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How Sex Can Improve Our Health, Besides It Being Sex

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For healthy, consenting adults, sex can be great or even mind-blowing. But getting busy with a partner can also have some legit benefits beyond our brainwaves. Read on for more reasons to get it on (as if we needed ‘em)!

This Is Your Body On Sex

The good feelings swirling around the brain during sexytimes are due to brain chemistry, specifically dopamine and opoid chemicals. But the goodness extends beyond our brains. Studies have found that regular sex can do way more than make us feel warm and fuzzy.

Wards off cold and flu. Researchers found that university students who engaged in sexual activity a few times a week had higher levels of immunoglobulin A — an antibody that helps fight infections and the common cold — in their saliva [1]. Interestingly enough, the IgA levels were highest in couples who consistently had sex a few times a week, but lower in people who had no sex or lots of sex.

Reduces depression and stress. No need for chocolate: Some studies show that contact with semen during intercourse can act as an antidepressant for women [2]. But don’t worry: Doing the deed has positive mental-health associations for everyone! In general, intercourse can make blood pressure less reactive to stress and reduce overall stress levels [3].

Boosts brainpower. A study on adult rats found that the sexually active rodents experienced an increase in neurons in the hippocampus — a part of the brain that stores memories — compared to their virginal rat buddies. Not only that, but researchers at the University of Amsterdam found that sexual encounters may improve people’s analytical thinking.

Improves overall physical fitness. If you’re looking for more motivation to hit the gym, consider this: Working out regularly tends to improve our sex lives, and having sex regularly can improve physical fitness. Everyone who’s ever watched an R-rated movie knows sexytime can be quite the cardio workout — in fact, half an hour of sex can burn more than 144 calories. Studies have also shown that exercising frequently can enhance sexual performance.

Relieves pain. Gettin’ frisky releases a bevy of hormones that can reduce pain. Oxytocin, the “cuddling hormone” that makes folks want to snuggle up after sex, reduces stress and promotes feelings of calm and wellbeing. Sex also releases serotonin, endorphins, and phenyl ethylamine, hormones that generate feelings of euphoria, pleasure, and elation — and make people forget all about that nagging sore muscle or back twinge. Other studies have shown intercourse can stop migraines in their tracks and reduce the uncomfortable side effects of rheumatoid arthritis.

Improves sleep. It’s a cliché that dudes pass out right after sex, but intercourse actually can help both men and women nod off. Feeling relaxed and comfortable are big factors in hitting the big O, so it makes sense that there’s a tendency to want to snooze right after. During and after sex, the brain releases powerful hormones (including norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin), which can trigger the urge to cuddle or just pass out. Men are especially likely to zonk out because the prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain responsible for interpreting and responding to new information — slows waaaay down immediately after orgasm in males.

Enhances sense of smell. Oddly enough, spending some time between the sheets can help our noses do their job even better. After sexual intercourse, the body produces the hormone prolactin, which creates new neurons in the olfactory bulb — the part of the brain that controls how we understand and react to smells.

Makes us look younger. A little afternoon (or morning) delight doesn’t just make you feel great; it can actually make you glow! A Scottish study showed that loving, supportive couples who had intercourse three or more times a week appeared on average 10 years younger than their actual age. Orgasms trigger the release of the sex hormone estrogen in both men and women. Estrogen improves hair and skin quality, making people look more attractive [4].

Lowers blood pressure. High blood pressure puts pressure on the blood vessels, leading to damage and narrow, hardened arteries. The same effects that endanger the cardiovascular system can also cause erectile dysfunction in men (think about it for a second…) and reduced arousal and ability to achieve orgasm in women. Testosterone, a sex hormone power player for both ladies and gents, could be a solution. Studies have shown a link between low testosterone and high blood pressure, while the spikes in testosterone associated with sexual activity might help lower blood pressure [5] [6].

Decreases risk for heart disease. Good news, dudes! Studies show doing the deed actually reduces risk of stroke and coronary heart disease in men [7]. According to the study, men who had sex once a month or less were 45 percent more likely to contract a cardiovascular disease than friskier fellows. The evidence suggested the men with better overall health had higher libidos and therefore more sex overall, which reinforced their healthy cardiovascular systems.

Regulates periods. Some athletic (hetero) lovemaking once or twice a week can, on a very basic level, make it less likely that Aunt Flow will show up unexpected. In one study, scientists found that women exposed to male sweat were calmer and more relaxed than the control group. These women also experienced smaller changes of levels of luteinizing hormone (which controls the menstrual cycle) in the blood. Getting’ jiggy with it also reduces stress, another contributing factor in keeping periods more regular.

Improves tooth health. This one’s a bit of a reach, but bear with us. In addition to sperm, semen contains minerals like calcium, magnesium, and zinc — which are also found in root canal fillings [8] [9]. Zinc and calcium are also ingredients in most commercially available tooth rinses. We’ll let you do the math…

Fights prostate cancer. The link between frequent ejaculation and prostate health is still up for debate. According to some studies, regular sex “flushes out” any carcinogens lurking in the prostate gland, making it less likely to become cancerous [10]. But a more recent study showed that very frequent sexual activity in young men (20s and early 30s) could actually increase the risk of developing prostate cancer [11]. Meanwhile, frequent ejaculation in middle-aged or older (50+) men decreased disease risk [11]. In other words, the verdict is still out on this one — though things look pretty good for the older gents among us.

