For most guys, it goes without saying that having an orgasm tends to be a pleasurable experience—unless you’re one of the rare men who experiences what's known as orgasmic anhedonia, in which orgasm and pleasure are completely disconnected.
The benefits of orgasms don’t just stop there, though. Having an orgasm can also have surprising upsides for a man’s health. (Research on women, admittedly, is still lagging way behind—more on that in a moment.) Scientists have found that frequent orgasms are linked to a wide range of positive health outcomes in men, from a lower risk of cancer to a longer lifespan. Here’s a look at five of the most surprising outcomes.
(One side note: Most research uses the terms “orgasm” and “ejaculation” interchangeably because these things co-occur almost all of the time in guys, and it’s hard to separate their effects. While uncommon, it bears mentioning that you can also orgasm without ejaculating and ejaculate without orgasming.)
Men who orgasm more often have a lower risk of prostate cancer
In 2016, researchers published the results of a longitudinal study of nearly 32,000 men who were followed over an 18-year period. In the early 1990s, these guys were asked to estimate the average number of times they ejaculated per month. In 2010, researchers checked their medical records for prostate cancer diagnoses and then looked to see whether their earlier ejaculation frequency could predict future prostate health.
It turned out that guys who ejaculated more often were less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer. This association held even when statistically controlling for other lifestyle factors, such as alcohol consumption and exercise, suggesting that frequent ejaculation was the key factor.
So why is that? The most popular theory is the prostate stagnation hypothesis, which suggests that prostatic secretions have the potential to cause cancer if they are allowed to accumulate in the body too long; therefore, they need to be periodically flushed through ejaculation.
Frequent ejaculation can improve sperm viability, but decrease sperm count
It’s common sense that if you ejaculate a lot, you’re probably going to have a lower sperm count. This is why fertility specialists have long recommended abstinence periods to men who face difficulty fathering children.
There’s an important trade-off, however: While abstaining from orgasms does indeed boost men’s sperm count, longer abstinence periods are simultaneously linked to the release of lower-quality sperm. What the data show is that frequent ejaculation is linked to releasing more viable sperm. This suggests that the common advice to give up masturbation might not necessarily be helpful to men with fertility concerns if this ends up harming their sperm quality.
Orgasms may be able to cure hiccups that won’t otherwise go away.
In a medical case report published in 2000, doctors described a 40-year-old male patient who developed a case of hiccups that persisted for four days. He tried everything he could think of to relieve them, but nothing worked—that is, until he had had an orgasm.
“Hiccups continued throughout the sexual interlude up until the moment of ejaculation when they suddenly and completely ceased,” the report said. Doctors suggest that it may be due to the sympathetic nervous system activation that occurs during orgasm. Incidentally, this is thought to be the same mechanism that explains why startling someone can relieve hiccups.
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Orgasms can potentially cure migraine headaches (but also cause them)
Scientists have long known that there’s a connection between orgasms and headaches—but it’s more complex than previously thought. While some research has found that orgasms can potentially cause severe headaches, other research has found that orgasms can relieve migraines.
In fact, in a study of 800 migraine patients, the majority of those who reported that they'd had sex during a migraine attack experienced an improvement in symptoms. According to the authors of this paper, “some patients, in particular male migraine patients, even used sexual activity as a therapeutic tool.”
We don’t know for sure why this is the case, but one possibility is that those who experience relief—compared to those who don’t—might be releasing more pain-blocking endorphins upon orgasm.
Men who orgasm more often tend to live longer
In a longitudinal study, researchers looked at how ejaculation frequency was linked to risk of death 10 years later in a sample of 918 men aged 45 to 59. What they found was that men with the highest frequency of ejaculation (specifically, guys who were doing it at least twice per week) had a 50 percent lower risk of death than those who had the fewest ejaculations (guys who did it less than once per month).
Perhaps it’s because sex is a form of exercise. Or maybe it’s because orgasms activate the immune system. Although research has found links between frequent orgasms and a number of positive health outcomes, we clearly need more data to understand why in all of these cases. Also, while we focused on men here, some studies have looked at orgasms and health in women.
For example, we do have data suggesting that orgasms can relieve migraines in some female patients, too. We need more research, however, to understand how orgasms are connected to women’s health more broadly.
While we must await future research for a more complete picture, the data that has emerged so far suggests that orgasms just might be beneficial for our bodies.
Justin Lehmiller, PhD is a research fellow at The Kinsey Institute and author of the blog Sex and Psychology. His latest book is Tell Me What You Want: The Science of Sexual Desire and How It Can Help You Improve Your Sex Life. Follow him on Twitter @JustinLehmiller.
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