In 30 seconds…
Any link between masturbation and prostate cancer is yet to be proven categorically. However, some studies over the years have shown, perhaps surprisingly, that the more you masturbate, the lower your chances of developing prostate cancer.
It’s not just masturbating that might help.
All ejaculation may help your prostate health, it seems – including during sex. Your prostate produces some of the fluid in your ejaculate, so it does make sense that ejaculation and prostate health are related.
However, other studies have suggested that things aren’t so clear cut. Frequent masturbation appears to have different effects on prostate cancer risk at different ages. Meanwhile, your risk is affected by your genes, your diet, and your age too.
Science doesn’t know for certain what causes prostate cancer. While it’s known that things like genetics and diet play a role, researchers are always looking for new clues to lead them to a more concrete explanation.
It’s this approach that has led them to investigate a possible link between masturbation and prostate cancer. Why? Because the prostate is involved in the production of fluid for your semen. And if you masturbate a lot, your prostate gland will be more active.
However, things are not yet certain. In this article, we’re going to look at the evidence for the potential link between masturbation and prostate cancer – and explore some other causes of the illness too.
What is the Prostate?
Unfortunately, we rarely hear about the prostate outside of the context of cancer. Yet, it is an extremely important gland for your health and sexual function.
The prostate sits just beneath your bladder and surrounds the urethra, the tube that transports urine from the bladder – and semen – to the penis. This gland’s main job is to produce the fluid that makes semen by mixing with sperm from your testicles. The prostate regulates the viscosity of your semen too, by adding a protein that makes it more watery.
You might know that testosterone plays a role in maintaining your prostate’s health. Alongside regulating your sex drive and your muscle mass, testosterone is often used to treat prostate cancer too.
What is the Link between Masturbation and Prostate Cancer?
It is the gland’s role in semen production that has led scientists to a possible link between masturbation and prostate cancer. Whilst nothing has been confirmed with any certainty, it is thought that frequent ejaculatory activity – whether that is masturbation, sex, or wet dreams – as a young man means better prostate health as you age.
This is believed to be due to the fact that, in early adulthood, your prostate is still developing – and that what happens in this period can affect the gland’s health for the rest of your life. This shouldn’t be surprising. In fact, it‘s a similar process to that of sunburn; greater exposure to the sun as a child means a higher risk of cancer as you age.
What is the Evidence?
Much of the public conversation surrounding this potential link came from a massive study[i] conducted by researchers at Harvard University. Published in 2004, the study followed 29,342 men aged between 46 and 81 over an eight-year period. They were required to provide details on the historical frequency of their ejaculations and were given follow-up questionnaires every two years.
Specifically, they were asked the average number of times per month that they ejaculated during their twenties, their forties, and in the last year. Whilst the researchers were actually testing the hypothesis that frequent masturbation increases the risk of prostate cancer, the results suggested that the opposite was true.
Compared to those who only masturbated 4-7 times a month in their twenties, those who masturbated 21 times monthly showed a 31% decrease in their risk of developing prostate cancer in their later life. Masturbating a lot seemed to make prostate cancer a third less likely.
These results seemed to be corroborated by another study too. Investigating just over 2,000 men, this Australian study[ii] looked at the frequency of ejaculation between their twenties and forties. It found that men who ejaculated an average of 4.6 to 7 times a week had a 36% reduced chance of contracting prostate cancer before the age of 70 than those who only did it twice a week.
Masturbation and Prostate Cancer: An Established Link?
Whilst the evidence seems persuasive, it’s by no means categorical. Rather, subsequent studies have confused the picture once more.
A 2008 study,[iii] for example, found the opposite – that a higher frequency of ejaculation in younger men led to an increased risk of prostate cancer before the age of 60. The numbers here were quite dramatic: compared to men who did it less than once a month, those who masturbated up to 7 times a week had a 79% higher risk of cancer.
The results of these studies do not show a certain link between ejaculation per se and cancer. Instead, frequent masturbation might point to other factors that themselves affect the risk of cancer. For example, men who masturbate more frequently might have higher testosterone, which appears to play a role[iv] in the development of prostate cancer.
Other Causes of Prostate Cancer
While masturbation and testosterone levels may affect your chances, there are other factors that we know for sure play a role. For example, as with all cancers, older men are much more likely to develop prostate cancer than younger men.
Your genetics are one of the most important risk factors for prostate cancer too. If you have people in your family that have developed prostate cancer, you are more likely to develop it yourself. Interestingly, if people in your family have had breast cancer, your chance of developing[v] prostate cancer is increased too.
Obesity is another risk factor that deserves a mention. One study[vi] found that men with obesity were 20% more likely to develop prostate cancer than lean men, whilst those severely obese were 34% more likely. Unfortunately, however, obese men are more likely[vii] to develop particularly aggressive forms of prostate cancer too.
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There is strong evidence to suggest that the more frequently you masturbate as a young man, the less likely you are to develop prostate cancer in later life. However, with other studies suggesting literally the opposite, this is still far from a certainty.
What we do know is that prostate cancer is strongly affected by your genetics – but also by your lifestyle too. Having a poor diet, or being overweight, are known to increase your risk.