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So, there are plenty of reasons out there for regular sex, like, you know, the pleasure, the intimacy, the extra cardio – you’ve likely seen them all in any airport magazine. But did you know there are also numerous health benefits of sex?
In addition to just making you happier! (1) (Bonus, these benefits sometimes can be found with or without a partner!) Luckily the curiosity on this topic extends beyond airport reading well into the scientific research field too, so plenty of studies have been done over the years that help back up all the claims you hear…as well as potentially ruin some good romantic moments once you know the biology behind them. We’ll start with the ones you may have heard before and work our way to the perks you might find surprising – and perhaps even convince you to find some extra space in your evenings.
Who hasn’t gone through a good romp session and at some point and thought to yourself, “Wow, how am I so winded right now?” So, it’s not too much of a surprise to hear some confirmation to the argument that it’s a good cardio workout. Admittedly, it’s not an even trade with the treadmill or a daily bike commute, but it certainly beats just sitting around.
For young, healthy people, the American Heart Association equates sexual activity to climbing 2 flights of stairs in terms of the demand on your heart. (2) The benefits seem to be measurable long term too. One recent study even examined sexual activity and risk of cardiovascular disease and found some protective results, though they differed by gender. (3)
For older men, the high frequency of sex was positively related to the delayed risk of cardiovascular events (though this did not hold true for women). For older women, the high quality of sex protected women from cardiovascular disease later in life (though this finding was not true for men). We can file that one away under, “no surprises here.”
Following an orgasm, you may have heard that the hormone oxytocin is released, which has been found in higher levels in the body in both men and women immediately following that high point. (4, 5) This little boost in oxytocin can do so many wonderful things for your body. The “feel good hormone” can stimulate dopamine release, decrease anxiety and stress reactivity, playing a role in improved mood stability. (6) Also worth noting, oxytocin can be released in response to skin-to-skin contact or hugging, so chances are if you are getting busy with a partner, your oxytocin release is higher than it would be from just orgasm alone!
Another one of the health benefits of sex that you’ve probably come across before (or likely even experienced) is drifting off to a deep sleep afterward. This is likely due to the oxytocin release, as well as the hormone prolactin. One study of more than 700 men and women found that orgasm, whether with or without a partner, was associated with the perception of favorable sleep outcomes and improved sleep quality. (7) With all of the pharmaceutical sleep remedies out there – researchers are calling attention to this as a possible unique strategy to improve sleep!
Oh, That’s Interesting...
Feeling run down lately or surrounded by people who seem to be sick? You might have another option besides popping Vitamin C. Turns out people who have sex more often actually secrete more immunoglobulin A (IgA), which is the first line of defense when it comes to your immunity and plays a key role in protecting your mucosal surfaces. (8) A study on college students found that those who had sex three or more times per week had significantly higher levels of IgA than people who had sex less than that. (9) Interestingly, neither the satisfaction of these encounters nor the relationship status played a role! People who are deficient in IgA actually have an increased incidence of autoimmune disease, especially affecting the gut. The science isn’t quite there to recommend more sex to ward off autoimmune conditions but – improving your immunity certainly can’t hurt!
The release of hormones and natural endorphins can also promote pain relief. Researchers in Germany found that the majority of migraine sufferers found improvement from sexual activity – some even found complete relief. (10) For women in particular, researchers have found that pain tolerance can increase up to 75% during an orgasm! Women could also see improvements in urinary incontinence from regular sex. Whether you’ve never fully felt normal again after childbirth, or have other pelvic floor disorders, regular sexual activity and orgasm involves contraction and strengthening of the muscles of the pelvic floor. Over time, increasing this core and pelvic strength can help symptoms such as incontinence. (11)
Didn’t See That One Coming...
