devil1Well folks, the circus has come to town. Unfortunately, the subject of this spectacle is prostate cancer. If you haven’t been in a coma in the last few days you must have seen the headline:

SEX CAUSES CANCER!!

Specifically, what the fuss is all about is a British study which found that men who engaged in “frequent” sexual activity in their 20’s and 30’s (including intercourse and masturbation), were more likely than their more abstinent peers to get prostate cancer at a “young age”.  (See Sexual Activity and Prostate Cancer Risk in Men Diagnosed at a Younger Age “,  BJU International, January 2009).  *But* there’s a caveat: men in their 50s who engaged in “frequent” masturbation were *less* likely to get PC.)

For me this is deja vu all over again. Some months ago I reported about a study which addressed this same issue and concluded that frequent “youthful” sex actually had a protective effect against prostate cancer. (See “Does Masturbation Cause Prostate Cancer?”, 4/23/08, http://prostatecancerblog.net/?s=promiscuity&x=16&y=10.)  I expressed skepticism about those results and noted that I was aware of several older studies which had indeed found a positive correlation between *promiscuity* and prostate cancer.

I am not going to go into detail about the new study because I don’t find the results credible or useful. But I will give you a link to an excellent article in which a PC expert at the University of Chicago reviews the findings and puts them into perspective: “Link Between Sexual Activity and Increased Risk of Cancer Open to Question“, Medill Northwestern Report, Jan. 28, 2009.) http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=113327. This is all you need to read.

Also, I came across an article about this in Salon magazine that was written by a doctor and is very good (and not surprisingly, the “Most Read” item on the page).  http://open.salon.com/cover.php.  Note: graphics are for adults only!

One problem with the data relied upon here is that it comes from men in their 60’s who were reporting on sexual behavior that occurred 30 years ago. I can tell you that memory does not get better with age, and I have a while to go before I reach 60.

Also, I am aware of a phenomenon that might be at work here which has eluded the researchers. I recently read that *some* men who’ve had PC and have been negatively affected sexually as a result have a tendency to aggrandize their pre-treatment sexual prowess (consciously or not), as a way of coping with the effects of ED or other bodily changes on self-esteem and identity. “Changed Men: The Embodied Impact of Prostate Cancer”, Qualitative Health Research, Vol. 19, No. 2, 151-163 (2009).

I must say it’s surprising how many men in the PC forums report having engaged in Olympic-level sexual athletics *before their surgery*. One man even says that he was a sexual “legend” in his own time!

My point is, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the men with PC reported higher levels of youthful sexual activity than they actually engaged in, and of course this would bias the results.

I find this situation a bit sad, because we finally have the world’s attention focused on prostate cancer, but not in a way which is productive. Indeed, it is counterproductive. I wish the message being trumpeted were that men should learn more about PC and get screened at an appropriate age. It is not plausible to me that any young man hearing that there may be a relationship between sex and prostate cancer is going to alter his behavior in any way. For one thing, PC is perceived as a “geezer” disease, and the youthful set won’t be paying attention anyway.

As one of the researchers involved in the new study advised: It’s best to “do everything in moderation” — including sex. That seems like sensible advice, but we didn’t need an expensive scientific study to tell us that. Not only is promiscuity a bad idea because of all the STD’s out there, but we now know that the virus that causes cervical cancer may be sexually transmitted.  So why not others?

As far as I see, the only effect of a study that links sex and cancer will be to increase the shame and guilt that are already associated with this subject. For example, men over the ages have been well schooled about the “horrors” of masturbation. I have to say that my husband disagrees with me here: he says I have my head in the 1940’s — that negative perceptions of sex are a thing of the past. I say ideas that are deeply ingrained in our culture do not suddenly fade away.

That’s a sexual fantasy.