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.’
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.
High-speed Internet pornography users in their twenties are increasingly developing sexual performance problems (erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation). Said one young man,
“Lots of guys, 20s or so, can’t get it up anymore with a real girl, and they all relate having a serious porn/masturbation habit. Guys will never openly discuss this with friends or co-workers, for fear of getting laughed out of town. But when someone tells their story on a health forum, and there are 50-100 replies from other guys who struggle with the same thing, this is for real.”
Italian urologists recently confirmed the impotence-porn use connection via a large survey. Italian men suffer ‘sexual anorexia’ after Internet porn use. When interviewed about the survey, urologist Carlo Foresta (head of the Italian Society of Andrology and Sexual Medicine and professor at the University of Padua) mentioned that 70% of the young men seeking clinical help for sexual performance problems had been using Internet pornography habitually.
No one yet knows the percentage of Americans affected. However, youthful impotence has implications for condom use and safe sex.
Of those who ultimately recover by terminating pornography use, many had previously been to doctors, undergone numerous tests, and been declared “just fine” physically. Neither they nor their health care providers considered excessive porn use as a potential cause of their continued performance problems.
Most were assured that “masturbation cannot cause erectile dysfunction.” This was no doubt sound advice before masturbation was coupled with the constant novelty and hyperstimulation of today’s Internet erotic possibilities. However, it may no longer be valid given the effects of superstimuli on the brain.
Among those who recover, progression is surprisingly similar. When the users completely stop using pornography (and masturbation as well for a time, because it is initially so closely associated with porn fantasy), here’s what occurs:
1) Withdrawal symptoms and cravings: Immediately
2) Complete loss of libido and erections: Begins towards the end of week one.
3) Absence of libido and erections, increased flaccidity (“shrinking or lifeless penis”): Continues for 2-6 weeks, dependent upon age and severity of porn use.
4) Gradual return of morning erections, libido and spontaneous erections at other times, no more “semen leakage” during bowel movements, etc.
5) Complete recovery of erectile health, sexual desire for real partners, reports of extremely pleasurable sex, contented condom use even if it was once a problem.
Sufferers typically recover within eight weeks. Those in their late teens generally require a shorter period of avoiding sexual stimulation to bounce back, but they also tend to relapse more often, which extends their recovery. Older men may need a longer period without stimulation in order to recover, but are typically more disciplined. Either way, reports are encouraging:
“I am a 25-year old male, masturbating a lot from 13 and using porn from 14. Gradually, it took more to turn me on: bigger fantasies or harder porn, and I stopped getting hard without touching. During sex I would struggle to get an erection or keep it, especially for intercourse. Over the past 7 years I haven’t held down a relationship, and the main reason for me has been this problem. Now the good news: When I realized the cause, I immediately gave up porn. Over the last 6 weeks I held off masturbating as much as I possibly could. (My best record was 9 days!) It all paid off. I just went away with a girl for the weekend and it was the best ever. I don’t think I’m out of the woods yet. I still get pretty anxious from all the bad experiences over the years. But I just wanted to tell you all it can work, and it’s well worth it!”
“Week 12, age 36 – I’m actually totally impressed how HUGE I get. It has been kinda hard to ignore. I mean, my erections are ROCK HARD and ENORMOUS. I remember asking other guys who went before me about when they noticed the return of their full erections. Well, I think I got mine back.”
Those affected report that escalating pornography tastes preceded their symptoms. Escalation, their withdrawal symptoms during recovery, and the sequence and time-dependence of their recovery all point to a common cause of their impotence, namely overstimulation of the reward mechanism in the brain.
Animal models have established that the mesolimbic dopamine pathway dopaminergic neurons activate the hypothalamic erection centers. It’s likely that porn-induced ED is tied to desensitization of the mesolimbic dopamine pathway. This is a hallmark of all known addiction processes. For a science teacher’s explanation of the science behind porn-related erectile dysfunction, see this video presentation: Erectile Dysfunction and Porn.
Most men are astonished to learn that pornography use can be a source of sexual performance problems. Only after they experiment for themselves do they become fully convinced that pornography use was indeed the source of their dysfunction.