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How Does Sex Reduce Stress?

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Okay, okay. It’s hard to disagree that, in many circumstances, getting all up in those sheets can do wonders for the mind and body. And it’s not just about the heat of the moment— science suggests sex can improve mood and combat anxiety by reducing stress signals in the brain.

Let's Talk About Sex, Baby — Why It Matters

There’s no bone(r)s about it: Life is stressful. And anxiety goes way beyond the need to dine with Ben and Jerry for dinner— stress can be harmful to our physical health. Yet science suggests there are natural ways to regulate anxiety. In one study, researchers found daily intercourse for two weeks led to cell growth in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that keeps stress levels under control. Disclaimer: This study was tested on rats, not us feisty folks, but it might still help explain that post-coital bliss.

In another study, people who had daily intercourse for two weeks showed lower stress-related blood pressure than those who chose to fool around in other ways or abstain from sex altogether. (Solo sessions didn’t cut it either.) [1]. And more good news: The body also releases oxytocin (aka the love hormone) when two become one— it acts as a natural sedative and can trigger feelings of compassion.

Love Potion #9 — The Answer/Debate

Before we go lookin’ for love every time those stress signals go off, know that sex may also let loose glucocorticoids, molecules the body produces during the stress response. But the rat study also suggests sex becomes less stressful the more often we do it [1]. Rats that had 14 sexual encounters compared to one over the course of two weeks had lower levels of cortisol, the hormone that signals high stress levels. (Less really is more, huh?)

Plus, the pleasures of a little love-making seem to outweigh the short blasts of stress that can occur; experiences that provide pleasure (including sex and a side of fries), have been shown to reduce the stress response. So perhaps getting in on the action won’t just be a physical joyride— it could also help calm the mind.

I'm the marketing director at Greatist, and when I'm not hanging at HQ with my best buds (aka co-workers...) you can find me training for... Read More »

Works Cited

  1. Blood pressure reactivity to stress is better for people who recently had penile-vaginal intercourse then for people who had other or no sexual activity. Brody, S. Division of Psychology, School of Sciences, University of Paisley, Scotland, UK. Biological Psychology, 2006 Feb;71(2):214-22.
  2. Blood pressure reactivity to stress is better for people who recently had penile-vaginal intercourse then for people who had other or no sexual activity. Brody, S. Division of Psychology, School of Sciences, University of Paisley, Scotland, UK. Biological Psychology, 2006 Feb;71(2):214-22.