By: Dr. Anne Truong
August 31, 2020
Sex is a natural, healthy part of life. It helps to bind people intimately, emotionally, and physically, creating unique bonds. Yet, research also indicates a healthy sex life can improve health and quality of life. Early studies from the 1960s have provided some insight into the benefits of sex, but consider these more modern examples.
During an early study with William H. Masters, MD and Virginia E. Johnson that dates back to 1966, it was found that sex changes the body in a variety of ways. For example, during a test conducted in their lab, they looked specifically at the psychological responses to having sex. They found that it can increase respiration in a person by up to 40 breathes per minute. It also increased systolic blood pressure from 30 mmHG up to 80 mmHg. It also helped to boost heart rate to 110 to 180 beats each minute. All of that can help to promote good cardiovascular health, much like exercise does.
The number of calories burnt during sex varies widely. It is certainly less than the amount burned through a marathon run, but it does have some benefits. A study published by PLOS One, for example, monitored the energy expenditure during sex using an armband.
With moderate intensity, those participating in the study – which had a median age of 22.6 years – burned about 85 kCal. Men burned 101 kCal or 4.2 kCal per minute while women burned 69 kCal or about 3.1 kCal per minute.
They then studied the calories burned during exercise on a treadmill for 30 minutes. Men saw an expenditure of 276 kCal and women 213 kCal. The study determined sex may be an acceptable form of exercise.
Sex may be able to reduce depressive symptoms in some people. That is because sexual activity releases endorphins, as well as neurochemicals and feel-good hormones such as dopamine, prolactin, and oxytocin. These help you to feel good, improve satisfaction, and to increase the response of the pleasure center of the brain.
Numerous studies have looked at these factors. One study, written by Stuart Brody, PhD, implied that only penile-vaginal intercourse (PVI) could accomplish this, though that has been refuted many times over the years. More so, he noted that young women who went a longer time between PVI had a higher amount of depression present.
Another way sex benefits your health is by improving immunity. In another study, researchers studied the salivary immunoglobulin A (SigA) in 112 college students. They gaged the sexual activity as those who participated frequently, which was one or two times a week. They found these students had higher levels of immunity. More specifically, they found that the antibody SigA plays an important role in protecting areas such as the gut, lungs, and oral cavity from pathogens and it was elevated in these individuals.
While it is important to note that this is just one component of the immune system, and the immune system is more complex, it still indicates a response from the body that is positive from engaging in sex.
Another key study looked at the benefits that sexual behavior has on prostate health, specifically as it relates to prostate cancer development. This study, the Health Professional Follow-up Study found that men who ejaculated more than 21 times per month have a significantly lower risk level of developing prostate cancer. They found this could reduce risks by as much as 31 percent in some people. This is compared to men who ejaculated just 4 to 7 times per month. During this study, men ejaculated in various ways including through nocturnal emissions, sexual intercourse, and masturbation. This shows that sex may help men to reduce their risk of developing this sometimes aggressive form of cancer.
Improving Sleep Quality
There has long been an expectation that sex is beneficial to sleep and sleep quality. The National Sleep Foundation reports that is the case as well. It notes that sex can help a person to fall asleep easier than if they do not engage in sexual activity. They state that the reason for this is the release of hormones during sex. This includes hormones such as oxytocin, which is a hormone that helps you to feel a connection to the other person. In addition to this, sex helps to reduce the presence of cortisol. This is the stress hormone. Reducing stress helps to lead to a reduction in overall worry that keeps you up at night. Yet another benefit is the release of prolactin. The body releases this hormone when an orgasm occurs. It naturally makes you feel tired, sleepy, and very relaxed. This helps to create the ideal scenario for good sleep.
It’s clear, sex is good for overall health. Engaging in it wisely could offer benefits to you as well.