Ejaculation: How Often for Good Health?

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.)

Said 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.

wanker's crampWhat 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 guyUnfortunately, 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?

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9 Responses to Ejaculation: How Often for Good Health?

  1. nn July 9, 2010 at 11:59 am #

    Thank goodness! finally an opinion that gives a different point of view about male ejaculation. thanks for the info.

  2. tom July 9, 2010 at 12:10 pm #

    this is not science or even an remotely close to a study!!! men began showing up in my websites forum… gradually they worked out… men who cut back often remark… many men now fear to cut back…

    all this hearsay and speculation is not reliable. if you want to have a blog where you and people of the like can talk about this stuff from your own perspective that’s fine. but it really does not belong on this site.

    on a side note I think your first priority is to ensure the fidelity of men and that your just using health as a guise. if you saw evidence that it was healthier for men to masterbate often and use variety would you ever admit it?

  3. tom July 9, 2010 at 12:17 pm #

    also, I do not know the answer myself (nor do I care much). it could be the case that men are overly encouraged to masterbate… but I know that most men are just fine.

  4. Marnia Robinson July 9, 2010 at 12:37 pm #

    Thanks for your thoughts, Tom. All science begins with observations…whether or not they fit the existing paradigm. Nor do condescension and intimidation constitute a substantive objection to the content here. What is untrue in your view? How can you be so sure about my motives and actions (when you are, in fact, mistaken about both)? Your comments bring to mind some remarks made by two other men on one of my other blogs yesterday.

    First man:
    Unless a study is prepared and indeed able to study subjects refraining from
    ejaculation for extended periods of time (i.e. months), and take into account
    numerous metrics (i.e. not only testosterone or dopamine levels) – then detractors
    will simply dismiss any insinuation of masturbation [ejaculation] being
    anything but an unalloyed healthful activity as quasi-religious propaganda
    motivated by moral issues. It’s depressing, really.

    Second man:
    I know exactly what you mean
    with regard to the knee-jerk “anti-prude” reaction. I hate to admit it as
    an atheist, but liberals are just as anti-science as religious people. They
    are as hostile to the realities of neuroscience as christians are to all
    science.

  5. tom July 11, 2010 at 3:39 pm #

    I don’t care if you take an unpopular position. your article is not science; it is hearsay and speculation. Posting this on a science blog is misleading and inappropriate.

    please stay at your blogs and publish here only once you have found a study and when the content of your article sticks to the findings of that study.

  6. Marnia Robinson July 11, 2010 at 3:41 pm #

    Hi Tom,
    Just curious. Have you looked at the studies cited in my article?

  7. George July 11, 2010 at 4:47 pm #

    dear tom – Your following comment says it all;
    I do not know the answer myself (nor do I care much)
    If we all shared your mindset, we would still be staring at the inside walls of our caves. It’s a circular path that leads nowhere – “the don’t discuss “it” until there is science, yet there will be no science until it is first discussed, or pondered.

  8. George July 14, 2010 at 4:40 pm #

    Hi Tom,
    Did you ever think that science may be too limiting? Maybe religion can be a helpful guide in this case… I was in a blog the other day and one man said that just as spirituality moves in cycles so too does our body and need the for sex. And if couples could just get their bodies in sync then they would be much better off.

    I do appreciate a good discussion!

  9. Ameriphysics July 1, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    the book “an orgasm a day keeps the doctors away” catch my attention! Very informative issue!