Many people have a persistent fear that “too much sex” will cause health problems. Societies the world over have been alternately fearful and critical of sex and people who enjoy it, so it’s no wonder that this belief has wormed its way into our collective psyche. After years of repression, it may come as a surprise to learn that sex confers very real health benefits. Not only do masturbation and partnered sex enhance emotional well-being and self-esteem, but sexual activity contributes to over-all physical health. For instance, frequent sex supports immune function and longevity, and sex even reduces risks associated with two of the leading causes of death in the U.S. – heart disease and cancer. Join me on a tour of sexual health research, and find out why sex does your body a world of good.
Sex Helps Us Live Longer
Perhaps one of the most credible studies on the benefits of sex was reported in the British Medical Journal in 1997. Among a thousand men studied, those who experienced orgasm twice or more per week had mortality risks 50 percent lower than men who orgasmed less than once a month. At a ten year follow-up, the group of men who were highly sexually active had suffered half the number of fatal coronary events compared with low sex-frequency men.
Sexual frequency is less important to women’s longevity. What matters, instead, is a history of sexual pleasure. Women who look back upon their lifetime sexual experiences with a satisfied smile live longer than women who don’t. Gals, take note: your long life may depend on having plenty of the kind of sex you feel good about – and only that kind.
Sex Reduces the Risk of Breast Cancer
Sexual arousal may play a role in preventing breast cancer, thanks to the protective effects of oxytocin and DHEA, which spike during excitement and orgasm. Here, women may benefit most from sexual frequency – especially for those who have never been pregnant, since pregnancy carries a risk-reducing factor of its own. What’s more, lack of a sex partner and less than monthly intercourse is correlated with a higher risk of breast cancer.
Though it may not be politically correct these days, other research implies that the more lifetime male partners a woman has, the lower her risk of breast cancer. Sperm is thought to produce an immune response in women, which reduces breast cancer risk, too. Unfortunately, using condoms prevents a woman from coming into contact with sperm antigens.
Sex Reduces the Risk of Prostate Cancer
Men who ejaculate 21 times per month (are you counting?) show a decreased risk of prostate cancer. Each incremental increase of three ejaculations per week throughout one’s lifetime is associated with a 15-percent decrease in the risk of prostate cancer. (Another reason why masturbation is healthy!) What’s more, men who recalled four or more emissions per week in their 20s, 30s, and 40s were one-third less likely to develop prostate cancer than men who reported fewer than three emissions per week over the same decades.
Sex Fights Colds and Flu
Studies show that sexual activity and orgasm seem to bolster the immune system. For instance, when researchers tested the immunoglobulin A (IgA) levels of college students, they found that those who had sexual intercourse once or twice a week had IgA levels 30 percent higher than those who were abstinent. IgA is essential to the immune systems fight against viral invaders. Interestingly, students who had sex more often than once or twice a week had IgA levels similar to those of abstinent students. Hmmmm…could it be that the friskier students enjoyed more late night romps, giving their immune system a heavier load of stress to mediate?
Sex Can Make Us “SuperYoung”
Attention all baby boomers: An active sex life can help you look younger than your years! A study conducted over a period of ten years with 3,500+ people looked at factors that contributed to a youthful appearance. Judges viewed participants through a one-way mirror and then guessed their age; those who were consistently rated seven to twelve years younger than their real age were labeled “superyoung.” On average, the superyoung reported sexual intercourse three times a week in comparison with a control groups average of twice a week. The superyoung were also confident in their sexual identity.
Sex Benefits Reproductive Health
Overall, the sexual and reproductive health of women and men is directly influenced by their sexual experiences. Experience is part of a hormonal feedback loop, which influences the entire reproductive system. Hormone levels are related to feelings of love, libido, arousal, and orgasm – and sexual activity promotes hormone output. The old adage “use it or lose it” now comes with a scientific stamp of approval. Let’s look at some specifics:
Menstruation. Contrary to the belief that sex during a woman’s period is unhealthy, research tells us that sexual activity and orgasm have a potentially protective effect against the development of endometriosis. Plus, orgasm reduces menstrual cramps and acts as a sedative to induce restful sleep.
Fertility. If you want to make a baby, you need to have hot sex often and make sure mama orgasms after papa. Here’s why:
- Frequent sexual activity increases a man’s sperm count and motility. For men who have lower sperm counts, repeated ejaculations within 24 hours can produce as much as a 200% increase. Plus, hotter, more exciting sex seems to improve the quality of any man’s ejaculate.
- Abstinence has the opposite effect; sperm quality decreases when ejaculations cease for as little as 5 days. The lesson for prospective papas is this: Don’t wait for her fertile days to have sex. Ejaculate (with her, or on your own) at least every 3-4 days in the weeks prior to her ovulation.
- When a woman orgasms after her partner ejaculates, semen stays inside her longer, and ten to fifteen minutes of retention is associated with higher rates of pregnancy. Also, oxytocin released during her orgasm assists the sperm’s journey toward the egg. The lesson: After papa ejaculates, keep mama happy by stimulating her hot button until she comes.
Menopause. Both peri-menopausal and menopausal women who are sexually active (whether with a partner or on their own) are less likely to suffer vaginal atrophy as they age, and are more likely to maintain vaginal lubrication. Frequent sexual activity seems to have a protective effect on estrogen levels, and exercises which strengthen pelvic muscles (Kegels) enhance orgasm and guard against uterine and bladder problems later in life.
Andropause. For men 40 and up, frequent erections increase the delivery of oxygen to penile tissues and help keep the penis healthy and functional. In other words, blood flow to the penis begets more of the same – one reason some physicians advocate the use of erection-enhancing drugs prior to sexual stimulation, even if you don’t have a partner. Sustaining blood flow to the penis is no longer viewed as just about sexual performance; it’s a requirement for healthy organ structure, too.
It would seem that our bodies were designed for sexual enjoyment – the more the better, since frequent sex has such a positive impact on nearly every organ system. Respecting sexual pleasure means we respect good health.