“A stroke a day keeps the doctor away” isn't an evening news headline or “up next” teaser you're likely to find here in rightward drifting America. After all, this is a country where a Surgeon General was forced to resign after only 15 months in office by a Democratic president because of conservative outrage over her mild statement, in response to the question of whether masturbation should be taught in schools as a way to prevent AIDS, that, “Masturbation is something that is part of human sexuality, and is part of something that perhaps should be taught.” A country where the staged and silly baring of Janet Jackson's breast during the Super Bowl half time show "unleashed a torrent of moral effluvia" and another retrogressive wave of moral puritanism. And that's a crying shame in a nation where prostate cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer among men, an affliction that kills almost 30,000 annually. And the numbers are expected to swell in the coming years.
According to the National Prostate Cancer Coalition, “One in six American men is at lifetime risk of prostate cancer. If a close relative has prostate cancer, a man's risk of the disease more than doubles. With two relatives, his risk increases fivefold. With three close relatives, his risk is about 97%. In the next 24 hours, prostate cancer will claim the lives of over 80 American men.”
A big story amidst last week's health news are the findings of a new study published in the April 7 edition of The Journal of the American Medical Association, which indicates the more frequently men have ejaculations, the less likely they'll be afflicted by prostate cancer.
This, umm, seminal study conducted by researchers from the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland is the largest of its kind to date. The sexual habits of 30,000 men, age 46-81, were surveyed from 1992-2000. NCI's Michael F. Leitzmann, the study's lead researcher, said in a prepared statement: “Our results suggest that high ejaculation frequency possibly may be associated with a lower risk of total and organ-confined prostate cancer.” “These associations were not explained by potential risk factors for prostate cancer, such as age, family history of prostate cancer, history of syphilis or gonorrhea, smoking, and diet.”
The men began the study in 1992 by filling out a questionnaire in which they provided the history of their ejaculation frequency. They then responded to follow-up questionnaires every two years. Given the differences between age groups in monthly ejaculation frequency, researchers used a lifetime average to make comparisons.
Leitzmann reports that compared to a reference group who ejaculated four to seven times per month, “each increase of three ejaculations per week was associated with a 15 per cent decrease in the risk of prostate cancer.” “More than 12 ejaculations per month would start conferring the benefit -- on average every second day or so.”
The group with the highest lifetime average -- 21 ejaculations a month -- were 33% less likely to develop the cancer than the reference group.
The results buttress a smaller 2003 Australian study by Cancer Council Victoria in Melbourne. In that study, 1079 men with prostate cancer answered a questionnaire about their sexual habits. Their responses were compared to those of 1,259 healthy men of the same age group. The study team concluded that the more men between the ages of 20 and 50 ejaculate, the less their chances of developing prostate cancer.
As an article in New Scientist points out: “The results contradict those of previous studies, which have suggested that having had many sexual partners, or a high frequency of sexual activity, increases the risk of prostate cancer by up to 40 per cent. The key difference is that these earlier studies defined sexual activity as sexual intercourse, whereas the latest study focused on the number of ejaculations, whether or not intercourse was involved.”
The latest and earlier Australian studies involved mostly white men. It's unclear whether the same results would hold for black men, who have the highest prostate cancer rates. However, according to Leitzmann, the “biological mechanisms that might explain the results probably do not differ by race.”
The exact explanation for the finding is still a matter of speculation, but a plausible one is what Australian researcher Graham Giles calls the “prostatic stagnation hypothesis.” “Increased ejaculation may allow the prostate gland to clear itself of carcinogens or of materials that form a substrate for the development of carcinogens.” Another possibility is that frequent ejaculations stop crystalloid micro-calcifications, which are associated with prostate cancer, from forming in the prostate duct. It's suspected that stress driven central nervous system activity may contribute to prostate cell division and cancer growth. Ejaculation may release the psychological tension that exacerbates this activity.
The new study's researchers are quick to explain that the findings shouldn't be seen as encouragement for intensified sexual activity, defined as ejaculation from intercourse, masturbation, or during sleep. “I don't believe at this point our research would warrant suggesting men should alter their sexual behaviour in order to modify their risk,” says Leitzmann.
Not everybody is convinced by the studies. Dr. Michael Naslund at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, noting that the questionnaires in the latest study asks men older than 40 to recall their ejaculation frequencies when they were in their 20s, asks, “Can they really remember how often they ejaculated so many years ago?”
I don't know about other guys, but I can give a pretty good estimate. The reasons why are none of your business, but it doesn't seem to me at all far-fetched that most men are capable of giving a relatively accurate weekly or monthly ejaculation estimate.
Dr. Michael O'Leary, a urologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, says, “The study is certainly amusing, but no one's going to tell their patients to ejaculate more frequently,” added Dr. O'Leary. “This study is provocative more than anything else.”
Graham Giles points out that neither study examines ejaculation during the teen years, possibly a crucial factor. Nevertheless, “Although much more research remains to be done, the take home message is that ejaculation is not harmful, and very probably protective of prostatic health -- and it feels good!”
Damn straight mate.
Clearly more research needs to be done. You teen and 20-something males can help advance this crucial research by keeping track of your Os, perhaps a sort of flow chart. And don't exaggerate how many times you came, hard as that may be.
Whatever the final results on the particular topic of prostate cancer, there can be no denying that orgasms are good for men and women in general.
Dr. Theresa Crenshaw, author of The Alchemy of Love and Lust, says DHEA, a sex hormone that increases libido, is released during orgasm. “DHEA may be the most powerful chemical in our personal world. It helps balance the immune system, improves cognition, promotes bone growth, and maintains and repairs tissues, keeping your skin healthy and supple. It can mean less frequent colds and flu.” Indeed, a study by Wilkes University in Pennsylvania reports individuals who have sex once or twice a week show 30% higher levels of the immunoglobulin A antibody, known to boost the immune system. Regular sex reduces depression (lousy sex notwithstanding), helps improve better bladder control (the PC muscle, which controls urine flow, gets worked during sex), reduces risk of heart disease, provides pain relief (migraines, arthritis, etc), and is the one cardiovascular exercise most people can get excited about. (Alan Farnham, “Is Sex Necessary? ,” Forbes.com, October 8, 2003)
I can't resist quoting in full one benefit of regular sex from the Forbes.com article:
Better teeth: Seminal plasma contains zinc, calcium and other minerals shown to retard tooth decay. Since this is a family Web site, we will omit discussion of the mineral delivery system. Suffice it to say that it could be a far richer, more complex and more satisfying experience than squeezing a tube of Crest -- even Tartar Control Crest. Researchers have noted, parenthetically, that sexual etiquette usually demands the brushing of one's teeth before and/or after intimacy, which, by itself, would help promote better oral hygiene.
So down with “Shock and Awe,” and up with “Stroke and Ahh.” “Make Love Not War” has more positive and deep implications than the coiners of that wonderful slogan may have imagined. It's a pity the Prude Police in this sexually backward country may continue to get away with scaring the media and politicians into “avoiding controversy” by not making the importance of regular sex and/or masturbation part of the national discussion.
Here's shaking a stick at them!
Sunil K. Sharma is the editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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