Does frequent sex protect against prostate cancer?

Written by Sade Oguntola
Friday, June 1, 2012

It is unclear how ejaculation may affect men destined to develop prostate cancer. But experts have reported that though there are claims that frequent ejaculation in elderly men appeared to lower their risk of developing prostate cancer, such claims are controversial, reports Sade Oguntola.


Sex is known for its medicinal uses, from managing stress to alleviating bad mood. Not only does a healthy sex life boost physical well-being, but some studies also believe it is protective against prostate enlargement and prostate cancer.

Frequent ejaculation, whether it happens during sexual intercourse, masturbation, or a dream, is not likely to increase men's risk of prostate cancer. In fact, new research suggests it may have the opposite effect and help to protect the prostate. The prostate is a walnut-sized gland that forms part of the male reproductive system.

Researchers found that having an active sex life in their 50s could protect men against prostate cancer. But greater levels of sexual activity among men in their 20s could increase their chances of developing the disease in later life.

The 2004 study at the Nottingham University, whose conclusion that active sex life cuts prostate cancer risk', once a man is over 50, suggested that keeping up a regular sex life rather than excessive activity in younger years followed by a fallow period is best for men's health.

The study reported in the British Journal of Urology International looked at the sexual practices of more than 431 men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in their 50s, compared with 409 cancer- free men.

In addition, researchers in a 2004 edition of The Journal of the American Medical Association found that men who ejaculated most often actually had a 33 per cent lower lifetime risk of prostate cancer, and this relationship grew stronger as men grew older.

The US study involved nearly 30,000 men. They were followed for over eight years. At the start of the study, men provided information on ejaculation frequency in their 20s, 40s, and in the previous year (1991). Ejaculation frequency included sexual intercourse, masturbation, and night time ejaculations that can occur during sleep.

The researchers found that most categories of ejaculation frequency were unrelated to prostate cancer risk. But when they looked at men in the highest category of ejaculation frequency, they found evidence of a protective effect.

Although frequent ejaculation appeared to lower the risk of developing prostate cancer, the researchers stated that it was unclear how ejaculation may affect men destined to develop or already in the early stages of prostate cancer. Since the study consisted of white men predominantly, the researchers said that the study results only apply to middle-aged white men.

Another caveat is that the benefit of ejaculation was less clear in relation to the most dangerous, metastasising form of prostate cancer, compared to the organ-confined or slow-growing types.

But how does frequency of sex or ejaculation protect against prostate cancer? A school of thought indicated that 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 theory is that frequent drainage of prostate fluid stops tiny crystalloid microcalcifications, which have been associated with prostate cancer, from forming in the prostate duct.

Prostate cancer remains the second most common cause of death for men. The prostate is a sex gland in males. It is around the size of a walnut, and encircles the neck of the bladder and urethra, the tube that expels urine from the bladder. The prostate gland secretes a slightly alkaline fluid that forms part of the seminal fluid, a fluid that carries sperm during ejaculation.

The exact cause of prostate cancer is unknown, and the only proven risk factors for the disease are increasing age, family history of the disease, and race. A diet high in fat or red meat and lack of physical activity are also thought to increase the risk of prostate cancer.

But Dr Augustine Takure, a consultant urologist, University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Oyo State, stated that the saying that frequent sex protects against prostate cancer or prostate enlargement is highly debatable.

He stated: "What had been scientifically found out is that men who are sexually active are more prone to developing prostate cancer. That sex can protect against prostate cancer, for instance, has not been verified in randomised studies. Also in pools of studies, there is no relationship between frequency of sex and occurrence of prostate cancer."

Dr Takure while declaring that prostate cancer is hereditary, added that "the presence of the testis and the production of the male hormone as well as the unusual sensitivity of the prostate gland to the circulating hormone is what actually predisposes to prostate cancer."

"What is confirmed is the fact that prostate cancer runs in some families. But sex as being protective against prostate cancer or as a preventive measure has no scientific basis."

Dr Takure stated that ejaculation and prostate cancer are two different issues. According to him, ejaculation simply has to do with the production of sperm from the testes.

He declared: "From the period of emission to the outward movement of the sperm to the external organ of the male is what is called ejaculation. So, ejaculation or having more sexual intercourse does not have any relationship with prostate cancer or prostate enlargement."

The testis has some cells that produce testosterone (a hormone) and the sperm. The cells that produce the testosterone releases this into the blood stream. On the surface of the prostate gland are receptors that can accept this hormone.

According to him, "it is the binding of the testosterone to the receptors on the surface of the prostate gland that actually stimulate benign prostate enlargement or prostate cancer. So it is not related to sex."

Dr Takure, while adding that being sexually active may be related to the production of the testosterone, further declared that this hormone does not confer any protection on prostate enlargement or prostate cancer.

Can the removal of the testis, after the age of 50, be the solution to prostate cancer? Dr Takure affirmed that removal of the testis after as a protective measure against prostate cancer is a wrong assumption.

"It is wrong. Prostate cancer is rare in people below age 35. So, if you want to prevent having prostate cancer or prostate enlargement, then the prostate should be removed before the age of 35 years, before it gets sensitised by the circulating hormone.

"An example are men who were castrated, the servants of kings in the old kingdom, who never developed prostate cancer or prostate enlargement. They never developed prostate cancer because their testis had been removed before age 35.

Dr Takure, who stating that the prostate is enlarged the moment a man starts to grow grey hair, declared that "it only causes problem in about 30 to 40 per cent of men."

Nonetheless, he stated that there was no point preventing prostate enlargement because it is a psychological change that is part of the ageing process.

However in preventing prostate cancer, he suggested regular check-up with the urologist. "The urologist will examine the prostate, request for its ultrasound and then check the PSA, especially in people with positive family history of prostate problem," he explained.