While this would certainly entail some long-term planning, men who have sex often may even be reducing their chances of getting prostate cancer. A 2004 study found that high ejaculation frequency in men, across their lifetime, suggested a lower risk of total prostate cancer. (12) These results were recently updated with an additional 10 years of data, studying more than 30,000 men, which confirmed the initial findings. They demonstrated a positive association between a high frequency of ejaculation and a lowered risk of prostate cancer. (13) I was surprised to find cancer protection in the health benefits of sex, that's awesome!
A Final Word...
So, understandably, life happens and sometimes sex may be the absolute last thing on your mind when you’re juggling the competing priorities of your day. Everyone’s been there – especially when you’re in the midst of life with chaotic toddlers or burning the candle at both ends to meet multiple deadlines. But sometimes you might just have to get the wheels turning – with some evidence showing that sex can be a sort of positive feedback loop. Sexual interaction with a partner and physical affection improve mood and is a great stress-reduction technique – which then, in turn, increases the likelihood of future sex and physical affection. (14)
Given all of this evidence for the health benefits of sex, try being intentional next time you find yourself scrolling through social media before bed, or making a to-do list in your head for the next day. You may sleep better, improve your mood, and even enhance your partner’s health! But if you don’t have a stable partner whose behavior you are familiar with – please remember to practice safe sex – as the many sexually transmitted diseases out there will definitely outweigh any of the health benefits of sex you might find!
- Blanchflower, D.G., Oswald, A.J. Money, Sex and Happiness: An Empirical Study. The Scandinavian Journal of Economics. 2004. 106(3): 393-415.
- Levine, G. et al. Sexual Activity and Cardiovascular Disease: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2012. 125(8): 1058-1072.
- Liu, H. et al. Is Sex Good for Your Health? A National Study on Partnered Sexuality and Cardiovascular Risk Among Older Men and Women. Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 2016. 57(3): 276 – 296.
- Blaicher, W. et al. The role of oxytocin in relation to female sexual arousal. Gynecologic and Obstetric Investigation. 1999. 47(2): 125 – 126.
- Carmichael, M.S. et al. Plasma oxytocin increases in the human sexual response. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. 1987. 64(1): 27-31.
- Uvnas-Moberg, K. et al. Self-soothing behaviors with particular reference to oxytocin release induced by non-noxious sensory stimulation. Frontiers in Psychology. 2014. 5: 1529.
- Lastella, M. et al. Sex and Sleep: Perceptions of Sex as a Sleep Promoting Behavior in the General Adult Population. Frontiers in Public Health. 2019. 7:33.
- Woof, J.M. and Kerr, M.A. The function of immunoglobulin A in immunity. Journal of Pathology. 2006. 208(2): 270-282.
- Charnetski, C.J., and Brennan F.X. Sexual frequency and salivary immunoglobulin A (IgA). Psychological Reports. 2004. 94 (3 Pt 1): 839-844.
- Lutz, J. Treating Migraines with Masturbation. Practical Pain Management. 2018. Available from: https://www.practicalpainmanagement.com/patient/conditions/headache/treating-migraines-masturbation
- Premier Health. Your sex life when things change “down there”. Women Wisdom Wellness Blog. 2018. Available from: https://www.premierhealth.com/Women-Wisdom-Wellness/Content/Your-Sex-Life-When-Things-Change-%E2%80%9CDown-There%E2%80%9D/?HealthTopicTaxonomyID=21837
- Leitzmann, M. et al. Ejaculation Frequency and Subsequent Risk of Prostate Cancer. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2004. 291(13): 1578 -1586.
- Rider, J.R. et al. Ejaculation Frequency and Risk of Prostate Cancer: Updated Results with an Additional Decade of Follow-up. European Urology. 2016. 70(6): 974 – 982.
- Burleson, M.H. et al. In the Mood for Love or Vice Versa? Exploring the Relations Among Sexual Activity, Physical Affection, Affect, and Stress in the Daily Lives of Mid-Aged Women. Archives of Sexual Behavior. 2004. 36(3): 357 – 368.