Is sex really that important?
As more and more research is done on the subject, it’s becoming clearer that having healthy sex is essential to a healthy life. 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.”
The research being done pinpoints a few specific — and surprising — health benefits that result from having a healthy and active sex life. Healthline examines a dozen of the most proven and interesting findings.
Sex increases blood flow and gets your heart pumping. Simply put, sex is a form of exercise, and it’s more fun than running laps. Sex doesn’t burn a ton of calories. According to a 2013 article in The New England Journal of Medicine, a man in his mid-30s might expend 21 kilocalories during intercourse. However, it’s still more exercise than you’d get sitting on the couch in front of your TV.
Numerous studies have shown that an active sex life is closely correlated with a longer life. Specifically, it seems like sex may lower the risk for heart attacks, strokes, and other heart diseases. In 2010, the New England Research Institute conducted a massive study. Its results suggested that regular sexual activity may reduce heart disease risk.
Why should you care? Among other things, a healthy hormone profile promotes regular menstrual cycles and decreases negative menopause symptoms.
Although it doesn’t seem like sex would help relieve a headache, it actually can. How? During sex, the hormone oxytocin is released in your body. 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.
There is 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, which is a stress hormone. Sex also helps you sleep better. When your partner rolls over and starts snoring after a good bout in the bed, it’s not just from physical exhaustion. Oxytocin not only calms you down, but it also specifically promotes sleep.
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 20s should probably be ejaculating once a day. A similar study performed a year later by the National Cancer Institute showed that men who ejaculated at least five times a week, whether through sex or masturbation, were less likely to get prostate cancer. “The claim physiologically,” 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.”
Women can get in on this sex-as-preventive-care thing too. According to Goldstein, studies show that “women who have vaginal intercourse often have less risk of breast cancer than those who don’t.” Goldstein added that it’s “pretty interesting and exciting and needs to be studied more.”
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 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. This is a personality trait characterized by the inability to express or understand emotions.
Preeclampsia is a condition where blood pressure rises and causes other organ dysfunction. It is common after 20 weeks gestation, but can sometimes occur earlier in pregnancy or even postpartum. 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.
Scientists knew for a long time that the hormone prolactin surges in both men and women after orgasm. In 2003, a team of Canadian researchers did a test on mice. They discovered that prolactin causes stem cells in the brain to develop new neurons in the brain’s olfactory bulb — its smell center. Dr. Samuel 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.”
The pelvic thrusting involved in sex exercises the Kegel muscles. These are the same set of muscles that controls urine flow. So lots of sex now may help prevent the onset of incontinence later.