"Masturbation causes acne" is a prime example of a myth. It is a story that people have used over the centuries to dissuade people from engaging in premarital sex or to enforce religious standards.
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?
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.1-4Science 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."5A survey of the evidence bears this out.
What the Evidence Shows
Several studies show very small increases in testosterone after orgasm in both men and women, while others show statistically insignificant differences.5-8Studies specific to arousal show from very small increases in hormone levels to insignificant changes.5-6,8However, 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
We simply do not know whether masturbation or sex is related to acne, or for that matter human hormonal balance. Current research tends to point toward very small hormonal changes after arousal or sex, if any. Whether these changes are beneficial or detrimental for acne remains unknown.
The Experts at Acne.org
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- 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).
- 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).
- Hernandez, M. E. et al. A study of the prostate, androgens and sexual activity of male rats. Reprod. Bio. Endocrinol. 16, 5:11 (2007).
- 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.
- Exton, M. S. et al. Cardiovascular and endocrine alterations after masturbation-induced orgasm in women. Psychosom. Med. 61,280-289 (1999).
- Kruger, T. et al. Neuroendocrine and cardiovascular response to sexual arousal and orgasm in men. Psychoneuroendocrinology 23, 401-411 (1998).
- 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).
- 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).
- 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).