The Straight Dope | The Straight Dope | Chicago Reader

The Straight Dope 

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

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. --Marty Tyler, New York

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 of attempts to answer the seemingly straightforward question, "Does masturbation increase blood testosterone levels?" (hey, it's all for science) have produced disparate 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.


Regarding your column on the folly of "protecting" people with AIDS by putting them in germproof bubbles [May 22], I'm surprised that you would sacrifice so much accuracy for a nifty turn of phrase by stating that people get toxoplasmosis from "handling kittens."

In fact, modern medicine is hard-pressed to find any cases of direct transmission of Toxoplasma gondii from a cat to a human. While it is true that cats are the primary vector in the spread of toxo, it's contact with cat feces (or anything contaminated by cat feces) that matters. The typical cycle is: toxo-infected mouse eaten by barn cat; cat passes infectious spores to grain in silos; cows eat contaminated grain; humans handle cows' meat and become infected.

People with AIDS are at the most significant risk for contracting toxo from eating a hamburger or planting a garden. Petting a kitten is way down the list. --David Kay, Tree House Animal Foundation, Chicago

What are you talking about? Studies have found that the incidence of toxoplasmosis is much higher in households with cats than in those without. That the medium of infection is the cat's poop, not the cat, is immaterial. Pregnant women, who must also avoid toxo, are told to have somebody else change the litter box and to get the cat out of the house altogether if it's in the contagious stage. At a minimum, people with AIDS would be well-advised to do the same.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Give $35/month →  
  Give $10/month →  
  Give  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
September 24
Performing Arts
September 18

Popular Stories

  • What happened to YOUmedia?

    The Chicago Public Library's flagship teen program was a refuge for Black and Brown youth. Recent layoffs put that in jeopardy.
  • Queer folks of color want to cancel today’s Buttigieg-Lightfoot book event 13

    Activists say the pair's public conversation about “trust and distrust” shows the problems with assuming marginalized people have progressive values.
  • How I Made It in Comedy: Bob Odenkirk

    "I had a meeting about writing a movie script for Francis the Talking Mule, which was a really dumb idea. I thought, What did the executives see in my past work that made them think I’m the perfect guy to write this?"
  • Chicago's budget crisis, explained 2

    Budget season is here but it’s more dogged than usual. How will the city recover from a nearly billion-dollar budget gap?
  • Surfing Sandy

    Lake Michigan's turbulent waters offer die-hard surfers a prime opportunity to shred some waves