Often, people hear about the risks associated with sexual activity such as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or unplanned pregnancy. However, consensual sex also has numerous health benefits that have been supported by scientific evidence. The following are just a few health benefits that have been associated with sex.
Mental Health Benefits
The act of having sex releases feel-good hormones in the body such as dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin. These hormones activate the pleasure and reward centers of the brain, boosting a person’s mood, relieving stress and tension, and supporting feelings of love, trust, and intimacy. At the same time, sex reduces the body’s levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which are known as “stress hormones.” Since these hormonal effects promote feelings of happiness and well-being in people, regular sexual activity may be protective against depression and anxiety. In fact, studies have shown that individuals who have more frequent consensual partnered sex report higher satisfaction with their mental health than those who do not.
Natural Pain Relief
The endorphins that are released during sex act as natural pain relievers for the body. When these hormones attach to the opiate receptors in the brain, they block the perception of pain. This is the same mechanism that is at work when a person exercises and feels a “high” that surpasses the feeling of pain or achy muscles. Many individuals report reduced levels of pain after engaging in sexual activity, including pain from menstrual cramps, migraines, and some chronic pain conditions.
Prolactin, a hormone that helps a person relax, is also released during sex. The release of this hormone may contribute to improved sleep after having sex. On the flip side, consistently getting enough sleep can support a person’s sexual desire and sexual functioning.
Intimate Relationship Quality
Sex is great way to cultivate intimacy and closeness with a romantic partner. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people who report being satisfied with their sex life are more likely to report being satisfied in their marriage or relationship. Oxytocin promotes bonding (whether romantic bonding or mother-infant bonding). This hormone is not only released in the body during sex, it is also released in large quantities in a woman’s body when she is in labor and it is integral in the bonding of a mother and her new baby.
Regular sex can have benefits for a person’s cardiovascular health as well. Studies have shown that having regular sex can contribute to better heart rate variability, lower a person’s blood pressure, and may even lower a person’s risk for heart disease.
The Bottom Line
Sex has many benefits for a person’s health, but it is still important to practice safe consensual sex to limit the possibility of STI transmission. If you do not have a sexual partner, you can still enjoy the benefits of pain reduction, improved sleep, and lower blood pressure through masturbation.
For more information on this topic, please read this publication from The Journal of Sexual Medicine:
Brody, S. (2010). The relative health benefits of different sexual activities. The journal of sexual medicine, 7(4_Part_1), 1336-1361. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01677.x
Cleveland Clinic. (2022, May 19). Endorphins. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/23040-endorphins
LaMotte, S. (2018, March 12). 10 health benefits of having more sex. CNN Health. https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/01/health/health-benefits-of-sex-parallels/index.html