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Healthline Sexual Health

Can masturbating impact the immune system?

There are claims that masturbation can influence the strength of the immune system, but does any scientific evidence support this? Medical News Today considers the science behind this claim and speaks to experts to find out more.

Masturbation is a normal, healthy activity — yet myths about it still abound. That is partly because this activity is, even today, highly stigmatized in many societies around the world, perhaps because it can be pursued outside of heteronormative, monogamous relationships.

Meanwhile, studies suggest that the pleasure of masturbation can bring various health benefits, including stress relief, improvements in mood, and pain relief, including the relief of menstrual cramps.

There is also some anecdotal evidence that links masturbation with either increased or decreased immunity. What does the research say about this, and is there enough evidence one way or the other? We investigate.

Can male masturbation boost immunity?

The studies that look at the potential impact of masturbation on the immune system are few and far between. Moreover, they are affected by the gender data gap, so there is almost no information about the alleged effect as far as female bodies are concerned.
One study from 2004 — published in the journal NeuroimmunomodulationTrusted Source — asked 11 male volunteers to masturbate until orgasm. The researchers drew blood from these participants as they were masturbating, as well as during a control set-up, when no sexual activity was involved.
They then measured the presence of various markers of immune system activity in the blood — leukocytes, lymphocytes, lipopolysaccharide-induced interleukin 6, and tumor necrosis factor alpha — during control conditions, as well as before orgasm, and at 5 and 45 minutes after the volunteers achieved orgasm through masturbation.
The study found that masturbation temporarily increased the activity of some components of the immune system, namely leukocytes, and in particular natural killer cells, which fight cancer tumor cells and cells infected by viruses.
Throughout the years, many media outlets have cited this study to support the idea that masturbation could help improve the immune response — yet health experts warn that the findings should be taken with more than a pinch of salt.
“First, a sample of 11 individuals is not good enough” to prove that masturbation benefits immune function, Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani, a professor of public health at New Mexico State University, told Medical News Today.
“Second, there are no repeat trials on these individuals,” he cautioned.

“Third, they are healthy volunteers, which could cause bias and [a] lack of generalizability — e.g., to different age groups and people with disease histories. Fourth, it is not easy to [determine] if masturbation causes [a] spike in immunoprotective molecules or [if this is due to] the accompanying reduction in stress.”

– Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani

“Finally,” Dr. Khubchandani emphasized, “the bigger concern is about the transient rise in immune markers that could not guarantee long-term immunity enhancement or protection from diseases.”
While the authors of the initial study conducted a “follow-up,” this research did not include the original participants, nor did it focus on masturbation, specifically. The new study, published in European UrologyTrusted Source in 2016, included self-reported data from 31,925 male participants who answered questionnaires about ejaculation frequency over a period of 18 years.
The research aimed to confirm whether there was a correlation between the frequency of ejaculation and the risk of prostate cancer. It did, indeed, find a “beneficial association” between more frequent ejaculation and a lower risk of prostate cancer.
However, as the study authors acknowledged, there were limitations, including the fact that self-reported data can be inaccurate and incomplete and that “The literature exploring the role of sexual activity in the etiology of [prostate cancer] is inconsistent.”
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