Why eat an apple a day, when sex may keep the doctor away?
by Karen Kreps
I’d heard a little about the health benefits associated with having a good sex life, and I wanted to know more. So I turned to the Google search engine to find research published on the Internet. What I discovered was an overwhelming amount of scientific data showing that, when conducted without risk of communicable disease or pregnancy, active sexual behavior contributes many important health benefits.
Sexual activity has been credited with reducing the risk of the two leading causes of death in America: heart disease and cancer. Arousal and release may contribute to a longer life, a heightened immune system, more restful sleep, and sexual and reproductive health. It’s even recommended for pain management. That’s in addition to a host of psychological, emotional and social benefits.
If more of us knew about these health benefits, we’d be copulating like rabbits. Insurance companies would lower rates frequent fliers. This information ought to be taught in schools. Here’s an informal compilation of some of the things I learned.
The risk of heart disease is inversely linked to levels of the libido-rich hormones dehydroepiandrostone (DHEA, which is released with orgasm) and testosterone (which influences sex drive for men and women). Both of these reduce the risk of heart disease and can protect the muscles of the heart after a heart attack.
One study revealed a significant statistical link between sexual frigidity, sexual dissatisfaction and a history of heart attack in women. Another study found that men who had sex at least twice a week experienced half the number of heart attacks over a decade as did men who had intercourse less than once a month. Another study identified a similar advantage for men who reported a high frequency of orgasm.
Frequent sexual activity has been tied to reduced risk of breast cancer in women and of prostate cancer in men. Researchers suspect the relationship may involve some interaction between the hormones oxytocin, estrogen and testosterone, affecting their roles in cell signaling and cell division.
A recent study found an inverse relationship between frequency of orgasm and incidence of breast cancer. Several (though not all) investigations have shown that, the more sex partners a man has in his lifetime, the greater his risk for prostate cancer. Fortunately, no similar equation was found in another study measuring the frequency of ejaculation.
Under stress the body produces chemicals known to promote growth of prostate cells, potentially leading to the development of tumors. Researchers at the National Cancer Institute theorized that frequent ejaculation flushes out chemical carcinogens that tend to accumulate in the prostate gland.
Sex may someday prove effective in warding off the common cold. Compared to those who abstained from sex, individuals who had sex once or twice a week produced thirty percent higher levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A, which is known to boost the immune system. Interestingly, those who had sex more than twice a week showed the same level of the antibody as did the abstinent group.
You may have experienced the restful sleep that follows sexual release. Orgasm stimulates a surge in oxytocin and endorphins that may act as a sedative.
Fertility (as well as overall health) has a strong link to menstrual regularity. The more often women had sex, the more regular were their menstrual periods. Scientists concluded that frequent intercourse may enhance fertility by promoting regular menstrual patterns.
The body’s pain-killing center in the midbrain is activated during peak arousal. Gentle pressure on the G-spot raises pain thresholds by forty percent. During orgasm women can tolerate up to 110 percent more pain. The midbrain instructs the body to release endorphins and corticosteroids. For several minutes these can numb the nerve endings responsible for various kinds of discomfort, from menstrual cramps to arthritis.
Some women gain relief from menstrual cramps with masturbation. Activation of the midbrain has a calming effect that reduces anxiety. In one study, one in two migraine sufferers found relief in the analgesic effects of orgasm. Although it wasn’t as reliable and effective for treatment of migraines as were drug therapies, it was faster-acting.
Much more information about the health benefits of the sex act is available on the web. A white paper published for Planned Parenthood in cooperation with The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality summarized most of what I learned.
The authors of that paper point out that most research on sexuality remains focused on sexual dysfunction, disease, and unwanted pregnancy—the negative outcomes of sexual expression. We know a lot about the health risks, but research is just beginning to explore the health benefits. In 2001 the Surgeon General of the United States urged all Americans to begin a candid dialogue about sex, sexuality, sexual health and sexual behavior. David Satcher, MD and PhD, declared, “These efforts will not only have an impact on the current health status of our nation, but lay the groundwork for a healthier society for future generations.”