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How's this for irony: I recently wrote a short piece extolling the virtues of masturbation, either with or without pornography, and by the end of the book I had decided to take a break from the habit myself - possibly for good. In the two weeks it took me to compose PORN! I watched a fair amount of explicit films, pleasured myself more than usual, and called it research. How else to really get to know the material than to dive in "head" first? Of course like most guys my age I have decades of practice in the art of self-stimulation. But in the course of my research I learned a lot about the age-old habit I didn't know before.

For example, the vast majority of kids discover their genitals and the pleasure they can bring by age 6. I didn't touch myself until aged 10. That my sexual awakening coincided with the onset of puberty is common to most young men. Many boys and girls masturbate by the age of 13. But there are those who do not discover the pleasures inherent in self-stimulation until they are in their 30s, and they often regret all the lost time. There are even a few percent in every poll that say they've never made themselves orgasm. Impossible though this may seem. It's like resisting a persistent itch. Almost everyone eventually scratches. Most develop quite a love affair with themselves, as I did from 13 to 30. A little alone time in the bathroom, the applied science of manual dexterity, the benefit of an erotic image or two, and - voila! - the crazed monkey of sexual desire stays in its cage rather than make you run out and hump a random's leg.

Men tend to masturbate more than women. A recent study conducted by the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior found that around one third of women in their twenties had not masturbated in the last year, while around 85 percent of guys that age had. Put another way, girls are twice as likely not to masturbate as guys. And guys masturbate more often, with 20 percent of twenty-year-olds doing it more than four times per week, compared to only around 5 percent of same-aged females. So an average guy is four times as likely as his girlfriend to masturbate more often than not. Many sex experts believe that if women masturbated as much as men, they'd be more sexually satisfied. 

The more often men ejaculate between the ages of 20 and 50, the less likely they are to suffer prostate cancer later in life. Especially if you ejaculate once daily in your 20s, which makes you a third less likely to get the disease when you're old. Frequent ejaculation may help flush out carcinogens that build up when seminal fluid remains in the prostatic ducts. A search on the Web reveals tons of claims about masturbation, from the reasonable - self-stimulating as much as 3 to 5 times per week manages premature ejaculation, helps prevent erectile dysfunction, improves sperm motility and increases sexual stamina - to the bizarre, like reducing nasal congestion. Who thought cleaning one's pipes meant those pipes? Ejaculation may help manage stress and depression through the release of the feel-good hormone oxytocin. It can bolster your immunity and improve your mood, though not always. And since the endorphins released in ejaculation are a natural pain-reliever, the excuse "I can't I have a headache" can be answered with "you can and you should." 

I also learned a lot about the physiology of ejaculation. For example I learned (or relearned what I had studied in med school) that spermatogenesis (the synthesis of sperm) occurs continuously throughout a guy's reproductive life, from puberty until senescence and often until a man's dying day: the world's oldest dad fathered a son at the age of 96. The testes produce 128 million sperm per day and sperm require 64 days to mature. The average guy typically ejaculates between 2 and 5 milliliters of semen, which is on average about a teaspoon. In each ml there are normally about 100 million sperm, so each "load" contains roughly 350 million haploid cells ready to penetrate an egg. If only a third as many sperm (128 million) mature per day as are in the average-sized load, the risk of depleting your stores by daily ejaculation seems to be a real one. But the continuous production ensures that it is impossible to fully exhaust yourself. Tomorrow is a new day, and new "baby batter" gets made.

Ninety percent of the volume of semen is composed of the combined secretions of the male accessory sex glands (prostate gland, seminal vesicles). These secretions reduce the acidity of the vagina and contain nutrients and sugars to feed the little swimmers. Which wankers needn't worry about because the gritters are going nowhere except down the drain. Sperm itself comprises only about 10 percent of semen. Of course temporary reductions will occur if you ejaculate several times per day, which is not uncommon for teenagers. But come often enough and you shoot blanks,  as a high school friend used to say. When the concentration falls below 20 million sperm per milliliter there can be trouble getting a girl pregnant. This is why, when evaluating a guy's semen, a fertility clinic will ask that he abstain from ejaculation for a few days to get an accurate assessment of baseline. A few days' time-out is a good thing now and then. As your load's size increases, the pleasure does too. 

As ejaculate sperm don't survive long at all, from a few minutes in masturbation to a few hours in a woman's vagina. If the little swimmers make their way into your steady's fallopian tube, however, they can thrive for several days in the warm, moist, non-acidic environment. If allowed to remain in the testicles, that is to say if you do not ejaculate, sperm live for a little over two months. After about 75 days, they die and are reabsorbed by the body. This sounds like a case of use them or lose them, though your body is able to recycle the cellular components in sperm for reuse in making new sperm and other cells.

Some schools view ejaculation as depleting one’s life force and thereby explain the fact that women (who unlike men do not lose their seed with orgasm but only once a month, with menstruation) outlive men by over five years. But if this theory held any water, women would die once they hit 50 and had depleted their supply of ova. And as Madonna and many other soon-to-be seniors are here to attest, it's not all about the ovaries. So I'm not convinced that more frequent ejaculation makes a person weaker or diminishes longevity. A few hundred million sperm may seem like an awful lot of cells to lose each day or however often you have sex or self-stimulate. But your body has 30 trillion cells. Each cell type, be it kidney or liver or blood or sperm, has its specific lifespan, after which it gets replaced. Red blood cells, for example, live 120 days before they are recycled. Some white cells only live 3 or 4 days. The cells lining your stomach live less than a week, as do the epithelial cells of your intestines. So whether you ejaculate or not, your body loses hundreds of millions of cells every day, and there is nothing you can do about it. Death is part of life. If the loss of a bunch of cells meant draining your life force, it would be a struggle to get through the next hour. But it's not (hopefully), because the body releases 180-million new red blood cells into the circulation every hour. The same happens with sperm cells, which are just another cell type, however uniquely-shaped. 

