Although the schoolyard rumours that masturbation causes blindness or hairy palms aren’t true, a new study published in BJU International has found that too much playing solo in your twenties and thirties can increase the risk of prostate cancer.
The study of more than 800 men found that a high level of sexual activity or masturbation before the onset of middle age was associated with subsequent development of prostate cancer.
The authors suggest that the elevated levels of sex hormones some men experience in their twenties and thirties could be responsible for both a high sex drive and a high risk of prostate cancer later in life.
This British study retrospectively studied the sexual habits of 431 men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 60 and compared their reported behaviour with that of 409 healthy controls.
The authors found that men with prostate cancer were more likely to be very sexually active in their twenties and thirties – that is, had intercourse or masturbated 20 times a month or more – than were controls. In fact, 40% of the men who had prostate cancer were categorized as being very sexually active in their twenties compared with 32% of men in the control group. This pattern pretty much persisted throughout the men’s thirties and forties, and the differences in sexual activity evened out in their fifties.
Men with prostate cancer were also more apt to masturbate frequently than were men in the control group, with the greatest difference observed when the men were in their twenties (34% versus 24%) and thirties (41% versus 31%).
“Overall we found a significant association between prostate cancer and sexual activity in a man’s twenties and between masturbation and prostate cancer in the twenties and thirties. However there was no significant association between sexual activity and prostate cancer in a man’s forties”, said lead author Dr Polyxeni Dimitropoulou.
“A possible explanation for the protective effect that men in their fifties appear to receive from overall sexual activity, and particularly masturbation, is that the release of accumulated toxins during sexual activity reduces the risk of developing cancer in the prostate area. This theory has, however, not been firmly established and further research is necessary.”
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK, accounting for nearly a quarter of all new male cancer diagnoses. Cancer Research UK estimates that one man is diagnosed with prostate cancer every 15 minutes in the UK.
Dimitropoulou P et al. (2009) Sexual activity and prostate cancer risk in men diagnosed at a younger age. BJU International 103 (2): 178-185 DOI: 10.1111/j.1464-410X.2008.08030.x