Reporting on Masturbation-Cancer Link Is Wrong

Not morally. Journalistically.

By SHARE

Recent reporting you may have read on the health effects of masturbation is wrong. I don't mean morally; I mean journalistically. PlanetOut reported on Monday that "BBC News reported on Wednesday" that masturbating frequently may reduce a man's risk of prostate cancer. Masturbating may or may not affect one's cancer risk, but the only BBC report I can find on the subject is dated July 16, 2003—and it contains statistics that are identical to those cited by PlanetOut. (For what it's worth, that day was indeed a Wednesday, according to this online tool.)

Moreover, the Australian organization named by both news outlets, the Cancer Council Victoria, does not appear to have any recent press release on masturbation or ejaculation, though it does have one dating to July 2003. (A phone call to the Cancer Council, placed at 4:27 a.m. local time, went unanswered.) A search of PubMed.gov, a database of published medical studies, turned up only one study about ejaculation (and one letter to an editor) coauthored by Graham Giles, the researcher quoted by PlanetOut.

A staff member at the Advocate who claimed to have written the PlanetOut.com story (the publications share an owner and some of their content) double-checked her source at a reporter's request and confirmed that the BBC report on which she had based her article dated from 2003.

In a brief news report, FoxNews.com appears to have perpetuated the error, citing PlanetOut as its source and further stating: "Researchers told the BBC last week that the prostate produces one of the fluids involved in ejaculation and that frequent masturbation appears to flush out carcinogens." No such report could be found on BBC.co.uk.

Of course, none of this sleuthing answers the real question: Does masturbating protect men against developing prostate cancer? Please tell me what you think, especially if it's informed by research that's more recent than 2003.