masturbation represents some failure of the mechanisms of sexual drive and intimate relatedness, however common it may be, and even if not uncommonly it coexists with access to PVI. In this regard, it is noteworthy that greater masturbation frequency is associated with dissatisfaction with several aspects of life independently of PVI frequency (Brody& Costa,2009) and seems to diminish some benefits ofPVI(Brody, 2010).

Talk to your Doctor about NoFap... I did! 

As part of my annual physical check-up, I spoke with my primary doctor today about the effects of masturbation on my health. I have a great doctor who's been monitoring of my body's well-being for most of my life, including my bouts of depression, so he was well qualified to consider my medical history in his response.

Fist of all, my doctor confirmed that there are no specific health risks determined by whether you masturbate or not. Downplaying the claims some people make masturbating helps prevent prostate problems, my doctor said:

  • "I wish I could say, 'You should ejaculate this often to help prevent prostate cancer,' but I can't. That's just not true."

-Dr. Grayson, D.O., 1/8/13

Additionally, my doctor agreed that not masturbating can help improve other areas of your life since, "you can use that energy to form other habits."

My doctor has been monitoring my testosterone levels with blood tests every so often since it tested low in the past. While it will be interesting to see if a change correlates with me making it half way to 90-day NoFap (woot!), he was strong in his opinion that masturbation use has little to no effect on testosterone levels.

Finally, when I told my doctor that I feel cutting out porn and masturbation has improved my health, he nodded in agreement, stating:

  • "My patients tell me that [avoiding porn and masturbating helps them], and I believe them."

-Dr. Grayson, D.O., 1/8/13

I was surprised and encouraged to find that I'm not the only one who's spoken to my doctor about this issue, and that others who've seen him are experiencing the same results! Be encouraged, my friends; the hard science may still be out on the issue, but doctors are listening to their patients and are reaching the same conclusions as us!