Lowers risks during pregnancy. Pregnant ladies, time to get your groove on. Frequent sexual intercourse — and exposure to semen — can reduce the risk of developing a serious pregnancy complication called preeclampsia (which can cause swollen extremities, headaches, nausea, and even seizures). A protein found in semen, called HLG-A, can regulate women’s immune systems and lower the possibility of experiencing these complications [13].

Makes fertilization easier. For people trying to get a bun in the oven, there’s no such thing as too much “trying.” A study at an Australian fertility center showed that men who ejaculated daily for seven days had higher-quality sperm at the end of the week. The sperm’s rate of DNA fragmentation dropped from 34 percent to 26 percent, meaning it was heartier and more likely to fertilize an egg —probably because frequent sex (and ejaculation) means sperm spend less time in the testicular ducts and are less likely to be damaged over time.

Did any of these surprise you? Share in the comments below or get in touch with the author on Twitter @sophbreene

After spending eight years as a high school and college athlete, I'm learning how to maintain a healthy lifestyle on my own (aka without a coach... Read More »

Works Cited

  1. Sexual Frequency and salivary immunoglobulin A (IgA). Charnetski CJ, Brennan FX. Department of Pscyhology, Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA, USA. Psychological Reports. 2004 Jun;94(3 Pt 1):839-44.
  2. Does semen have antidepressant properties? Gallup GG, Burch RL, Platek SM. Department of Psychology, State University of New York at Albany, Albany, NY, USA. Archives of Sexual Behavior. 2002 June; 31(3):289-93.
  3. Blood pressure reactivity to stress is better for people who recently had penile-vaginal intercourse than for people who had other or no sexual activity. Brody S. Division of Pscyhology, School of Social Sciences, University of Paisley, Scotland, UK. Biological Psychology. 2006 February; 71(2):214-22.
  4. Facial appearance is a cue to oestrogen levels in women. Law Smith MJ, Perrett DI, Jones BC, Cornwell RE, Moore FR, Feinberg DR, Boothroyd LG, Durrani SJ, Stirrat MR, Whiten S, Pitman RM, Hillier SG. Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences. 2006 January 22; 273(1583):135-140.
  5. Association of endogenous testosterone with blood pressure and left ventricular mass in men. Svartberg J, von Muhlen D, Schirmer H, Barrett-Connor E, Sundfjord J, Jorde R. Department of Medicine, University Hospita of North Norway. European Journal of Endocrinology. 2004 Jan; 150(1):65-71.
  6. Androgen therapy in men with testosterone deficiency: can testosterone reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease?a Saad F. Global Medical Affairs Men’s Healthcare, Bayer Pharma AG, Berlin, Germany Research Department, Gulf Medical University, Ajman, United Arab Emirates Health Reproduction Study Center, Hang Tuah University, Surabaya, Indonesia. Diabetes/Metabolism Research and Reviews. 2012 Dec; 28 Suppl 2:52-9.
  7. Sexual intercourse and risk of ischaemic stroke and coronary heart disease: the Caerphilly study. Ebrahim S, May M, Ben Shlomo Y, McCarron P, Frankel S, Yarnell J, Davey Smith G. Department of Social Medicine, University of Bristol, UK. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 2002 Feb;56(2):99-102
  8. The impact of calcium, magnesium, zinc, and copper in blood and seminal plasma on semen parameters in men. Wong WY, Flik G, Groenen PM, Swinkels DW, Thomas CM, Copius-Peereboom JH, Merkus HM, Steegers-Theunissen RP. Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University Medical Centre Nijmegen, Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Reproductive Toxicology. 2001 Mar-Apr; 15(2):131-6.
  9. Evaluation of a mixture of zinc oxide, calcium hydroxide, and sodium fluoride as a new root canal filling material for primary teeth. Chawla HS, Setia S, Gupta N, Gauba K, Goyal A. Unit of Pedodontic and Preventative Dentistry, Oral Health Sciences Center, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India. Journal of Indian Society of Pedodontics and Preventative Dentistry. 2008 June, 26(2):53-8.
  10. Ejaculation frequency and subsequent risk of prostate cancer. Leitzmann MF, Platz EA, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Giovannucci E. Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, MD, USA. The Journal of the American Medical Association. 2004 April 7; 291(13):1578-86.
  11. Sexual activity and prostate cancer risk in men diagnosed at a younger age. Dimitropoulou P, Lophatananon A, Easton D, Pocock R, Dearnaley DP, Guy M, Edwards S, O’Brien L, Hall A, Wilkinson R, Eeles R, Muir KR. University of Nottingham Medical School, Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham, UK. Journal of the British Association of Urological Surgeons. 2009 January; 103(2):178-85.
  12. Sexual activity and prostate cancer risk in men diagnosed at a younger age. Dimitropoulou P, Lophatananon A, Easton D, Pocock R, Dearnaley DP, Guy M, Edwards S, O’Brien L, Hall A, Wilkinson R, Eeles R, Muir KR. University of Nottingham Medical School, Queens Medical Centre, Nottingham, UK. Journal of the British Association of Urological Surgeons. 2009 January; 103(2):178-85.
  13. Sperm exposure and development of preeclampsia. Einarsson JI, Sangi-Haghpeykar H, Gardner MO. Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, USA. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2003 May; 188(5):1241-3.