Nature designed sex to feel good for a reason—so we will reproduce and endure as a species. But far beyond the pleasure principle, there are many physical and psychological benefits to sex. When people learn how healthy sex really is, it can actually serve as motivation to partake when activity in the bedroom is scarce.
One of my clinical specialties is helping couples in sexless relationships get back on the ‘sexual horse.’ After an extended period of abstinence, they worry that sex will be awkward or clumsy. They worry they will not be responsive to their partner. They say they need romance and passion. What do I tell them? Do it anyway! Mediocre sex is better than no sex. Awkward sex is better than no sex. It’s okay to ‘take one for the team’ once in a while. You (and your relationship) will benefit on so many levels. Here are a few reasons why this can make a difference in your life.
Live Longer and Look Younger!
People who have sex twice a week throughout adulthood will add 5 years to their life span! Not only will they live longer, but they will have more energy, vitality, stamina, strength, and flexibility. Is sex the Fountain of Youth? A study conducted at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital in Scotland asked judges to view participants through one-way mirrors and guess their ages. Participants who were having lots of sex (4 times per week on average) were perceived to be 12 years younger than their actual age! You know that proverbial ‘sexual glow.’
Heighten your Senses
Here’s a fun fact for you—sex actually heightens our sense of smell. During and immediately after sex, we experience a surge in prolactin which generates neurons in the olfactory bulb. Sex actually heightens all of our senses. Have you ever had sex then enjoyed a great meal? Yes, even our taste buds are heightened during and after sex. Activating our senses also helps us get in the mood for sex. That’s why candles, flowers, bubble baths, fine wine, massage, and music are tried and true accoutrements.
Good for the Ticker
We all know sex is healthy for the heart. A good romp can burn anywhere from 100 to 500 calories depending on length and exertion level. The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health published a study reporting that men who had sex 2 or more times per week reduced their risk of fatal heart attack by half (compared to men who had sex less than once a month). Aerobic exercise (i.e. sex) is also good for lowering blood pressure, weight loss, and overall stamina.
Sex plays a protective role in mental acuity, imagination, and memory.
A Dutch study published in the March 2015 issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry reported that sex may keep our minds sharp as we age. Nearly 1800 male and female participants (average age 71) were asked whether they felt sex and intimacy were important for older adults and whether or not they were involved in a sexual relationship. Subjects who reported a satisfying sex life and believed sex was important scored significantly better on tests of memory, processing speed and other cognitive measures.
Can sex reduce risk for Alzheimer’s? Some studies suggest yes. One such study showed that adult rats that were sexually active experienced a boost in neurons in the hippocampus (the part of the brain that stores memories) when compared to virginal rat counterparts.
Natural Pain Reliever
Oxytocin releases endorphins similar in chemical structure to morphine. This effect can temporarily alleviate pain due to tension headaches, migraines, arthritis and menstrual cramps. So next time you have a headache, try reaching for your partner instead of the Advil.
Just looking at your partner (or even a photo of your partner) activates Oxytocin and can reduce pain. In one study, anesthesiologists showed subjects either pictures of their partners; pictures of attractive strangers; or asked them to play a word game. The ones who looked at pictures of their partners reported significantly less pain. In another study, published in the Bulletin of Experimental Biology and Medicine, volunteers who inhaled Oxytocin vapor and then had their fingers pricked reported 50% less pain than those who did not inhale the vapor.
Shorter, Lighter, More Regular Periods and Pregnancy Maintenance
Women who have sex twice a week have more regular menstrual cycles. The uterine contractions associated with orgasm cause lighter and shorter periods by helping to expel blood and tissue more efficiently during menstruation. Sex also helps with pregnancy maintenance and reduces risk for preeclampsia. And when the time comes, it can also help induce labor!
Reduces Risk for Cancer
Sex boosts overall immunity but it offers special protection against cancer, especially breast and prostate cancer. A Study published in the British Journal of Urology International reported that men in their 20’s can cut their risk of prostate cancer by 1/3 by ejaculating 5 times per week. Interestingly, this habit offers no protection to men in their 30s, 40s or 50’s. ‘Milking’ the prostate seems to be most protective in the third decade of life. Once men reach a certain age, the practice becomes protective again. Men in their 60’s and 70’s have a lower risk of prostate cancer if they ejaculate 21 or more times per month.
It has long been understood that the Oxytocin released during orgasm can help protect women from breast cancer, especially if they have never given birth to a child. Nipple play is now believed to assist in reducing risk of breast cancer as well. Tim Murrell, Department of Community Medicine at the University of Adelaide in Australia, recommends 2-3 minutes of nipple stimulation twice a week.
Breast cancer risk is known to be lower in women who have breast- fed their babies. Oxytocin is produced during labor, lactation and orgasm. One of the functions of the Oxytocin is to cause breast cells to contract to expel milk or other breast fluid from them. By stimulating the nipples on a regular basis, he believes the protective benefits of breastfeeding will be simulated.
During ejaculation, men release a winning combination of brain chemicals, including Norepinephrine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, Vasopressin, Nitric Oxide and Prolactin. Prolactin levels are naturally higher during sleep, and in laboratory studies, animals injected with Prolactin become tired immediately.
Interestingly, prolactin also explains why men are sleepier after intercourse than after masturbation. For unknown reasons, intercourse orgasms release four times more prolactin than masturbatory orgasms, according to a recent study.
Oxytocin and vasopressin also assist with sleep. Their release is frequently accompanied by melatonin, the main hormone that regulates our body clocks. Oxytocin is also thought to reduce stress levels, which naturally leads to a sense of relaxation and calm.
There is also a fascinating evolutionary explanation as to why men are sleepy after sex. Men are programmed to spread their seed as far and wide as possible. So, moving on to the next opportunity to procreate (have sex with a new partner) is a powerful force. Sleepiness increases the chances that a man will stick around and spend the night. Sleeping next to a sexual partner activates Oxytocin. The simple act of falling asleep after coitus may actually increase the chances that a guy will stick around to help you raise junior.
Enhanced Sense of Well Being
Sex fosters a special closeness because (assuming you are monogamous) it is something that you only do with each other. It holds a special and sacred status. Most people state that they feel closer to their partner after sexual contact (assuming it is consensual and generally steeped in good will). Oxytocin is often referred to as the ‘cuddle chemical’ or attachment hormone.
In addition to Oxytocin, other nuerochemicals released during orgasm, such as Serotonin, Dopamine, and Norepinephrine, serve as a natural anti-depressant and anxiety reducer. These chemicals lift your mood and allow you to temporarily forget your troubles and feel hopeful about your future.
Having sex tempers disappointment and resentment toward our partner. Connecting sexually buys lots of good will. Oxytocin increases generosity, so if your partner seems ‘nicer’ after sex, there is a physiological explanation.
Still not convinced? Here are a few more health benefits of sex:
- Sex is a natural antihistamine (reduces stuffy nose)
- Sex reduces hay fever and asthma
- Sex protects against osteoporosis
- Sex increases Immunoglobulin A which boosts immunity (reduces risk for common cold and flu)
- Sex reduces risk for stroke
- Sex improves pelvic floor muscles (assists with bladder control)
So the next time you don’t feel ‘in the mood’, reread this blog and do it anyway!
Kimberly Resnick Anderson
Certified Sex Therapist