Health Agenda

Mental Health

Can sex boost your health?

Research shows a healthy sex life is a contributor to both your mental and physical health.

Health Agenda magazine
January 2018

Did you know that sex is actually good for your health? In fact, evidence is increasingly showing that if you keep on engaging in sexual activity throughout your life, it may positively impact your physical and mental health, not to mention strengthen your relationship.

It could even lengthen your lifespan. The Longevity Project, a US study of more than 1,500 people that has been running since 1921, has found that women who regularly have orgasms have lived longer than those who’ve had less. Although researchers don’t yet know exactly why that is, this finding shows you don’t necessarily need a partner to get health benefits from sex.

Brain power

A lot of research has been done on how to keep the brain sharp, and a study published in 2017 suggests one answer could be as simple as having sex. Coventry and Oxford universities looked closely at the brains of men and women over 50, and researchers found that those “who engage in regular sexual activity have better cognitive functioning than those who don’t, or do so infrequently”.

Similarly, researchers at the University of Amsterdam found that sexual thoughts improved analytical thinking. They asked 30 people to imagine a long, loving walk with their partners, and asked 30 others to think of sex with someone they didn’t love. They then gave all 60 participants cognitive tests and discovered that the love-primed ones performed much better on creative tasks and scored worse on analytical questions, whereas the reverse was true for those who thought about sex.

Healthy heart

Physical exercise is beneficial for your ticker and, yes, sex counts. “Sexual activity with your usual partner is comparable to mild to moderate physical activity – the equivalent of climbing stairs or walking briskly for a short duration,” says Dr Garry Jennings, cardiologist and chief medical advisor for the Heart Foundation.  

A mood booster

In today’s busy culture, sex can be one of the first things to get dropped from the priority list, but it may actually help reduce your stress levels. According to sexual health physician Dr Michael Lowy, the body releases chemicals – namely oxytocin and vasopressin, and to a lesser extent dopamine and serotonin – which are all designed to make you feel good.

A 2010 American study on rats backs this up. Rats that had sex daily for 2 weeks had cell growth in the hippocampus (the part of the brain that keeps stress levels under control), and also lower levels of cortisol (the hormone that signals high stress).

Strong relationships

The benefits of sex aren’t just felt by the individual – sex can strengthen a relationship too. According to a 2011 study at La Trobe University in Melbourne, people who were unhappy with the frequency of sex in their relationship were more likely to report lower levels of overall relationship satisfaction.

The lucky number

So the big question is, how much sex should you be having to feel all of these benefits? While the answer to this is highly dependent on the needs of each individual couple, the magic number might be once a week.

“Studies have shown that couples who have sex once a week have a higher level of relational satisfaction than couples who have sex less than once a week. But couples who have sex more than once a week aren’t necessarily more relationally satisfied,” says Dr Kerner.  

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