Everything You Want to Know About Sex and Cancer

Two cancerophobes from South Boston
Used frequent sex as a precaution.
They indulged night and day,
In every known way,
And expired from chronic exhaustion.

How does your sex life affect the chances of your getting cancer? Does the sensuous woman have more or less cancer than the celibate? And how about the man? Does circumcision help; and whom does it help? And what about orgasmic frequency? There is very little need to answer these questions, because an increase or decrease in cancer is not likely to deter those who are enjoying sex, nor encourage those who aren't. Nevertheless, with a "modern" book, we have to have something about sex in it. I will deal with women and men separately because, although their sexual interaction is a thing in common, the types of cancer that are related to it are not.

Cancer of the breast appears to be influenced to some degree by reproduction. It has been known for some time that there is a relatively high incidence of breast cancer among nuns, and that marriage, having children, and nursing them appears to reduce the incidence. Since marriage, having children and nursing are interrelated, it is very difficult to separate these factors. The early work suggested that long-term nursing reduced the incidence of breast cancer. This has never been substantiated, but we can still say that having children reduced the chances of getting breast cancer, and having children at a relatively early age appears to reduce the chances of getting breast cancer even more. It is also reasonably certain that having children and nursing them does not, as it does in mice, increase the incidence of breast cancer. In mice, the more pregnancy, the more breast cancer. No one has ever satisfactorily explained this discrepancy.

Cancer of the uterine cervix has its highest incidence in prostitutes, and its lowest in nuns. That ought to tell you something.

You can't win, ladies, because what increases the risk of breast cancer decreases the risk of cancer of the uterine cervix: pregnancy reduces the incidence of cancer of the breast and increases the incidence of cancer of the cervix, while celibacy increases the incidence of cancer of the breast and reduces the incidence of cancer of the cervix. You might as well do what you enjoy, because in the long haul it makes little difference in terms of cancer risk.

Cancer of the penis is very rare in circumcised men and, interestingly enough, cancer of the uterine cervix has a very low incidence in women married to circumcised men. It has not been determined whether this represents a cause and effect relationship, or whether these observations are both due to a common factor, such as a high level of marital fidelity in wives of circumcised men.

The lowest incidence of cancer of the prostate is found in Japanese men. This has been attributed to the early and regular sex habits of the Japanese male; an orgasm a day keeps the urologist away. J. D. Ferguson says that "Exemption both from baldness and gout has been credited to eunuchs since Hippocratic times. More recently it was suggested that such individuals likewise enjoy immunity from prostatic cancer. Convincing proof of this is hard to obtain, but, as yet, no instances of the disease have been reported in such circumstances. From an experimental aspect, however, there is no doubt that in domestic animals subjected to early castration, the prostate remains permanently underdeveloped, and it seems logical to suppose that a similar state in man might reduce any subsequent risk of malignant change. Despite this, it is obvious that prepubertal emasculation cannot be accounted an acceptable method of prophylaxis." Incidentally, castration is guaranteed to prevent cancer of the testicle.

There is a very very old joke that goes something like this: A salesman comes to the big city for a convention and is accosted at the train station by a woman who approaches him and says "I'm selling" and he replied "I'm buying," and they go off together. When he returns home, he finds that he has acquired gonorrhea. The following year, on his trip to the big city, he meets the same woman who says "I'm selling" and he replied "I'm buying" and again they go off together. On his return home, he finds that he has acquired syphilis. The following year he returns to the big city and meets the same woman at the station. She says "I'm selling," and he replies "What are you selling now, cancer?" Well, it looks as if this little dirty joke might well have been prophetic. A recent study, which has not been confirmed, indicates that people with cancer of the prostate tend to have had both venereal disease and a larger number of sexual partners than a control population that did not have cancer of the prostate. This appears to be a well-controlled study, but the samples are relatively small, and the conclusions drawn have to be tentative until the work has been repeated.

Some scientists have postulated that both cancer of the uterine cervix and cancer of the prostate might be caused by a herpes virus (a first cousin of the virus that causes cold sores). If this were so, one would expect some correlation between the national incidence of cancer of the uterus and the incidents of cancer of the prostate. There doesnąt seem to be any such correlation, with a country like Australia ranking in the top ten with cancer of the prostate and the bottom ten for cancer of the uterus. South Africa ranks first in cancer of the prostate and fifteenth in cancer of the uterus; while Venezuela ranks first in cancer of the uterus and twenty-fifth in incidence of cancer of the prostate. At the present time, I know of no satisfactory explanation for these conflicting findings. If a man wanted to play it safe, he would stick to one woman. He might have less fun, but he might also have considerably less trouble.

After reading this chapter, a woman told me that she thought that she would get neither cancer of the cervix nor cancer of the breast because she had had children at an early age, nursed them all, and had remained reasonably faithful to a series of circumcised men.

In summary, it appears as if people might reduce their chances of getting cancer a bit by having frequent sexual intercourse with the same partner and having children at a reasonably early age (now, doesn't that make you happy, Doctor Ruben?). To avoid cancer of the uterine cervix, celibacy can be recommended; but that is the only thing that it has to recommend it.

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