Does sex provide health benefits?
Sex may give a boost to certain aspects of people’s well-being and physical health, some research suggests. However, several studies on the subject are now outdated, and not all potential benefits apply to everyone.
Scientific research has highlighted several possible benefits besides procreation that come with sexual intercourse. These pluses include preserving heart health in some people, reducing blood pressure, and boosting immunity.
Sex can also improve mood, relationships, and mental well-being.
In this article, we look at the possible health benefits of sex and highlight relevant research, focusing on the physical rather than emotional aspects.
Helping heart health
Partnered sex appears to have some protective effect on cardiovascular health, especially in women.
A 2016 study looked at the potential health benefits of sexual activity with a regular partner.
This research found that sexually active women have a lower risk of cardiac events later in life.
However, the study also concluded that high levels of sexual activity might increase the risk of cardiovascular events in men. This conclusion contradicts most earlier research, and further studies are necessary to verify this risk.
Males and females with heart problems should ask a doctor about how much sex is safe for them. They should also be specific about the regularity and intensity with which they have sex, as this may affect the potential strain on the heart.
Reducing blood pressure
The same 2016 study also measured blood pressure as one of the markers of heart health. The researchers found that older women who expressed satisfaction with their sex lives were less likely to have high blood pressure.
However, the study authors did not find the same results in older men.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), high blood pressure can affect both libido and a man’s ability to achieve and maintain an erection.
Medication for high blood pressure can also reduce libido and cause erectile dysfunction.
While this does not confirm a benefit, it may show a link between blood pressure and sexual health.
Many people with high blood pressure, or hypertension, have safety concerns when it comes to sexual intercourse.
While it is always important to speak with a doctor, it is usually safe for people with high blood pressure to have sex.
If hypertension medication is causing sexual difficulties, a person can talk to their doctor who may be able to prescribe a different medication or dosage to relieve the adverse effects.
Boosting the immune system
Some early research found that regular sex increased the effectiveness of the immune system.
Researchers found that people who had frequent sex, which they defined as one to two times per week, had more immunoglobin A (IgA) in their system than others. IgA is an antibody that lives in the mucosal tissue, such as the salivary glands, nose, and vaginal tissue.
However, it is important to recognize that this study appeared in 2004, and researchers have not repeated it since. A new study might yield different results.
A more recent study looked at a small group of women to see if there were differences between the immune activity of those who were sexually active and those who are not.
The study examined their immune system’s ability to kill different infectious pathogens at various points in the menstrual cycle.
While the results suggest that there might be some differences between the groups, the authors say more research is necessary before drawing any conclusions.
Reducing prostate cancer risk
An early study, again from 2004, found that high frequency of ejaculation may reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
The study investigated almost 30,000 males, looking at how often they ejaculated at different points in their life.
They concluded that those who ejaculated more than 21 times per month had a lower risk of prostate cancer than men who only ejaculated 4–7 times per month.
In 2016, the researchers extended this study for an additional 10 years to continue their research on the participants’ risk for developing prostate cancer.
This follow-up confirmed the initial findings. The males who ejaculated most frequently had a lower risk for prostate cancer those who ejaculated less often.
Sex can serve as a natural way to relieve stress. A 2019 study looked at the effect that intimacy with a partner had on cortisol levels. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that circulates the body in response to stress.
The researchers found that expressions of intimacy, whether sexual or not, helped to bring cortisol levels in both males and female back within normal range.
Sex triggers the release of oxytocin, endorphins, and other “feel-good” hormones, which may be responsible for this stress reducing effect.
The National Sleep Foundation suggest that sexual activity has hormonal benefits for sleep.
The same hormones that reduce stress and anxiety are also responsible for inducing sleepiness. Sex leads to the release of oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins throughout the body.
After a person has an orgasm, another hormone called prolactin starts to circulate. Prolactin induces feelings of satisfaction and relaxation.
While sex can be a pleasurable and potentially healthful activity, it is essential to remember that sex without protection can pose a risk to overall health.
People who have sex without using contraceptives have a risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancies. Using a condom or other contraceptive method can reduce the risk of these outcomes.
If a person has multiple partners, they can bring down the risk by reducing the number of people with whom they have sexual contact.
If sex becomes painful or causes bleeding, a person should talk to a healthcare professional.
Is sex addiction a real disease and can too much sex cause it?
The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT)
do not find sufficient empirical evidence to support the classification of sex addiction as a mental health disorder.
If you are feeling troubled by sexual urges, thoughts or behaviors that feel out of control, your relationships are being impacted, or any area of your life is being negatively affected, then it is best to seek professional help.Janet Brito, PhD, LCSW, CST
Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.