Two relatively large studies of this question, reported in 2003 and 2004, yielded good news for sexually active men: high ejaculation frequency seemed to protect against prostate cancer.
As part of Harvard’s Health Professionals Follow-up Study, 29,342 men between the ages of 46 and 81 reported their average number of ejaculations per month in young adulthood (ages 20–29), in mid-life (ages 40–49), and in the most recent year. Ejaculations included sexual intercourse, nocturnal emissions, and masturbation. Study participants also provided comprehensive health and lifestyle data every two years from 1992 to 2000. The scientists found that men who ejaculated 21 or more times a month enjoyed a 33% lower risk of prostate cancer compared with men who reported four to seven ejaculations a month throughout their lifetimes.
An Australian study of 2,338 men came to a similar conclusion. In all, men who averaged 4.6 to seven ejaculations a week were 36% less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 70 than men who ejaculated less than 2.3 times a week on average. The study found no connection between prostate cancer and the number of sex partners. (An earlier study, however, found that men who had sex with 30 or more women were two to three times more likely to develop prostate cancer than men with only one partner.)
Further study is needed to investigate possible protective mechanisms. In theory, emptying the prostate of potentially irritating or harmful substances might be one such mechanism. Regardless of the reason why, take comfort in the fact that ejaculation is not only pleasurable, but also may convey health benefits.
SOURCES: Leitzmann MF, Platz EA, Stampfer MJ, et al. Ejaculation Frequency and Subsequent Risk of Prostate Cancer. Journal of the American Medical Association 2004;291:1578–86. PMID: 15069045.
Viagra and impotence
Does Taking Viagra Make a Man More Virile?
It might. A surprising new area of research is whether taking a small dose of Viagra every night works as a preventative to stave off impotence, just as people can take an aspirin a day to prevent heart attack.
Though you wouldn't think you'd get much out of Viagra while you're sleeping, it turns out that nighttime erections -- most men get three or four every night -- are crucial to maintaining potency. Because most men don't have several erections during the day, the nocturnal erection, which allows blood and oxygen to flow to the genitals, is nature's way of keeping the penis in working order. The theory is that anything that increases the intensity and duration of nighttime erections is good for long-term potency.
But don't you need a sexual stimulus for Viagra to work? You do, and the likely trigger for nighttime erections, rapid-eye-movement sleep, is said to be the strongest sexual stimulus a man can experience. The brain shuts down all other activity to the penis and the level of adrenaline, which interferes with erections, plummets.
An Italian study of 44 men gave half the men 50 milligrams of Viagra before they went to sleep. The men averaged 39 years of age and didn't have erectile dysfunction. Those who took Viagra had significantly longer and more rigid nighttime erections than the men taking a placebo.
Irwin Goldstein, a noted Boston urologist, says about 400 of his patients are using 25 mg of Viagra each night as a preventative measure. "Men say, 'I'm potent. I don't want to become impotent. Is there something I can do?' " says Dr. Goldstein. "It's a very simple strategy for preserving sexual health."
But while it makes sense in theory, whether nighttime Viagra use can prevent impotence is far from proven. Pfizer says it's studying whether nighttime Viagra use can help improve sexual function in patients who have had prostate surgery but it won't present the results until early next year.
Meanwhile, it's worth noting that the best way to prevent impotence is to keep your veins from clogging up in the first place. Don't smoke, eat healthy foods, lose weight and lower your cholesterol.
What Happens If a Woman Takes Viagra?
A 47-year-old Cincinnati woman who uses Viagra regularly says that unlike with men, Viagra in women can cause a noticeable sensation when you take it. "I felt like there was a tingling in the pelvic area," she says. "I could almost feel the increase in blood flow. It felt like there was an increase in sensitivity."
The woman's doctor gave her Viagra after a hysterectomy made it nearly impossible to have an orgasm. She says Viagra has given her about 70% of her sexual function back. The level of orgasm "is not the same to what I had prior -- it's not as full," she says. "But it does make it easier."
Early studies of Viagra and women found it didn't work, but doctors say those studies weren't selective enough and included women with desire disorders who, like men with such problems, can't be helped by Viagra.
As with men, Viagra gets the blood flowing to the genitals in women. So for women who have difficulty achieving orgasm, vaginal dryness or a lack of sensation, arousal or engorgement, Viagra may help.
In a recent Pfizer-sponsored study of 200 women who either were postmenopausal or had undergone hysterectomies and who all suffered from some form of sexual arousal disorder, half were given Viagra and half were given a placebo. Researchers found that 57% of women taking Viagra reported improved sensation in the genital area, compared with 44% in the placebo group.
What Types of Erectile Dysfunction Are Most Easily Treated With Viagra?
Men whose erectile dysfunction is psychologically based fare best. Among that group, 91% were able to have sex one or more times during treatment. Close behind were men with vascular disease (88%) and those suffering from depression (86%). The remaining categories include men with hypertension (75%), diabetes (70%), ischemic heart disease (69%) and those who've had their prostate removed (47%).
A new study published in September contends regular use of Viagra could actually protect the heart -- but the heart benefit has been shown
-- Ms. Parker-Pope, who writes the Wall Street Journal's weekly Health Journal column, served as contributing editor of this report.