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By Joy Birnbach Dunstan,
MA, LPC, MAC
Good Sex is Good for You!
It’s February, almost Valentine’s Day. A day for lover’s and perhaps a little passion. Indulge that passion because scientific evidence supports what many of us have suspected all along: good sex not only adds great enjoyment to our lives, but it also actually improves our health and general well-being.
In his book Sexual Healing, Dr. Paul Pearsall, Director of Behavioral Medicine at Detroit’s Beaumont Hospital, writes that the joys and pleasures of intimate loving may provide us with something called an “intimacy inoculation” that actually protects us from disease. When we experience mutually caring sexual intimacy, it can trigger a measurable change in neurochemicals and hormones that pour through the body and help promote health and healing.
Here’s just a few of the many benefits researchers have identified for an active sex life:
Sex relieves stress. Regular sex results in lower blood pressure and overall stress reduction. (Don’t worry if you don’t have a sexual partner: other research shows that even hugs are helpful in lowering blood pressure.)
Sex boosts immunity. Having sex once or twice a week has been linked with higher levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A (IgA), which protects you from getting colds and other infections.
Sex burns calories. Thirty minutes of sex burns 85 calories or more. It may not sound like much, but it adds up: a half-hour of sex two to three times a week could easily help you drop two to four pounds a year.
Sex improves heart health. While some older folks may worry that the efforts expended during sex could cause a stroke, that’s not so. In one study, researchers found that having sex twice or more a week reduced the risk of fatal heart attack by half for the men, compared with those who had sex less than once a month.
Sex boosts self-esteem. Gina Ogden, PhD, sex therapist and marriage and family counselor in Cambridge, Mass., says that “great sex begins with self-esteem and it raises it. If the sex is loving, connected, and what you want, it raises it.”
Sex improves intimacy. Research shows that having sex and orgasms increases levels of the hormone oxytocin, the so-called love hormone, which helps us bond and build trust. Higher oxytocin has also been linked with a feeling of generosity. So if you’re feeling suddenly more generous toward your partner than usual, credit the love hormone.
Sex reduces pain. As the hormone oxytocin surges, endorphins (our body’s natural pain-killer) increase, and pain declines. If your headache or arthritis pain seem to improve after sex, you can thank those higher oxytocin and endorphin levels.
Sex reduces prostate cancer risk. One study found that frequent ejaculations, especially in 20-something men, may reduce the risk of prostate cancer by a third. Another study, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that 21 or more ejaculations a month were linked to lower prostate cancer risk in older men as well, compared with less frequent ejaculations of four to seven monthly.
Sex strengthens pelvic floor muscles. For women, doing a few pelvic floor muscle exercises known as Kegels during sex offers a couple of benefits. You will enjoy more pleasure, and you’ll also strengthen the area and help to minimize the risk of incontinence later in life. (To do a basic Kegel exercise, tighten the muscles of your pelvic floor, as if you’re trying to stop the flow of urine. Count to three, then release.)
Sex helps you sleep better. The oxytocin released during orgasm also promotes sleep, according to research. And getting enough sleep has been linked with a host of other good things, such as maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure.
So next time your partner is in the mood, don’t say “not now, I’ve got a headache.” Instead, next time you’ve got a headache, cozy up to your partner. Happy Valentine’s Day!