Let's take the measurement out of sex

What an interesting day I had last week!  I have had Google Alerts set to keep me posted on articles about prostate cancer and sex—one of the ways in which I try to keep up with what’s being said out there in the world about this important issue—and last week I sat down to scan the last year’s worth of articles to see whether there was a pattern.

A couple of interesting things made themselves evident.  Firstly, not a single Australian article was picked up by this service.  And secondly, much of the news doing the rounds was related to research that claimed to prove that having multiple sexual partners (more than 20) was protective against prostate cancer.  I have several concerns about this kind of reporting.  Firstly, a newspaper article of several hundred words is likely to convey a simple certainty about something that is subtle and complex.  I haven’t yet tracked down the original research, but I suspect that it proves nothing as straightforward as this.

My other concern is the effect that such reporting could have on (a) men affected by prostate cancer (have I done something to cause my illness?), and (b) our public discourse about sex.  Yes, by all means let’s acknowledge the psychological and health benefits of consensual sexual activity.  But not in such a way as to treat it as an instrumental activity (like, say, jogging), nor in such a way as to suggest that there is some ideal amount of sex we should be having.  Surely we can continue to investigate the possible correlates and causes of serious health problems such as cancer, without commandeering that most wonderful source of pleasure and communication and turning it into yet another area of our lives in which we measure and compare ourselves with some arbitrary external standard?