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Does Abstinence Increase Testosterone

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Does abstinence increase testosterone or is it one of those myths which we can just put to bed?

When gains is life you’ll do just about anything to boost your anabolic hormones. You know that the link between testosterone, muscle building and overall athleticism is pretty clear so you’re making this a focus now.

You train like a spartan soldier, follow the precise diet of a physique competitor.

But let’s face it, there’s just one part of your life you’re unwilling to let go – sex.

But does abstinence really benefit testosterone levels, muscle mass and performance?

Or is resisting temptation just a frustrating waste of time?

In this article we take a look.


Testosterone and Sex

Testosterone (T) is the primary male hormone. Alongside dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and androstenediol, T is classed as a steroid androgen hormone.

As such, it is responsible for regulating a number of masculine characteristics:

  • Androgenic – increases bone mass to broaden shoulders and jaw, lengthens vocal cords to make your voice deeper and helps you develop a strong and assertive personality.
  • Anabolic – helps you develop thick, functional muscle mass by optimizing muscle protein synthesis.

Testosterone is regulated by the hypothalmic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axis

Once you hit puberty at around age 12, there’s a big surge in anabolism.

This is regulated by your HPG system – a tight knit negative feedback system that links your brain to your testes [1].

  • In order to stimulate T production, a gland in your brain called the hypothalamus has to initiate things. It does so by releasing a ‘carrier’ hormone called gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH). This gets the ball rolling.
  • GnRH travels a short distance down a blood vessel called the infundibulum to another gland named the pituitary. From here, the pituitary grabs it with both hands and spurts out its own carrier hormone called luteinizing hormone (LH). It’s a bit like a relay race, with each hormone being a different runner.
  • LH travels through your body, down to your testes, where it stimulates Leydig cells to make more testosterone.
  • From here of course, testosterone is pumped into your bloodstream and taken up by various tissues such as your muscles.

Because of its negative feedback system, once you have enough testosterone in your blood, a signals is sent back to your hypothalamus telling it to stop sending GnRH. Not enough and it’ll send more.

It is a dynamic, ever-adjusting regulatory system built purposely to optimize anabolic hormone levels.

Testosterone controls your reproductive system

Your male hormones not only help you develop in to a strong and assertive man, they also play a key role in reproduction. These are referred to as secondary sex characteristics. 

These include:

  • Development of body hair
  • Growth spurt
  • Enlargement of penis and testes
  • Increased spermatogenesis – the development of sperm

And of course you begin to think about sex non-stop. Your libido is through the roof and you have a sex drive that’s pretty much relentless.


Handsome, athletic and muscular bodybuilder posing over black background

Key Point: Testosterone is the primary male androgen hormone. It regulates sexual characteristics and controls masculinity via a hormonal negative feedback loop called the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis.


Sex and Anabolic Hormones: Does Abstinence Increase Testosterone?

Let’s face it. The reason we have testosterone is to facilitate sex.

It sits at the forefront of you mind. As a driver of reproduction and fertility it makes you notice the attractive woman sitting at the bar, the hot girl at the gym and the pretty librarian at the local bookery.

It kind of makes sense that if you don’t have sex, testosterone levels will increase. And this idea has been around since ancient Chinese philosophers wrote about it in their scriptures.

They very much thought that when you ‘spilled your life essence’ your anabolic hormone levels quickly plummeted.

And research shows that semen itself contains androgens such as dehydroepiandosterone – a precursor of testosterone [2]. So this could be true based on this evidence.

But does abstinence from sex really increase testosterone?

Men visiting a US sex club see increases in testosterone

Escasa and colleagues [3] realized that the majority of data into sex and hormones involved very clinical setting such as in a lab. They were concerned that this might be throwing the results so (very kindly) offered to take a group of 44 men to a sex club.

They arrived at 11 pm and left (or were possibly kicked out) at 2:10 pm.

26 of the men were asked to just watch the act of sex and 18 were coaxed into taking part. That’s about as ‘naturalistic’ as it gets when it comes to novel mating partners.

As you’d expect, across all men, the average testosterone levels went up steeply – by 36%. But the men that took part in sex saw a much greater boost of 72% compared to the watchers who experienced a much lower 11%.

Key Point: Men visiting an adult club for sex saw a much higher increase in anabolic hormones compared to men that just observed.

Sex results in elevated testosterone in both men or women

An interesting study published in Physiology and Behavior [4] reported that when a group of four different heterosexual couples had sex, their testosterone levels increased significantly compared to baseline.

But on nights when they didn’t have sex, T concentrations remained the same.

