Is sex really that important? As more and more research is done on the subject, it's becoming clearer and clearer that having healthy sex is essential to a healthy life—and that sex can even help you to live longer. According to Dr. Irwin Goldstein, Director of Sexual Medicine at Alvarado Hospital, if you read the latest research, "you can't conclude anything else but that it's healthy to have sexual activity. At some level, god made us do this for reasons beyond reproduction. It makes us healthier, happier people; more physically active, mentally active, more alert, more hormonally responsive, more sensate, and more pleasant."
The research being done pinpoints a few very specific—and oftentimes surprising—health benefits that result from a healthy and active sex life. Healthline examines a dozen of the most proven and interesting of the lot.
1. Fights colds and the flu
According to a study done at Wilkes University, people who have sex a couple of times a week tend to have significantly higher amounts of the antibody immunoglobin A (IgA) than those who have sex less than once a week. What does that mean? "IgA is the first line of defense against colds and flu," says Carl Charnetski, one of the researchers on the Wilkes study.
2. Burns calories
Sex increases blood flow, and gets your heart pumping. Simply put, sex is exercise, and it's more fun than running laps. Although sex doesn't burn a ton of calories—about 30 calories for every 20 minutes of moderately vigorous sex, according to Fitness magazine—it's still more exercise than you'd get sitting on the couch in front of your TV.
3. Reduces risk of heart disease
Numerous studies have shown that an active sex life is closely correlated with longer life. Specifically, it seems like sex may lower the risk for heart attacks, strokes, and other heart diseases. An Irish study in 1997 found that by having sex three or more times a week, men reduced their risk of heart attack or stroke by half. More recently, in 2010, the New England Research Institute conducted a massive study proving that sex twice a week reduces risk of heart disease by 45 percent.
4. Regulates hormone levels
Why should you care? Well, among other things, a healthy hormone profile promotes regular menstrual cycles and decreases negative menopause symptoms.
5. Cures headaches and reduces physical pain
Next time your partner tries to use the old "not tonight, my head hurts" excuse, tell him or her that sex will actually help. How? During sex, the hormone oxytocin (which will come up again and again in this discussion) is released in your body, and oxytocin reduces pain. In a study published in the Bulletin of Experimental Biology and Medicine, volunteers who inhaled oxytocin vapor and then had their fingers pricked felt only half as much pain as others who did not inhale any oxytocin.
6. Reduces stress and lowers blood pressure
Another benefit of the oxytocin released during orgasm: it calms the nerves. Studies done on lab rats have shown that oxytocin counteracts the effects of cortisol (a stress hormone). Sex also helps you sleep better. When he rolls over and starts snoring after a good bout in the bed, it's not just physical exhaustion. Oxytocin not only calms you down, but it also specifically promotes sleep.
7. Reduces risk for prostate cancer
In 2003, Australian researchers published a study showing that the more often men ejaculate between the ages of 20 and 50, the less likely they are to develop prostate cancer. According to the author of the study, men in their 20's should probably be ejaculating once a day. A similar study performed a year later by 2004 National Cancer Institute showed that men who ejaculated at least five times a week, whether by sex or masturbation, were less likely to get prostate cancer. "The claim physiologically," Dr. Goldstein told us, "is that if you empty out the tank every so often, it's healthier than holding onto the material within the tank."
8. Reduces risk for breast cancer
Women can get in on some of this sex-as-preventative-care thing too. According to Dr. Goldstein, studies show that "women who have vaginal intercourse often have less risk of breast cancer than those who do not." Dr. Goldstein added that it's "pretty interesting and exciting and needs to be studied more."
9. Boosts self-esteem and improves mood
The psychological benefits of a healthy sex life are many. The feeling of walking around on cloud nine after sex lasts longer than you think. According to Dr. Goldstein, a healthy sex life leads to long-term satisfaction with one's mental health and enhances your ability to communicate honestly and intimately. People who are sexually active are less likely to have alexithymia, which is a personality trait characterized by the inability to express or understand emotions. In other words, people having sex can express themselves better. The more often you have sex, the less depression and stress you have.
10. Prevents preeclampsia
Preeclampsia is a fairly common condition where hypertension arises during pregnancy. Interestingly enough, a number of studies have shown that if a woman has had enough exposure to her partner's semen prior to conception, she is significantly less likely to get preeclampsia. In fact, tests conducted by Dutch biologists in 2000 confirmed that there is an especially significant reduced risk of preeclampsia for women who regularly practice oral sex—and even more of a reduced risk for those who swallow their partner's semen.
11. Improves sense of smell
Scientists knew for a long time that the hormone prolactin surges in both men and women after orgasm. Then in 2003, a team of Canadian researchers discovered that, in mice, prolactin causes stem cells in the brain to develop new neurons in the brain's olfactory bulb—its smell center. Dr. Sam Weiss, one of the researchers, said that he suspects that the increase in prolactin levels after sex helps "forge memories that are part of mating behaviors."
12. Increases bladder control
The pelvic thrusting involved in sex exercises the "Kegel muscles", the same set of muscles that controls urine flow. So lots of sex now may help prevent the onset of incontinence later.