An amazing number of young people open discussion topics on SteadyHealth to ask whether masturbation leads to acne, or even simply noting that masturbation leads to acne and wondering what they can do about it. Since this question is so popular, it's time to tackle it. Does masturbation lead to acne? The answer isn't as simple as you might imagine.
What Happens During Sex?
Interestingly, some studies show that a small but significant spike in testosterone levels occurs after orgasm, in both men and women. Other studies suggest that while this spike occurs, it is too insignificant to lead to any specific symptoms. It is indeed known that people with higher androgen levels tend to have more problems with acne. In addition, these people also have a higher libido. There is, therefore, a slight chance that acne and sex (masturbation or otherwise) are linked in some way -- more sex could mean more testosterone and in turn more acne, or more androgens could mean more sex and more acne.
What Else Could Explain This Phenomenon?
Nearly all the people asking if masturbation leads to acne are young men in their teens and early twenties. I've never seen a woman of any age ask if masturbation causes acne, and I have never seen anyone of any age ask if sex (with a partner) could lead to acne. For that matter, nobody asks if wet dreams lead to acne. That doesn't make any sense, does it, particularly taking into account that testosterone levels spike in people of both sexes after orgasm, with or without a partner?
We have to acknowledge that more indirect explanations are at play here, notably social explanations. If you are male, you have probably at least heard the myth that your "genitals can fall off" if you masturbate (too much). That one, an obvious untruth, was invented to prevent males from masturbating. (It didn't work. It did induce guilt in some.) The idea that masturbating can lead to facial impurities may just be another myth floating around to deter men and boys from masturbating. Perhaps the young men asking whether their acne is caused by self-exploration feel shame, and are tying perceived physical consequences into this shame.
Does Masturbation Really Cause Acne?
In short, probably not. Though there is research to indicate that hormonal changes occur following orgasm, there is no research whatsoever to indicate that masturbating specifically causes acne. (For one, how would your body know you're engaging in self-pleasure rather than pleasure with a partner?)
We do, however, know that acne can be caused by the hormones that rage through the body during puberty, and that acne is more common in puberty than during any other time of life. These same hormones lead teenagers to become interested in sex and sexuality. Therefore, teenagers may develop facial impurities at roughly the same time when they begin to explore their own bodies by masturbating. The old "correlation doesn't equal causation" is really very important to keep in mind here. Acne and masturbation may occur at the same time, but that does not imply that masturbation causes acne, or the appearance of acne leads to a desire to masturbate.
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