Sunday, October 21, 2012

Does Abstinence Lead to Erectile Dysfunction?

Medical studies confirm the statement, which is completely aligned with the common sense: the men, who are having certain troubles of getting erection, statistically have lower frequency of the sexual encounters than men with normal sexual function. However, the question we will try to review in this post is slightly different.

Can prolonged sexual abstinence cause erectile dysfunction (ED), or in other words, if sex and masturbation can help to prevent ED? So, should men strive to have regular sex (or masturbation) to cut their health risk for ED?

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What the Research Says

Recent studies of Finnish researchers showed that men with increasing age shall cease to enjoy sex, many more suffer from erectile dysfunction (impotence) in men who regularly engaged in amorous games.

According to experts, one should at least once a week to devote time to sex.

The research group from the University Hospital in Tampere (Finland) confirmed the findings: "We're talking with simple words - the more sex you do, the lower chance for you to become an impotent”.

The study, published in the July 2008 issue of the American Journal of Medicine, tracked 989 men in their 50s, 60s, and 70s for five years. It showed that men who reported having sexual intercourse less than once a week were twice as likely to develop ED. The less frequent the sex, the greater the risk for ED. Scientists selected three equal groups of men: having sex three times a week and more, having sex once or twice a week, and having sex less than once a week. After 5 years observation, the erection problems have been found at 79 participants of the group of men, who had sex less than once a week. For the group of men who claimed to have a sex at least once a week, the problems with sexual health have been reported for 32 participants. Others who admitted leading an active sex life (at least three times a week) had experienced only 16 cases of the disease.

Since about half of men aged 40 to 70 years have certain problems with erection, the study leads to the practical recommendations to the aging men, who are committed to their own health and lifestyle.

 “The result indicated that regular sexual activity preserves potency in a similar fashion as physical exercise maintains functional capacity,” the scientists concluded.

Note that the study did not particularly address the question of whether masturbation can help preserving male sexual function. But it probably does help, says Juha Koskimaki, MD, PhD, an urologist at Tampere University Hospital in Tampere, Finland, one of the authors of the study.

Both forms of sexual activity seem to protect nerve fibers and blood vessels responsible for erectile function and prevent scarring of the chambers inside the penis that fill with blood to form an erection, Koskimaki says.

One of the articles of the education center of the Harvard Medical School gives a simple rationalization for the revealed dependency: “Indeed, erections may work on a use-it-or-lose-it principle. Some research suggests that when the penis is flaccid for long periods of time – and deprived of a lot of oxygen-rich blood – the low oxygen level causes some muscle cells to lose their flexibility and gradually change into something akin to scar tissue. This scar tissue seems to interfere with the penis’s ability to expand when it’s filled with blood.”

Russian sexual health expert Irina Gumennikova shares this point of view: "In addition to psychological consequences of sexual abstinence, sexual function suffers. Men practicing abstinence may develop problems with erection and ejaculation. The level of consequences depends on a person’s age and length of abstinence. A 25-year old man with a strong sexual drive may experience difficulties practicing abstinence for two weeks, but it will not affect his sexual function. At age 30-35 a few months of abstinence may cause premature ejaculation and problems with erection”.

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Causal Relationship

Most urologists agree with the statement that infrequent sex is clearly associated with ED. However, some of them doubt the statement that low frequency of sex indeed causes ED, claiming that the data is inconclusive to announce that frequent sex or masturbation can help men to prevent ED.

“Having sex is good, masturbating is good, but the concept that men have to go out and have sex to preserve erectile function is bogus,” says Irwin Goldstein, MD, director of sexual medicine at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego. 

Ira D. Sharlip, MD, clinical professor of urology at the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine and a spokesman for the American Urological Association, says that infrequent sex is more likely to be a consequence of ED than a cause. Among men in the study, those who reported frequent sex might simply have had “good genes” that protected them from ED, whereas the men who developed ED might have had sex less frequently simply because they were having erection trouble.

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Is Sex Necessary?

But wait. If sex is not important, why should be man bothering to preserve their sexual health? I know that is quite a provocative question. Because the answer is simple: sex is really good for your health!

In one of the most credible studies correlating overall health with sexual frequency, Queens University in Belfast tracked the mortality of about 1,000 middle-aged men over the course of a decade. The study was designed to compare persons of comparable circumstances, age and health. Its findings, published in 1997 in the British Medical Journal, were that men who reported the highest frequency of orgasm enjoyed a death rate half that of the others.

Multiple studies reported that having sex even a few times a week has an associative or causal relationship with the following health-related human body functions:

  • Improved sense of smell: After sex, production of the hormone prolactin surges. This in turn causes stem cells in the brain to develop new neurons in the brain's olfactory bulb, its smell center.
  • Reduced risk of heart disease: In 2001 follow-on to the Queens University study mentioned above, researchers focused on cardiovascular health. They found that by having sex three or more times a week, men reduced their risk of heart attack or stroke by half.
  • Weight loss, overall fitness: Sex is an intensive exercise. An energetic session burns about 200 calories - the same as running 15 minutes on a treadmill. The pulse rate, in a person aroused, rises from about 70 beats per minute to 150, the same as that of an athlete putting forth maximum effort. Muscular contractions during intercourse work the pelvis, thighs, buttocks, arms, neck and thorax. Sex also boosts production of testosterone, which leads to stronger bones and muscles.
  • Pain-relief: Immediately before orgasm, levels of the hormone oxytocin surge to five times their normal level. This in turn releases endorphins, which alleviate the pain of everything from headache to arthritis to even migraine.
  • Less-frequent colds and flu: Wilkes University in Pennsylvania says individuals who have sex once or twice a week show 30% higher levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A, which is known to boost the immune system.
  • Better bladder control: Heard of Kegel exercises? You do them, whether you know it or not, every time you stem your flow of urine. The same set of muscles is worked during sex.
  • Prevent prostate cancer: Some urologists believe in a substantial relationship between infrequency of ejaculation and prostate cancer risk. The causal argument is as follows: To produce seminal fluid, the prostate and the seminal vesicles take such substances from the blood as zinc, citric acid and potassium, and then concentrate them up to 600 times. Any carcinogens present in the blood likewise would be concentrated. Rather than have concentrated carcinogens hanging around causing trouble, it's better to evict them. Regular old sex could do the job. But if the flushing of the prostate were your only objective, masturbation might be a better way to go, especially for the non-monogamous male. Having sex with multiple partners can raise a man's risk of cancer by up to 40%. That's because he runs an increased risk of contracting sexual infections.

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Sex at any cost?

According to recent studies, the surprising results were revealed showing that the men who have a single steady partner are able to preserve their sexual function significantly longer than those with several partners.

"Abstinence can be harmful, but don’t think that you have to have sex all day long for “health” reasons. You should have sex as often as you want,” says Yuri Prokopenko.  “If you have sex less frequently than you want, you can ruin your hormonal balance and develop blood congestion in small pelvis area. If you try to make yourself have sex when you do not want to, you may develop psychological problems. Do not make sex a “mandatory activity.”

Sources and Additional Information:

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