I've tested this theory, training for and competing in marathons while ejaculating thrice weekly and other times while abstaining from sex and masturbation altogether. My weekly mileage was the same (about 60 or 70 miles per week) and my finish times were exactly the same: 2 hours, 49 minutes. In fact, some weeks I have run more when masturbating more, though this may be some sort of compensatory behavior, as is the case with the night prowler who after a bender makes himself get out of bed and slog through five miles. (True confession.) Also, I haven't seen any difference in my literary output or mood whether I masturbate or have sex or keep it in my pants. And self-experiments are the ones I trust the most. Even the guilt I still sometimes struggle with after masturbating does not mean that the habit is somehow bad. I feel guilty when I take a day off from exercising, though I know my body needs the extra rest and I always feel extra energy the following morning. I blame the nuns, who told us premarital sex was a sin, and this included self-stimulation.

Even so, abstaining from sex can’t hurt and might extend your life, albeit one in which you are alone and asexual, which to some is not a life worth living. But browse Internet discussions about masturbation and you hear the same story repeated in endless renditions: abstaining from ejaculation is a worthy endeavor. It can bring mental clarity, increased energy and even enliven one's romantic relationship. Even a few days or weeks is enough to replenish stores and hit the refresh button on your mojo. If you're alone that means taking a spanking holiday. If you're in a relationship, your gal needs to be on board. To convince her, you can offer her the services of your tongue. 

But really, even taking a masturbation vacation is just another form of novelty. It replaces the novel sex scenes you are prohibiting yourself from viewing for however many days or weeks and all the while you feel a sense of accomplishment, a refreshing euphoria. Finally something new! But beware the rebound. After going a year without sex or much masturbation I found myself tossing off a couple times a day for an entire month. I wasn't exercising due to injury, so this low-grade physical exertion doubled as my work-out for the day. Life seeks balance and after self-imposed celibacy I was experiencing the other extreme.

And of course masturbation is the most effective method of contraception that also happens to be STD free. But the words of one urologist gave me pause. The optimal amount of masturbation, says this expert, is the frequency in which wet dreams occur. Since many men don't have a wet dream but once in a decade, there seems to be little physiological need for ejaculation if you're not making babies. Other than because it feels good. Which is also the reason we eat meat and snort coke, so pleasure may not be the best criterion to go by as far as health goes. When I took that 8-month spanking holiday I didn't have a nocturnal emission for several months. Which is an argument for masturbating three times a year at most, rather than as many times in a day, as many do.

There is some evidence that too much ejaculation can cause lingering physiological changes. When men ejaculated an average of 2.4 times per day for 10 days, their sperm output remained low for nearly half a year.  Many men are now recording unwanted symptoms post-ejaculation. One psychiatrist noted that the neurochemical changes after orgasm mimic those observed in depression and anxiety. Which may mean that in today's porn-heavy environment the emphasis on coming so often could be churning out a generation of basket cases. But pornstar Peter North, who has appeared in over 2500 adult films, ejaculating probably three times in each, not to mention in whatever social life he has on the side, still looks pretty sharp. At 58, he hardly has any gray hair, is taut and sinewy, and in interviews he always seems to be smiling - although looks can be deceiving. For every argument there is a counter-argument. Too much or not enough of a good thing seems to be the million dollar question. To answer it, you must submit yourself to the test. In the laboratory of life, conduct your own experiment of one and share the results with whoever cares to listen. Be prepared that few will, because even in these liberating times choking the chicken is still a sensitive subject for most.

At this point I've abstained from masturbation for exactly one month and will remain celibate (synonyms include continent and chaste - the 3 Cs) at least until I have a wet dream, however long it takes. I even allow for the possibility that masturbation may go the way of alcohol, which for years had been a daily habit of mine which these days I hardly ever enjoy. And wouldn't this be fitting? There are five physical vices, or non-essential sense pleasures, if you will: masturbation, alcohol, meat, tobacco and drugs. I started masturbating regularly at the age of 12, started drinking occasionally in high school, smoking cigarettes around high school graduation, eating meat in college, and partaking of all manner of drugs from my mid 20s to mid 30s. I have given up each habit in reverse order. My drug use ended first, probably because it was relatively short-lived and hadn't the time to gather as much momentum and become "such a part of me" as, say, masturbation. The last time I snorted cocaine was just after I graduated medical school at 35 in March, 2008. I gave up meat and dairy a year later after my first year of residency. Stopped smoking cigars in 2011 and gave up alcohol starting in 2013. Ejaculating would therefore be next and last on the list of past-times to permanently eliminate from my life. And now seems to be as good a time as ever. Which I suppose means having no more sex either. For someone who doesn't like to be tied down, lifelong chastity is a bit of a commitment. But I have had more than my share of kicks. And holidays needn't always involve an ocean view. There's Kardashian's back-side too, if you're into that sort of thing. But I like my honeys lean.


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