- Sex can improve your mental health by reducing stress, boosting mood, and increasing libido.
- Sex also burns calories, improves sleep, and can help relieve pain.
- To have a healthy sex life, understanding and communicating your needs and desires is key.
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Having sex ushers in a rush of feel-good chemicals that can reduce stress, improve sleep, and more.
It doesn't matter how often you have sex or whether it's solo or with a partner. Just remember that leading a healthy sex life is all about what makes you feel fulfilled.
"Most of what we focus on is that sexual health and intimacy is based on consent, honesty, and mutual pleasure," says Barb Depree, MD, a gynecologist and founder of MiddlesexMD. "If they're feeling respected and fulfilled it's going to be healthy for them."
While what constitutes sex is an open-ended question that's highly individualized to the person, sexual activity, especially in a loving relationship, can offer many surprising benefits, ranging from the physical to the psychological.
Mental health benefits of sex
Sex can help reduce feelings of stress or anxiety and also boost your mood, self-confidence, and libido.
1. Reduces stress and anxiety
Sexual arousal has been shown to decrease levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which may explain why sex can feel relaxing or calming.
2. Boosts mood and self-confidence
Another reason sex may improve your overall mood is that it releases endorphins, the neurotransmitters associated with increased feelings of pleasure, motivation, and energy.
This surge of endorphins can also improve your self-esteem and help you feel more confident in your everyday life.
Case in point: in a large 2019 study, older adults who were sexually active reported having a greater enjoyment of life and a better overall well-being.
3. Increases libido
Sexual intimacy and satisfaction increases your oxytocin ("the love hormone") levels, which are responsible for the feelings of trust, empathy, and desire for your partner.
Since oxytocin influences physical and emotional connection, it is crucial in building intimate relationships. When you feel more connected to your partner, your sex drive — aka your libido — may also increase.
4. Improves cognitive health
Sex has a number of health benefits for your brain — and may even help your memory.
In animalstudies, researchers found that sex helped the brain form new neurons in the hippocampus, which is the brain region responsible for learning and memory. In humans, researchers have seen a correlation between having more sex and having better recall:
- A large 2019 study found that sexually active men were better at both delayed and immediate recall.
- In a small 2017 study of female college students, researchers found that women who had more frequent sex had better recall of abstract words, but not images.
Having more sex may also help strengthen your memory muscle as you age.
A small 2017 study of older adults found a connection between more frequent sexual activity and higher scores in tests focusing on working memory and executive function in older adults. Executive function encompasses skills like self-control, planning, and problem solving.
Additionally, in a large 2018 study, older adults who had more frequent sex and stronger emotional bonds with their partner performed better on episodic memory tasks.
Physical health benefits of sex
Sex can help you burn calories, get better sleep, boost immunity, lower blood pressure, and relieve pain. It also has health benefits specific to gender, like reducing risk of prostate cancer in men and strengthening pelvic floor muscles in women.
5. Burns calories
Sex won't replace your regular workout routine, but it does burn more calories than if you were just sitting on the couch.
However, you may burn more or fewer calories depending on the intensity and duration of your sexual escapades.
6. Boosts immune system
A small 2018 study found that women who were sexually active had higher levels of the antibody called immunoglobulin A in their saliva compared to sexually abstinent women.
Deficiency of immunoglobulin A can increase your risk of certain respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and bronchitis as well as other infections of the sinuses, ears, and eyes.
Therefore, the study suggests a possible link between sex and immune function, though the researchers note that more research is needed to be certain.
7. Improves sleep
"More specifically with orgasm for women, sex, in general, helps release oxytocin, which directly impacts the brain to encourage relaxation — and it's actually a little sedating," says Depree.
8. Lowers blood pressure and helps prevent heart disease
Depree says that having sex can lower blood pressure in two ways:
- Increases heart rate. Sex ramps up your heart rate, and over time, it can help the heart pump blood through the body more efficiently and lower blood pressure in the process.
- Decreases stress. Sex releases chemicals that lower stress and anxiety — both of which can help bring down your blood pressure.
High blood pressure can take a toll on your long-term health, leading to dangerous conditions like heart disease. That's why getting your blood pressure under control is one of the leading recommendations for preventing heart disease.
9. Relieves pain
However, if sex is causing you pain, there are ways to manage it. Conditions like endometriosis, vulvodynia, or menopause can make sex painful for women but can often be managed with physical and sexual therapy.
10. Strengthens pelvic floor muscles in women
Sex can strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which is an especially important health benefit for women.
That's because strong pelvic floor muscles — located around the uterus and bladder — help with incontinence, bladder control, and vaginal pain. They may also contribute to UTI prevention.
11. Reduces the risk of prostate cancer in men
A 2010 review noted that men who had sex more often — specifically penile-vaginal intercourse — also had a lower risk of prostate cancer.
There may also be a link between more frequent ejaculations and a reduced risk of prostate cancer in men, however, more research is needed to determine which types of sex may actually lead to this benefit.
12. May delay menopause
Scientists have connected a woman's frequency of sex to the onset of menopause.
A large 2020 study of pre- and peri-menopausal women found that women who had weekly sex were 28% less likely to enter menopause than women who had sex less than once a month. Women who had less sex were more likely to experience menopause at an earlier age.
Researchers speculate that more frequent sex tells the body that there is still a possibility of pregnancy and that it should continue ovulating. Conversely, less frequent sex may tell the body that it can allocate its resources away from the menstrual cycle.
13. Can help pass kidney stones
Having sex frequently may help both men and women pass kidney stones. Researchers say this could be due to nitric oxide released during sex, which then helps relax the ureteral muscle.
In a small 2017 study, a group of men with kidney stones were told to have sex with their partners three to four times a week. After two weeks, 82% of the group had expelled their kidney stones, while only 53% of the control group had expelled their stones. The researchers concluded not only that frequent sex can increase the chances of spontaneously passing kidney stones, but that it also reduced some of the pain from the condition.
And, in a small 2020 study, 80% of women with kidney stones who had sex three to four times a week passed their stones after two weeks. Researchers also noted that the women who had sex were less likely to need pain relief medications.
The importance of sex in a relationship
Sex can be very beneficial towards building a healthy relationship, as it increases intimacy and helps you feel more connected to your partner.
There's no right answer for how much sex is healthy in your relationship. Everyone is different — some people may want to have sex several times a day, while others prefer sex once or twice a week.
Sex drive can also change over time as you get older. It's important to communicate often with your partner about how much sex you want to have, so you agree on a sex life that's healthy and beneficial for both of you.
How much sex is healthy?
"I think generally we would say whatever amount [of sex] is agreed upon, safe, and mutually beneficial is going to be the right amount of sex," DePree says.
Overall, it is completely normal and even healthy to have sex every day, as long as both you and your partner feel good about it.
Sex addiction is when sex impedes your ability to function and has an unhealthy impact on your own or your partner's life.
How to talk to your partner about sex
Here's how to have healthy conversations with your partner about sex:
- Set up a time each week or month to check-in and talk about your sex life
- Discuss how often you're having sex and whether you want more or less
- Ask about your partner's sexual satisfaction and how it can be improved
- Figure out if there are different types of sex you'd like to experiment with
- Make sure consent is active and ongoing every time you have sex
Sex can have a wide range of benefits for your mental and physical health.
Sex reduces stress and anxiety, and can boost intimacy and feelings of connection with your partner. It allows you to get better sleep, burns calories, and may also help you fight off infection more effectively.
Over time, a healthy sex life may even reduce your risk of long-term illnesses, such as heart disease. But it's important to communicate with your partner and set terms for a healthy sex life to reap these benefits.