Key Point: Sexual intercourse with a partner boosts testosterone levels in both men and women. 

Older guys that have more sex also have higher testosterone levels

One common misconception is that older men experience lower anabolic hormone levels, purely because they are ageing. This study showed that this isn’t always true though.

The study, published in the Journal of Gerontology [5], found that in men aged over 60 years, those with higher levels of sexual activity (for age) had significantly greater levels of serum testosterone.

Interestingly, men who admitted to drinking more than 4 oz of ethanol per day were less likely to have sex.

So if you’re an older guy who wants to keep his T levels elevated, you know what to do.


Frustrated man sat on end of bed with woman in background

Does Abstinence From Masturbation Increase Testosterone

Maybe your significant other is making you sleep on the couch?

Or it might well be that you’re going through a bit of a dry spell?

Either way, it’s also useful to look not just at the effects of sex on hormone levels, but some ‘self love’ too- masturbation. After all, it has the same end result.

7 days abstinence causes significant 145% increase in testosterone

A Japanese study found that abstinence of just 7 days led to a huge increase in anabolic hormones in a group of of 28 volunteer men [6].

During days 2 and 5, the men found that hormone levels hadn’t changed. But something crazy obviously happened as day 7 approached. Because a 145% increase is massive.

The authors’ excitement at this finding was clear to see in their conclusion. They suggested that “these data are the first to document the phenomenon of the periodic change in serum testosterone level; the correlation between ejaculation and periodic change in the serum testosterone level, and the pattern and characteristics of the periodic change”.

Granted, a couple of days after, T levels had gradually dropped back to baseline. But those steep increases are definitely of value.

Key Point: 7 days of abstinence led to a huge increase in circulating testosterone.

Avoiding masturbation for 3 weeks results in increased testosterone

According to the research you’ll be pleased to know that your testosterone levels do go up slightly if you can keep yourself busy with other hobbies.

One research paper aimed to find out if a 3-week abstinence from ‘masturbation-induced orgasm’ in healthy men would lead to an increase in T concentrations [7].

They took blood from each of the participants at the start of the study as well as at the end. They got each of them to sign (what we presume was a very strange contract) to state they would keep their hands out of their trousers for just less than a month.

So does abstinence increase testosterone?

In this study, yes it did.

Key Point: Plasma testosterone levels were unaltered… but overall concentrations went up in the short-term.

Ejaculation doesn’t affect testosterone levels

Let’s flip the argument around a little. Avoiding sex or masturbation might cause an acute increase in anabolic hormone levels – but what if you don’t avoid it?

Well, according to studies not much.

Although the research is limited, there are at least 2 studies that show ejaculation doesn’t result in lower testosterone levels [8, 9].


Summary – Does abstinence increase testosterone?

  • Not is only is having sex fun, it’ll also increase testosterone levels in the short-term.
  • Moderate periods of abstinence can boost anabolic hormone levels – 1-3 weeks seems to be a peak time frame.
  • Long-term abstinence from sex or masturbation may decrease T levels.
  • Sex is better than masturbation when it comes to optimizing hormones.

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References

  1. Ramaswamy, S et al. Endocrine control of spermatogenesis: Role of FSH and LH/ testosterone. Spermatogenesis. 2014; 4(2): e996025
  2. Pohanka, M et al. Steroid hormones in human semen with particular respect to dehydroepiandosterone and its immunomodulatory metabolites. Endoc Reg. 2002; 36: 79-86
  3. Escasa, MJ et al. Salivary testosterone levels in men at a U.S. sex club. Arch Sex Behav. 40(5): 921-6
  4. Dabbs, JM et al. Male and female salivary testosterone concentrations before and after sexual activity. Physiol Behav. 52(1): 195-7
  5. Tsitouras, PD et al. Relationship of serum testosterone to sexual activity in healthy elderly men. J Gerontol. 1982; 37(3): 288-93
  6. Jiang, M et al. A research on the relationship between ejaculation and serum testosterone level in men. J Zhejiang Univ Sci. 2003; 4(2): 236-240
  7. Exton, MS et al. Endocrine response to masturbation-induced orgasm in healthy men following a 3-week sexual abstinence. World J Urol. 2001; 19(5): 377-82
  8. Fox, CA et al. Studies on the relationship between plasma testosterone levels and human sexual activity. J Endocrinol. 1972; 52: 51-58
  9. Batty, J. Acute changes in plasma testosterone levels and their relation to measures of sexual behaviour in the male house mouse (Mus musculus) Anim. Behav. 1978; 26: 349–357

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