Good old-fashioned sex can do more for your health than the latest wonder drug
NAME THE activity that burns calories, improves circulation, relieves pain, tunes muscles, counters depression, makes you look younger, uses equipment you already own – and is absolutely free?
The answer: Sex. Legal, non-fattening and requiring no membership fees, sex may be just what the doctor ordered.
Sex, especially regular sexual activity with a caring partner, confers emotional and psychological health benefits, and there’s growing evidence to prove it. Dr John Bancroft, a psychiatrist and director of the US – based Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, says there’s no doubt about it: “Having a rewarding and enjoyable relationship with sexual intimacy is good for you.”
Kristina Towill, a martial and sex therapist, says that while the physical act itself carries benefits, the milieu of a loving relationship multiplies those benefits many times over. “Sex in the context of a relationship bolsters mental health and emotional well-being for both men and women. Research shows that couples who are sexually active are happier than couples who aren’t,” says Towill.
The 20- Minute Workout
Sex may be more of a physical workout than we once thought. Dr Jay Lee, a urologist with a special interest in sexual medicine for men, women and couples, says, “We now say that for men, the energy expended during sex equates to a game of gold –carrying you own clubs.”
And women? Some calorie-expenditure charts say that for a 66-kilo woman, 20 minutes of moderate sex burns about 93 calories – more than a 20-minute stroll or leisurely cycling, about as much as doubles tennis.
Like any exercise, sex can increase breathing rates, strengthen muscles, boost circulation and improve cholesterol levels. Sex revs up the heart rate, and there’s an increasingly strong correlation between sexual frequency and cardiac disease, says Dr. Richard Casey, a urologist and editor of the Journal of sexual and Reproductive Medicine.
A UK study followed 900 men aged 45 to 59 for ten years. Compared to those who had two or more orgasms per week, those with far fewer orgasms had twice the death rate from cardiovascular disease and other causes.
Tonight, Darling, I Have a Headache
Have sex within an hour of getting a migraine, and you could literally be feeling no pain. Of 34 subjects in an American study, 11 experienced complete or partial relief from their migraines after having sex that included orgasms.
Other studies have found that sex can relieve menstrual cramps and arthritis pain. It seems it triggers an endorphin rush in the brain, which acts as a pain blocker. With migraines, the serotonin released during orgasm causes a constriction of the dilated blood vessels in the brain that were causing the migraine. “The increase in endorphins lasts for an estimated one to three hours,” says Lee.
The Joy of Sex
You don’t need a study to tell you that sexual intimacy with someone you love makes you feel better about yourself.
“You feel like, ‘I may not make the centerfold of Playboy, but it’s may body, and damn it all, it works,” says sexual educator and counselor Sue Johanson. Sex therapist and author Sue McGarvie adds that with sex you “feel more confident in you body and are less likely to have body image issues.”
Enjoyable sex relieves workaday stresses. A woman whose husband is often away on business says, “I get edgy if he’s away for a week, and it comes out as irritation and restlessness.” Once her husband returns, the sexual release creates an immediate sense of well-being.
Our bodies seem to like predictable patterns, such as regular mealtimes and bedtimes. A series of US studies found that women who have sex at least once a week are more likely to have regular menstrual cycles, fewer infertility problems and an easier menopause than women who either have irregular or no sex.
Regular sex for many months or even a year before conception could also lead to safer pregnancy. According to research by reproductive biologists in Australia, this helps relax the mother’s natural defences, reducing her risk of miscarriage or stillbirths. Earlier studies of more than 1000 women in Guadeloupe found that those who’d had sex with the father for four months or less before becoming pregnant had eight times the risk of pre-eclampsia, a potentially fatal high blood pressure condition, compared to those who’d been having sex with the father for at least a year.
Fountain of Youth
A satisfying sex life is rejuvenating in every way. “Regular sexual activity can counter or slow down age-related changes in women,” says sex therapist Towill. “It increases blood flow to the genitals and prevent the tissues from losing elasticity or becoming dry.”
You may look better, too. A Scottish study reported that people who have sex at least three times a week within the context of a loving relationship look more than ten years younger than the average adult who makes love twice a week.
A 55-year-old woman whose partner told her that after sex she looked younger, tested out his theory recently by looking in the mirror. “I couldn’t believe it myself,” she says. “I looked 20 years younger. My eyes were brighter, my skin was smoother, my whole being was perkier. The afterglow is real."
The Ultimate Connection
“Sex is the glue that gives us the depth of emotional connection that is unique to marital relationships,” says Towill. Any couple who stop having sex often feel like roommates or siblings – with the accompanying rivalry and squabbles. A British study reported that couples who volunteered to abstain from sex for three months all started to experience marital difficulties.
THERE’S NO question that good sex is good for you. The challenge, says Dr. Marjon Blouw, a family physician with a special interest in sexual medicine, is to make pleasurable sexual activity a priority. “Maybe.” She muses, “I should start to write it on a prescription pad.”