SEXUAL HEALTH

Sex Is Good for Your Health

By Richard Asa @Rick Asa
 | 
September 21, 2015

Reported benefits include improved immunity, better heart health, and pain relief.

If it seems too good to be true… you know the rest. But a recent flurry of studies have suggested that having sex provides many health benefits.

That news should be tempered with the reaction from some longtime sex researchers, however. They note that many of those studies rely on people to self-report, meaning they have to be honest and have a good memory.

Additionally, many studies can't identify the fine line between cause and effect. Does sex make people healthier or do healthier people have more sex? That question was posed in a report by the Wall Street Journal, and the answer from researchers was predictable: that more research is needed.

Don’t let that get your libido down, though. There’s enough evidence to support at least modest health benefits – and there’s nothing to lose. Some are common sense.

You’re getting some exercise, for example. Sex boosts your heart rate, burns calories, and gives muscles a workout, one study found. The level of the exercise was characterized as “moderate.”

But, frequent sex is not a replacement for regular exercise. Although the study author compared the level of exercise intensity to walking briskly, he also said sex varies in intensity, so it can’t always be considered moderate exercise. One supports the other, he said.

Another study found that the more frequently you have sex, the higher the salivary level of immunboglobulin A, which helps immunize the gastrointestinal tract and the respiratory system from invasive microorganisms. It also is a key component in saliva, which helps protect the mouth from disease-causing bacteria.

Sex also relieves depression and stress. You can believe this because women in a recent study who had sex without condoms were less depressed. The reason? Semen apparently has components that “antagonize” depressive symptoms, the authors wrote.

Famed sex researchers Beverly Whipple and Barry Komisaruk of Rutgers University reported that sexual self-stimulation in women and the end result increases the pain threshold significantly. A rise in the natural chemical oxytocin gets most of the credit.

Specifically, sex has been found to help reduce migraines and cluster headaches, and block back and leg pain.

It also may lower the risk of prostate cancer, relieve stress, improve cardiovascular health, heal wounds, improve your quality of sleep and – maybe – fight aging.

Could it be that having frequent sex can even make you smarter? If anything sounds to good to be true, that might be at the top of the list.

Yet, two studies in mice and rats found that sex improves mental performance and influences the growth of new brain cells. The catch is that you have to keep at it.

“Following continuous long-term exposure to sexual experience, cognitive function was improved,” the authors of one study at the University of Maryland wrote. But, improvement in cognitive function was lost when the rats weren’t allowed to continue regular sex and then measured again at the end of the study.

“Taken together,” the authors wrote, “these results suggest that repeated sexual experience can stimulate adult neurogenesis and restore cognitive function as long as the experience persists throughout the testing period.”

The second study found that loss of memory from chronic stress (in mice) could be impeded with sexual activity. “Sexual interaction could be helpful,” the authors wrote, “for buffering adult hippocampal neurogenesis and recognition memory function against the suppressive actions of chronic stress.”

If this has you wondering whether it’s the type of relationship that counts, research also has found that casual sex, or a “hookup” at it’s known informally, improves well-being, too.

This 2014 study contradicted previous studies in which sex outside of romantic relationships seemed to induce depression and low self-esteem.

The “however” in all this rabbit-like behavior may be best expressed by Erick Janssen, a senior scientist at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University.

“The 'more is better' prescription is too simplistic," he told the Wall Street Journal. "What we've learned from all our years of research is that what's important is the satisfaction and the meaning we attach to sex…. "If you're having sex in a frequency and in a way that is compatible with who you are, then that's healthy."

Updated:

September 21, 2015

Reviewed By:

Janet O’Dell, RN

Easy access to health records and personalized content.