Is Today’s Ejaculation Advice Right for Our Species?

For the last half-century, Western sexologists have advised men to ejaculate as frequently as the urge arises, on a par with nose-blowing. At the same time, doctors assure guys that there’s no risk of excessive ejaculation because they’ll stop when they’ve had enough.

But what if this advice is not supported by the data biologists are turning up? We’ve been fascinated by a debate going on over on Amazon about the realities of primate sex and mating. This debate and the self-reports from young guys on a variety of forums are making us question the standard ejaculation advice.

Personally, we’re not enthused about increasing the world’s population, but it’s hard not to feel sorry for the men we’ve heard from who cannot consummate their marriages, let alone impregnate their wives, as a consequence of their heavy porn use. (Come to think of it, that suggests a strategy for population control. Simply give every guy on the planet an iPhone, and every woman a vibrator.)

Where are we now?

The predictable, though not necessarily intended, result of the standard ejaculation advice is that many younger men believe it is unhealthy not to ejaculate very frequently-at least once a day. (Indeed, authorities in England and Spain have actively campaigned to spread this notion in schools.) Many guys believe that if once is healthy, 2, 3 or 4 times must be even healthier.

In the under-thirty crowd, masturbation and Internet porn use are synonymous, so if 4 ejaculations per day are really healthy…well then, that many Internet-porn sessions are too. Indeed, even after their hormonal rush of puberty and sexual peak have passed, guys can use today’s superstimulating masturbation aids (Internet porn, cam-2-cam, sex toys) to remain veritable geysers of semen…at least until they hit a wall.

Now, many men, as early as age twenty, are complaining of delayed ejaculation, an inability to climax with mates who don’t look/act like their favorite fetish porn star, erectile dysfunction and a host of other symptoms. (Astonishingly, when they stop porn/masturbation for a couple of months, they report dramatic improvements  in confidence, mood, concentration, sexual chemistry and sexual performance.)

If you’re noticing unwanted symptoms, and you’re not sure you want to let your genes down, consider the following biological and anthropological information.

‘My sperm production keeps up with my daily ejaculation frequency.’

Even though Western males apparently masturbate to climax more than any other species, humans are not, in fact, built for prolific ejaculation. According to Promiscuity author Tim Birkhead:

The rate of human sperm production is lower than that of any other mammal so far investigated. The numbers of sperm stored in the epididymis are also low. … Men, in contrast [to chimpanzees] have a more limited capacity and six ejaculations in twenty-four hours is enough to deplete the epididymal sperm stores completely. [pp. 82,84]

Sperm collected via daily masturbation dropped from 150 million on day one, to 80 million on day two, and to 47 million on day three. It takes about 64 days for sperm to mature.

While figures vary across studies, and certainly between men, humans have a low sperm production rate, considering that a sperm count of around 100 million is usually considered necessary for a reasonable chance of fertilization. It is simple to see how habitual frequent ejaculation could lead to chronic depletion and decreased fertility.

Sperm production estimates vary, but it appears that ejaculation every third day would not overtax sperm supplies (assuming they have normalized after very frequent ejaculation). Ejaculation every third day is more than enough action to keep a mate “topped up” with viable sperm, so evolution is likely to have equipped us accordingly. Incidentally, too many sperm can increase miscarriages because fertilization by more than one sperm renders a zygote inviable. “Eject!”

‘If I’m horny, it means I need to ejaculate.’

Not necessarily. Even though human sperm production is low relative to other animals, human males still become aroused in response to promising genetic opportunities regardless of semen reserves (the Coolidge Effect). This reality is what makes possible a binge using Internet porn (with its parade of novel “mates”).

Male zeal for sex and the willingness to risk lives to access potential mates are common across species. After all, the male gender more often faces the potential of zero offspring because the struggle for fertilizations is normally demanding and failure common.

In short, you don’t have to have a mammoth libido, or be a pervert, to have trouble saying “no.” Healthy human brains respond to high-value sexual cues or novel mates. If they didn’t, you wouldn’t be here. In fact, you’re the product of those who wanted sex the most.

Yet what happens when limitless simulated and stimulating sex becomes available to these zealous males in the form of virtual sirens begging for semen from cyberspace?

