13 health benefits of sex
From your immune system to your self-esteem, here’s how sex can boost your health. Plus, 10 tips to improve your sex life.
ot only does a healthy sex life boost levels of intimacy, affection and wellbeing in your relationship, according to science, but it’s also great for your physical and mental health.
And while we all know between-the-sheets action is a calorie burner – it can torch through calories equivalent to a 30-minute jog – there are so many great health benefits of sex that go way beyond energy expenditure.
With Tracey Cox, sex and relationships educator, and Mia Sabat, in-house sex therapist at Emjoy, we run through 13 evidence-backed health benefits of sex – plus, tips for fostering a healthy sex life:
13 health benefits of sex
Sex can be beneficial to your health in many ways, from boosting your immune function to reducing your risk of heart disease and supercharging your self-esteem. Here, we run through 13 evidence-based health benefits of sex, according to science:
1. Sex helps you sleep
During climax, the brain releases a hormone called oxytocin, which induces a relaxed feeling that helps you sleep better. ‘Great sex is one of the best cures for sleeplessness and insomnia – oxytocin is the hormone that promotes feelings of intimacy, and it jumps to five times its normal level during climax,’ says Cox. ‘It also makes you feel sleepy. While men drift off two to five minutes after orgasm, women usually take 20 to 30 minutes.’
‘Great sex is one of the best cures for sleeplessness and insomnia.’
2. Sex makes you look younger
Couples who have sex at least three times a week look more than 10 years younger than those who get frisky less often, according to research by Dr David Weeks, clinical neuropsychologist at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital. He adds, the pleasure from having sex is a ‘crucial factor’ in staying young. Additionally, having sex boosts blood circulation and causes your body to release endorphins, giving your skin a natural glow. Human Growth hormone (HGH) somatotropin is also released, which improves skin elasticity and fends off wrinkles.
3. Sex reduces headaches
Sex can be a powerful painkiller, especially for headache sufferers. A study carried out by the University of Munster in Germany found that sex can actually be more effective than painkillers when it comes to reducing headache pain. This is because sex triggers the release of endorphins – the body’s natural painkillers – into the central nervous system. The effect is so powerful, their research shows, that more than half of people who have sex during a headache experience an improvement in symptoms.
Some headaches occur as a result of sexual activity and this should be discussed with your doctor.
4. Sex relieves stress
Given that so many mood-boosting chemicals are released during sex, it makes sense that getting frisky can act as a natural, powerful stress-reliever. In one rodent study, having sex daily for a fortnight caused cell growth in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that keeps stress levels under control. And in a similar human study, people who had daily intercourse for two weeks experienced a reduction in stress-related blood pressure.
5. Sex promotes healthier food choices
Believe it or not, sex can help to curb sugar and fat cravings. How? By lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism for fast energy, promotes insulin release and impacts blood sugar levels. This trifecta of actions not only boosts your appetite, but leads you to crave sweet, high-fat foods, which are typically lower in nutrients.
6. Sex boosts immunity
Research from Wilkes-Barre University found that the intimacy of sex stimulates the body to produce Immunoglobulin A (IgA), an antibody that forms a barrier against a cold. People who have sex more than once or twice a week, they found, have more of these antibodies than those who are less sexually active. Obviously in the unusual context of covid – awareness of symptoms of infection is important in making decisions about intimacy.
7. Sex eases period pain
At the moment of climax, the uterine muscles contract and send pain-relieving and mood-enhancing endorphins to the brain. These act as a natural painkiller, and help to ease menstrual cramps, depression and irritability associated with PMS. The muscle contractions that occur when you orgasm may also help to relieve tension in your uterus, providing relief from cramps.
Men who ejaculate on a regular basis are less likely to develop prostate cancer.
8. Sex reduces prostate cancer risk
The prostate is important in the male reproductive system – it produces the alkaline components of semen, which help to protect the sperm. Research from Harvard found that men who ejaculate on a regular basis – defined as five times or more each week – are less likely to develop prostate cancer.
9. Sex boosts heart health
The less frequently you have sex, the higher your risk of heart disease, according to an observational study spanning more than 1,000 men published in the American Journal of Cardiology. Compared to men who reported having sex a minimum of two or three times per week, men with sexual activity of once per month or less were 45 per cent more likely to be diagnosed with cardiovascular disease.
10. Sex increases self-esteem
Having sex can help boost self-confidence and develop a more better positive attitude about yourself. ‘Never underestimate the power of confidence,’ says Sabat. ‘Expressing what you want clearly and without fear is one of the most desirable things you can do, especially while being intimate with another person. Love the power of your body and acknowledge that you deserve to experience pleasure. Doing this will help you to communicate with more clarity and confidence.’
11. Sex boosts libido
The more frequently you have sex, the more likely you are to want to do it again. This is because getting frisky prompts your brain to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in the motivation and reward process. And among women specifically, sex boosts estrogen levels and blood flow, which increases the desire for sex.
