Given the bind that many prominent American men have thrust themselves into — think Tiger Woods, Mark Sanford, Eliot Spitzer, et al. — it seems it really is possible to have too much of a good thing. And your prostate gland appears to agree.
According to a new research out of the UK, men who have frequent sex in their twenties and thirties were at a greater risk of developing prostate cancer later in life. What's even more unusual is that researchers showed that young men who masturbated frequently, as opposed to those who have sex frequently with a partner, were at an even greater risk of developing prostate cancer.
The study was led by Dr. Polyxeni Dimitropoulou of the University of Cambridge. She and her colleagues used questionnaires to examine the sexual histories of more than 400 men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 60, together with more than 400 control subjects.
The men were asked a battery of questions about the sex in their lives, including age of first sexual activity, frequency of masturbation and intercourse, numbers of sexual partners and history of sexually transmitted diseases.
"We were keen to look at the links between sexual activity and younger men as a lot of prostate cancer studies focus on older men as the disease is more prevalent in men over 50," Dimitropoulou said.
Frequent Sex and Hormone Levels
Since prostate cancer is known to be associated with male hormone levels, the researchers used frequency of sex as a proxy. They theorized that a man who had lots of sex when young would have had higher hormone levels driving the urge. Thus, highly sexed men — men who had sex more than 20 times a month, according to the study — should be more prone to prostate cancer.
"Overall we found a significant association between prostate cancer and sexual activity in a man's twenties and between masturbation and prostate cancer in the twenties and thirties," said Dimitropoulou. "However there was no significant association between sexual activity and prostate cancer in a man's forties."
When they crunched the data further, the researchers found that men with prostate cancer later in life had been in the "highest frequency groups in each decade when it came to sexual activity" including both intercourse and masturbation. This was most pronounced in men who "were also more likely to masturbate frequently than men in the control group, with the greatest difference in the twenties and thirties," according to the researchers.
STDs And Cancer Risk
Another interesting link discovered by the researchers is a possible connection between sexually transmitted diseases and raised prostate cancer risk. Although this finding is somewhat controversial, Dimitropoulou said the men in her study who had had STDs earlier in life had a higher incidence of prostate cancer when older.
An interesting recent study by Lorelei Mucci, PhD, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health also showed that men who had been infected with the trichomonas vaginalis parasite, a little-known STD, tended to develop a more aggressive prostate cancer form of the cancer.
Mucci and her colleagues looked at more than 650 men with prostate cancer. They took blood samples from these men to determine whether they had ever been infected by the parasite. Though men who had been infected had no higher risk of developing prostate cancer, those who had been infected developed a more aggressive form of the disease.
One of the more puzzling aspects of Dimitropoulou's study is the fact that the trends she identified appear to reverse when men have frequent sex in their forties and fifties.
"A possible explanation for the protective effect that men in their fifties appear to receive from overall sexual activity, and particularly masturbation, is that the release of accumulated toxins during sexual activity reduces the risk of developing cancer in the prostate area," she said. "This theory has, however, not been firmly established and further research is necessary." See also: Tips for a Healthy Prostate