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Masturbation and Acne

Looking at the Research and Possible Links Between Masturbation and Acne

By: Dan Kern, Acne.org Founder & CSO
Last updated: April 26, 2020

The Essential Information

"Masturbation causes acne" is a prime example of a myth. It is a story that has been used over the centuries to deter people from engaging in premarital sex or to enforce religious standards, but is based on no science.

To date, researchers have produced no studies that have looked at a possible link between masturbation or sex and acne. However, we do have studies that have looked at hormone levels after orgasm and they show only minor, temporary changes in hormones. Since acne is a hormonal disease, if we saw big swings in hormones after sex, this could lend credibility to the theory that masturbation or sex lead to more acne, but evidence shows us the opposite. Hormone levels don't change much at all. This adds weight to the argument that masturbation causing acne really is just a myth.

Do people with a higher sex drive have more acne? Higher baseline levels of testosterone in the body usually result in two things in both males and females:

  1. Increased sex drive
  2. More acne

This may explain why people who have a higher sex drive, and therefore masturbate more, might have more acne. Both could be caused separately by higher testosterone levels.

The Science

History

There is no specific scientific evidence linking masturbation and acne. However, for hundreds if not thousands of years, societies around the world, in an attempt to prevent young people from engaging in premarital sex, have latched onto the myth that sex/masturbation and acne are in some way related. Let's take a moment now to look at modern science and see if we can help unravel this controversy.

What Does the Research Say?

What Does the Research Say?

Psychosomatic Medicine Journal

There are no published studies attempting to link masturbation or sex with acne. Until researchers produce those studies, we'll need to take a step back. We do know that hormones and acne are linked, particularly when it comes to increased levels of androgens (male hormones) such as testosterone. So let's look at how arousal and the sex act affect hormone levels. First, it's worth mentioning that we know far more on this topic when it comes to animals such as rats and monkeys than we do about humans.1-4 Science is spotty in the area of human hormonal production and sex. According to a study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, "...small differences in methodology and data interpretation may easily produce contrasting results."5 A survey of the evidence bears this out.

Small differences in methodology and interpretation produce contrasting results

What the Evidence Shows

Journal of Zhejiang University Science

Several studies show very small increases in testosterone after orgasm in both men and women, while others show statistically insignificant differences.5-8 Studies specific to arousal show from very small increases in hormone levels to insignificant changes.5-6,8 However, even when changes are apparent, levels return back to baseline within minutes. As you can see, we have little if any compelling evidence. To complicate matters even more, a study in the Journal of Zhejiang University SCIENCE in 2003 showed a marked increase in testosterone on the 7th day of abstinence, which the authors posit is possibly due to sperm formation and maturation.9

How Orgasm Affects Hormones

So even if hormones spike after orgasm, it appears that the spike is temporary, and would not be enough to result in more acne.

After we comb through the evidence, it appears that the myth of masturbation causing acne is just that--a myth.

Do people with a higher sex drive have more acne?

If we open our minds to this issue, perhaps people across the centuries have simply noticed that people with higher sex drive tend to have more acne. When we look at this issue from that lens, we can see that both males and females who have higher levels of testosterone have both:

  1. Increased sex drive
  2. More acne

Both of these are agreed upon science. More testosterone leads to both increased sex drive, and separately, to more acne. This may explain why people who have a higher sex drive, and therefore masturbate more, might have more acne. It is not the masturbation that causes acne, but rather testosterone that separately causes increased sex drive and acne at the same time.

Androgens Can Increase Both Sex Drive and Acne

High Androgens, Sex Drive, and Acne

References:

  1. Herndon, J. G., Turner, J. J., & Collins, D. C. Ejaculation is important for mating-induced testosterone increase in male rhesus monkeys. Physiol. Behav. 27, 873-877 (1981). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7323195
  2. Herndon, J. G., Perachio, A. A. Turner, J. J. & Collins, D.C. Fluctuations in testosterone levels of male rhesus monkeys during copulatory activity. Physiol. Behav. 26, 525-528 (1981). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7243967
  3. Hernandez, M. E. et al. A study of the prostate, androgens and sexual activity of male rats. Reprod. Bio. Endocrinol. 16, 5:11 (2007). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1845164/
  4. Romano-Torres. M., Phillips-Farfan, B. V., Chavira, R., Rodriguez-Manzo, G. & Fernandez-Guasti, A. Relationship between sexual satiety and brain androgen receptors. Neuroendocrinology 85, 16-26. Epub 2007 Jan 8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17268169
  5. Exton, M. S. et al. Cardiovascular and endocrine alterations after masturbation-induced orgasm in women. Psychosom. Med. 61,280-289 (1999). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10367606
  6. Kruger, T. et al. Neuroendocrine and cardiovascular response to sexual arousal and orgasm in men. Psychoneuroendocrinology 23, 401-411 (1998). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9695139
  7. Stoleru, S. G., Ennaji, A, Cournot, A. & Spira, A. LH pulsatile secretion and testosterone blood levels are influenced by sexual arousal in human males. Psychoneuroendocrinology 18, 205-218 (1993). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8516424
  8. Exton, M. S. et al. Endocrine response to masturbation-induced orgasm in healthy men following a 3-week sexual abstinence. World J. of Urol. 19, 377-382 (2001). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11760788
  9. Jiang, M., Xin, J., Zou, Q. & Shen, J. W. A research on the relationship between ejaculation and serum testosterone level in men. J. Zhejiang Univ. Sci. 4, 236-240 (2003). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12659241

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