12. Sex improves memory
Getting intimate may boost your brain function by stimulating areas of the brain that are associated with memory. In a long-term study by the University of Wollongong, frequent sexual activity was found to be associated with better performance in a short-term memory test. This research is supported by the findings of a study by Manchester University, which revealed that sexually active adults have better brain power.
13. Sex enhances sperm quality
Ejaculating every day for seven days improves men’s sperm quality by reducing the amount of DNA damage, according to research by the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. As well as seeing ‘substantial and statistically highly significant’ changes in the quality of the sperm, ‘in addition, we found that although frequent ejaculation decreased semen volume and sperm concentrations, it did not compromise sperm motility and, in fact, this rose slightly but significantly,’ said lead author Dr David Greening.
10 tips for a healthy sex life
Having regular sex may bring about a variety of health benefits, but being able to communicate and experience sexual satisfaction is key to making the experience pleasurable. Here, we run through 10 tips for a healthy sex life:
1. Connect with self-pleasure
Make time to get to know yourself – self pleasure is still a form of sex. ‘Every sexual experience begins within ourselves, and masturbation embodies this experience,’ says Sabat. ‘Beyond stimulating our sex drive, self-pleasure allows us to connect with our minds and bodies to focus on our desires and sexuality. This helps us to better communicate our needs and preferences, and ultimately engage in a more fulfilling sexual experience.’
‘Every sexual experience begins within ourselves, and masturbation embodies this experience.’
2. Talk to your partner
Talk openly with your partner before entering the bedroom to establish consent, work out what you are both comfortable with, and what you’d like to explore, Sabat recommends. ‘Not only is consent always key, but ensuring you talk openly about your preferences gives everyone involved time to decide if they do, or do not, want to explore a specific type of sexual activity,’ she says.
3. Learn about erogenous zones
An erogenous zone is an area of the body that has heightened sensitivity, which may elicit a sexual response when stimulated. ‘Everyone has unique parts of their body which they love being touched, or gain arousal from,’ says Sabat. ‘You’d be surprised where you can find them – but the best places to start are often sensitive areas like the lips, neck and breasts.’
4. Bring erotica into the bedroom
To spice things up, why not talk to your partner about exploring different kinds of erotica together? ‘I recommend couples engage with audio erotica because, when listening, each individual can engage with their own fantasies, preferences and turn-ons, while still connecting over the same storyline or narrative,’ says Sabat.
5. Explore your biggest organ
Your skin, of course! ‘The skin is a highly responsive organ, and finding new ways to stimulate it can be very arousing,’ says Sabat. ‘Consider investing in new materials that will play on your sense of touch. This could be anything from leather and silk to latex or sensory lubricants. Just be careful of any allergies and introduce objects to both of your bodies in a responsible way.’
6. Try a new location
Sex doesn’t have to stay between the sheets, says Sabat. ‘Next time you’re feeling more adventurous, try taking it to the kitchen, bathroom, or even the hallway – these new locations will mean you have to work out new positions while enjoying the excitement of a new situation,’ she says.
7. Grab a toy
Sex toys can be used to complement both penetrative and oral sex throughout your experience – and they don’t need to be focused on penetration to create pleasure, says Sabat. ‘If your partner is open to bringing items like leashes, feathers, whips, and bondage toys such as handcuffs into the bedroom, bringing toys that focus on stimulating external areas into the bedroom can often lead to a more fulfilling sexual experience,’ she adds.
8. Engage with your fantasies
We all have fantasies, Sabat says, so it’s important to embrace them without shame. ‘Not only do fantasies increase sexual desire and arousal, but they let us explore facets of our sexuality that can often be forgotten or neglected,’ she says. ‘In fact, they can even help you to become more creative in the bedroom. While not every fantasy should be acted upon, discussing the parts of the fantasy that make you most excited with your partner can lead to healthy conversations about your sexual needs.’
‘Not only do fantasies increase sexual desire and arousal, but they let us explore facets of our sexuality that can often be forgotten or neglected.’
9. Try different positions
Inject a sense of adventure into your bedroom antics by trying out different positions. ‘We often fall back on techniques that we know will result in orgasm – be it specific types of stimulation, favourite positions, or repeating the same moves over and over again,’ says Sabat. ‘Trying new positions helps us to experience intimacy in different ways. Explore new angles by using pillows, or mix things up by switching roles – if you’d normally be in control or on top, why not let your partner take the reins?’
10. Communication is key
Every sexual encounter is different, even if it’s happening with the same person, says Sabat. ‘What matters is that you learn your partner’s preferences and desires, and focus on communicating what you do and do not like,’ she explains. ‘Not only will this lead to more pleasure for you both, but it helps us reject the stigma that one partner is responsible for the other’s pleasure. Remember that sex is a shared experience, with shared responsibility. Communicate with your partner, feel empowered by your desires and let go.’