Frequent Masturbation May Reduce Prostate Cancer Risk in Older Men

Research has shown that an active sex life may give men some measure of protection against prostate cancer. One eight-year study, for instance, compared the incidence of prostate cancer in 29,342 men, ages 46 to 81, with frequency of ejaculation, finding that those who ejaculated most often (21 times or more per month) had lower incidence than those with low frequency (four to seven times a month).


In an attempt to learn more about this connection, researchers from The University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom obtained detailed sexual histories, including frequency of both masturbation and intercourse, from 840 men age 60 or younger, half of whom had prostate cancer. Though they found no relationship between frequency of intercourse and prostate cancer risk, they were somewhat surprised to learn that men who recalled having engaged in frequent masturbation (two to seven times/week) in their 20s and 30s seemed to be at increased risk…while in men older than 50, masturbating more than once/week appeared to have a protective effect. In fact, compared with men who reported never masturbating, those over 50 who do so at least once a week had a dramatic 70% reduction in prostate cancer occurrence.


“This study goes under the heading of ‘interesting, but…’,” said Stephen Jones, MD, chairman of the department of regional urology of Glickman Urological & Kidney Institute at Cleveland Clinic. He pointed out that many people can’t remember what they had for breakfast yesterday, let alone how many times they masturbated in their 20s. (This is called “recall bias” and it is a limitation in study design.) There’s also the question of how honest people are when reporting their most personal behaviors to inquisitive researchers. A third problem relates to sorting out cause and effect. “Men with higher testosterone levels might be expected to be more active at a younger age,” pointed out Dr. Jones. Though it was not part of this research, he noted that such men might also be expected to have had more partners and therefore more exposure to sexually transmitted diseases — and indeed, one research analysis reported an elevated risk of prostate cancer among men with a history of sexually transmitted infections. One more thing, noted Dr. Jones: “Healthier men are more likely to be sexually active.”

Given these vagaries, I asked Dr. Jones whether staying sexually active was a good idea for older men. “I suspect that it is,” he said cautiously. “But as for proving it — well, we have to just rely on common sense and observation!”