The short answer is ‘Yes’. We are programmed to procreate, so our bodies have made sure we have incentives (and rewards) for engaging in intercourse.
If you have a healthy relationship with your sexuality, having regular sex can be a great way to make your life a little easier overall, providing small boosts to your physical and mental health.
In French, orgasms are called “la petite mort”—the little death. Despite this description, medical literature shows that greater sexual frequency is associated with a healthier, longer life in both men and women.
While the benefits of sex can be linked to longevity, the abscence of sex in and of itself does not correlate with deacreased life expectancy: a long-term study into the health and ageing of a group of nearly 700 older nuns found many kept active and lived well into their 90s and even past 100.
The recorded benefits are as follows:
Sexual activity triggers the release of hormones such as oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins. Dopamine, also known as the 'feel good' hormone, is a neurotransmitter that interacts with the pleasure centers in our brains. The release of oxytocin promotes bonding and attachment.
After climax, another hormone—prolactin—starts circulating in the bloodstream. Prolactin is responsible for feelings of euphoric relief, relaxation, and drowsiness after a satisfying orgasm. Many people drift off to sleep in that state. The mental state we’re in before we go to sleep influences the quality of the sleep that follows—if you go to bed feeling good, you’re more likely to awaken well-rested.
Not everyone gets sleepy post-coitus. The surge of dopamine your receive during sex is also known to positively affect coordination, memory, and focus. The energy boost you get from morning sex, combined with a relaxed state of mind and loosened muscles, can help you ease into the day ahead.
Have you ever tried masturbating instead of using a painkiller to help a headache?
Try it sometime, it might work better than you think. People with chronic and painful conditions such as fibromyalgia have reported using masturbation as temporary, but effective pain relief.
The release of oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins lower our sensitivity to pain. Having an orgasm is one of the fastest-working pain-killers known—the pain threshold rises by almost 75%. Simply applying pressure to the anterior wall of the vagina causes the pain threshold to increase by 50%—an effect that benefits women giving birth. As bad as that pain can be, it would be much worse without the pain-reducing effects of stimulating our pleasure centers.
This is the same system that comes into effect in an intense situation—being a victim in a car crash, or an athlete during a race. People often don’t notice an injury they’ve sustained until there’s a chance to relax.
Surpassing your resting heart rate on a regular basis trains your body to move oxygen and blood to your muscles more efficiently. Arousal and intercourse make the heart beat faster, and the number of beats per minute peaks during climax.
Sex has the same effect on the heart and body as a form of light excercise. Your heart rate peaks during climax, but in order to stay healthy, you'd have to maintain it for 150 minutes (total) per week. 2.5 hours of moderate activity per week is considered the minimum for adults.
When comparing sexual activity to a jog, sex is less effective in burning calories, but that isn't to say that it doesn't count. In fact, the calories burned during 25 mins of moderate sexual activity corresponds with two to three times average resting metabolism. Of course, the bodily strain of sex can vary. Two physically fit people engaging in enthusiastic sex will have an intense workout, whereas a slow, intimate session will be less demanding.
Exploring new techniques and positions can be beneficial, too. During intercourse and foreplay, we use muscles and stretch tendons that might be more static in our day-to-day. Caution is advised, though, as there are many people who have sustained injuries in the heat of passion.
Additionally, doing exercise you enjoy can be incentivising and effective—having an intimate romp in bed is generally much more enticing than a morning jog in icy weather. If won't replace keeping fit, but it is a good addition to your other exercise routines.
Orgasms increase the number of white blood cells in your body, which is known to help fight off viruses and foreign bacteria.
Cortisol is responsible for regulating many essential bodily functions. However, consistently elevated cortisol levels can be detrimental to your health. When oxytocin and dopamine are released during sex, they cause your body's cortisol levels to decrease.
Prolactin helps you fall asleep. Sleep is well known to be an essential component of keeping the immune system in good shape, the deep sleep phase being most important. During deep sleep, our bodies are more equipped to target inflammation and infections.
Immunoglobulin A (IgA) is an antibody that plays a significant role in upholding the immune system. It can help prevent illness, and is the first line of defense against the human papillomavirus (HPV). People having sex once or twice a week were found to have significantly more IgA in their saliva compared to those who had sex less than once a week, and, curiously, more than those who had sex more than three times a week.
When we imagine a mentally healthy person, we imagine someone in a stable emotional state, at ease with themselves. The more at ease you are, the better your mind reacts to stress and absorbs new information, which can de-escalate some sticky situations and help you remember important things.
Because of the surge of hormones during and after sex or masturbation, sex can be very beneficial to your mental health. Even smaller things like kissing, can reduce stress and anxiety. Sexual intimacy in a trusting environment facilitates emotional intimacy and deepens feelings of love and affection. Sometimes it’s easier to open up to one’s partner about a difficult issue after sex.
Reaching the point where sexual intercourse is a positive, easygoing experience for all involved is a challenge in itself. Establishing trust with your sexual partner, learning how to interpret each other’s signals, overcoming insecurities to become comfortable in your own skin—these are all non-trivial acts of emotional maturity. Sexual activity is even known to lessen the use of immature psychological defence mechanisms, such as isolation or denial.
This is not to say that sex is a shortcut for treating mental health problems—you still have to do the emotional and psychological work. But if you do, you’ll be giving yourself some key components in living a happier, more vibrant life.
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