Not just good, but good for you
Mounting evidence suggests sex helps keep us healthy
F.Birchman / MSNBC.com
By Brian Alexander
July 1 - To paraphrase a great old slogan for Guinness beer: Sex isn’t just good, it’s good for you!
Okay, so maybe there’s some wishful thinking going on — the science isn’t exactly iron-clad — but evidence is accumulating that the more sex you have, the better off you are.
There is one caveat, though. “We do not have good data to show a direct connection [to all-around good health]," says Jennifer Bass, the head of information services at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction in Bloomington, Ind. "We know that healthier people have more sexual activity. But we do not know which comes first. Does the good health make you more willing to have sex, or does the sex have a positive impact?”
And you dirty girrrls and Don Juans should know that the assumed health benefits of sex are generally thought to accrue to people in loving, monogamous relationships or those flying solo. Risky sex with lots of partners will probably do more harm than good.
But while researchers try to nail down the impact on overall health, data is mounting when it comes to some specifics. Here are several potential benefits:
1. Easing depression and stress
Bass says this is pretty definite. “The release from orgasm does much to calm people. It helps with sleep, and that is whether we talk about solo sex or sex with a partner,” she says.
But wait, there’s more. A recent study of college students at the State University of New York in Albany suggests that semen acts as an antidepressant. Females in the study who were having sex without condoms (see safe sex caution, above) had fewer signs of depression than women who used condoms or abstained from sex.
“These data are consistent with the possibility that semen may antagonize depressive symptoms,” the authors wrote, “and evidence which shows that the vagina absorbs a number of components of semen that can be detected in the bloodstream within a few hours of administration.”
I kid you not, ladies. Semen is good stuff. It gives a shot of zinc, calcium, potassium, fructose, proteins -- a veritable cornucopia of vitality!
2. Relieving pain
Orgasm is a powerful pain-killer. Oxytocin, a natural chemical in the body that surges before and during climax, gets some of the credit, along with a couple of other compounds like endorphins.
According to a study by Beverly Whipple, professor emeritus at Rutgers University and a famed sexologist and author, when women masturbated to orgasm “the pain tolerance threshold and pain detection threshold increased significantly by 74.6 percent and 106.7 percent respectively.”
3. Boosting cardio health
I can’t resist another plug for semen. It’s possible that male goo can lower blood pressure. Another recent study found that women who gave their men oral sex, and swallowed, had a lower risk of preeclampsia, the dangerously high blood pressure that sometimes accompanies pregnancy.
No, I’m not making this up. “The present study shows that oral sex and swallowing sperm is correlated with a diminished occurrence of preeclampsia,” said the Dutch authors.
See? We told you it was good for you.
There have been other studies showing that sex lowers blood pressure, and might even protect against strokes because of its stress-relieving ability.
But when we think of sex and the cardio system, we tend to think of poor old Nelson Rockefeller having a heart attack in flagrante delicto. Well, not only does that hardly ever happen, but sex might actually protect the heart. A 2002 report from a large British population of men said “some protection from fatal coronary events may be an added bonus” of frequent sexual intercourse.
4. Countering prostate cancer
Over the past few years, several journals have published studies showing that the more ejaculations the better.
Now the Journal of the American Medical Association, no less, has reported that “high ejaculation frequency was related to decreased risk of total prostate cancer.” It doesn’t matter how a man climaxes -- intercourse or masturbation. So next time he says, “Really, honey, it’s therapy,” he could be telling the truth.
5. Healing wounds
Some evidence suggests sex can be rejuvenating to the point of helping wounds to heal faster. Several experiments have shown that oxytocin can help even stubborn sores, like those suffered by diabetics, to heal by regenerating certain cells.
6. Fighting aging
Maybe it’s the rejuvenation, maybe the happiness, maybe all of the above. One thing’s for sure: “Use it or lose it” is literally true. For example, postmenopausal women often suffer from “vaginal atrophy,” which is what it sounds like and can lead to all sorts of complications like urinary tract infections. What’s one way to prevent it? More intercourse.
Sex is a form of exercise, after all, and like all exercise, it burns calories and can help battle the onslaught of the years. In fact, nursing home experts say they wish oldsters would have more sex.
Can sex really make you live longer? Maybe. In the same population of British men I cited earlier, researchers found a 50 percent reduction in overall mortality in the group of men who said they had the most orgasms. There was a dose response: the more orgasms, the better.
Of course, as Kinsey’s Bass reminds us, it could be that these blokes were just healthier and felt like having sex more often. But since there’s no evidence that lots of sex is bad for you, what have you got to lose?
Brian Alexander is a California-based writer who covers sex, relationships and health. He is a contributing editor at Glamour and the author of "Rapture: How Biotech Became the New Religion" (Basic Books).