A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Does sex make your acne worse?

August 28, 1992

Dear Cecil:

My skin has usually been pretty clear, even through my adolescence. But now I'm 25, and recently I've been breaking out a lot. I also have been having a lot of sex for a couple of months straight. Is there some weird kind of hormone thing that's doing this to me? I thought sex was supposed to _cure_ your pimples.

Cecil replies:

What the hey, Jack, you're getting parallel on a regular basis and you're bitching about zits? Some of the cases I hear from are so desperate for love they wouldn't complain if they turned orange. Be that as it may, you're not the only one to wonder about the acne/lust connection. A couple related propositions you'll hear debated in locker rooms include: (1) having sex regularly makes your beard grow faster; and (2) the more "virile" you are, whatever that means, the faster your hair falls out — obviously a notion that appeals to balding relics such as myself.

In the broadest sense no one doubts there's a relationship between male sex hormones and the state of your skin and hair. Eunuchs, after all, don't go bald, don't grow beards, and don't get acne. But whether sexual exercise per se will put hair on your chest (or on your palms, for that matter) nobody really knows, several shelves' worth of research papers notwithstanding.

We don't even know if sex raises the level of sex hormones in your blood. A couple attempts to answer the seemingly straightforward question, "does masturbation increase blood testosterone levels?" (hey, it's all for science) have produced opposite results. The apparent problem: not enough participants in the studies to produce a statistically reliable sample. Next time I'd advise the researchers to visit a freshman male dorm.

Even if sex does increase hormone production, nobody's sure if that means it'll crater your face or chrome your dome. The best one recent survey of the field could do was, "we conclude that the relations between sex hormones and characters of hair and skin are very complicated and require further investigation." A committee will soon be formed. In the meantime, enjoy your lively sex life while it lasts. Soon you'll break up or get married, either way getting ample opportunity to do a baseline comparison.

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