Research shows that animals will prefer a supernormal stimulus to the natural one. Female birds prefer to brood an oversized wooden egg rather than their own real eggs. A male fish prefers to court a wooden oversized female (bigger size = more eggs) than a real female with real eggs. And humans can easily fall for superstimulating online charmers in lieu of real mates with whom they could potentially reproduce. An evolutionary-biologist friend, who specializes in sexual evolution and the sexes, remarked:

Now, we face the prospect that porn sex will make real sex a poor alternative or even impossible. Moreover, women have vibrators that can also make real sex a poor alternative—and even more so if men cannot achieve erections.

I can almost envision a future in which men and women will live separately, masturbating to porn or with sex toys. Reproduction, when desired, will be done with a turkey baster—assuming computer-illiterate donors can be found. We could even be the first species whose sex drive leads it to masturbating itself to extinction. LOL

Laughable, and yet a recent UK survey reported that among men looking at porn for at least 10 hours a week sixty-one per cent agreed it could make you less interested in sex with a partner (compared with 27 per cent of moderate users and 24 per cent of light users). 

 ‘Even if I overdo it, there are no lingering repercussions.’

We were startled to learn that exhausting semen supplies may have surprisingly long lasting repercussions for human-male fertility. In a study where men ejaculated an average of 2.4 times a day over ten days, their sperm output remained below pre-depletion levels for more than five months

There’s also the risk of long-lasting plastic brain changes in response to super-enticing stimuli. Brain changes can desensitize the individual’s pleasure response and leave him hyper-responsive to sexually explicit material indefinitely…much as an obese person continues to buy chips because his brain’s reward circuitry is shouting, “More!” even as his body is screaming, “Enough!”

Lingering brain changes increase the risk that today’s frequent ejaculators will not, in fact, “stop when they’ve had enough” as the medical profession claims. Binging on Internet porn in search of satisfaction is not unusual among users. One possible result is chronic sperm depletion.

 ‘The suggestion that there can be too much ejaculation is religious moralizing.’

Actually, many sex-positive cultures have taught moderation for millennia. As explained, men have not evolved to be able to have limitless sex without suffering physiological repercussions. Historically, male fervor was held in check by the reality of sexual opportunities with novel mates being rare. Later, when population density rose, male potency was protected by traditions that regulated sexual excess.

In fact, the last half-century’s decision to dismiss the possibility of biological limits represents a sweeping departure. Across the globe and over thousands of years mankind generated a broad array of traditions and taboos to protect male potency and vitality. For example, the ancient Chinese Daoists made a science of sexual health and relationship harmony, without a hint of moralizing.

They were not alone. Almost a century ago, anthropologist A. Ernest Crawley recorded that tribal cultures all over the world believed that temporary abstinence from sex was appropriate in connection with many activities (depending upon the culture). These included hunting, warfare, planting, fishing, harvesting, wine preparation, shamanic deeds, pilgrimage, the first days of marriage, pregnancy, lactation, menstruation, and so forth. Such advice was so widespread that Crawley characterized temporary chastity as an “infallible nostrum for all important undertakings and critical junctures.”

Periodic abstinence was believed to increase male invincibility and vigor. For the same reasons, numerous cultures have also evolved ways of making love that encourage frequent intercourse but infrequent ejaculation (unless conception is desired).

More recently, anthropologists studying cultures in Central Africa reported that the Aka and Ngandu peoples don’t masturbate. (They don’t even have a word for it.) These cultures also traditionally observe a moratorium on sex from the birth of a child until it is able to walk. Despite the fact that adults of both genders obviously relish sex, men’s interludes of frequent ejaculation tend to be limited. (Incidentally, no religious missionary influenced these traditions.)

Is the ejaculation advice of the last half-century suitable for humans?

Perhaps not. In the words of our evolutionary-biologist friend,

Cheering on multiple daily ejaculations as some sort of ‘natural’/ancestral behavior is mistaken. All-in-all the evidence suggests that human sperm production has not evolved for more than a moderate rate of ejaculation, and masturbation is possibly not something that is ‘normal’ on a daily basis, if at all.

It’s likely our false belief in ‘limitless’ human sperm production arose primarily because the brain’s evolved reward mechanism for sex is very strong. Especially for males, reproduction is uncertain. It’s the intensity of sexual pleasure that makes us assume frequent ejaculation is more beneficial than it is.

How could something that feels so great ever be a problem? Answer: Our sexual expression is occurring in an environment very different from the one in which it evolved.

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?