13 Reasons Why Sex Is Good For Your Health
There are health benefits of sex—it can help you feel happier, calmer, and more bonded to your partner.
Why sex can be good for your health
Is sex good for your health? Although you clearly can survive without it, sex may indeed offer some health benefits.
“Sex causes a cascade of positive changes both in your body and your mind,” says Wendy Walsh, a clinical psychologist, author, and professor of psychology at California State University. Sex can cause the release of powerful brain chemicals and help balance sex hormones. It also increases blood flow throughout your body, benefitting everything from your heart to your brain.
Then there are the mental and emotional benefits of good sex (defined as consensual, and whatever you and your partner deem is good). While they may not be as obvious, they also have a powerful effect on your overall health and well-being, she says. Sex can help you feel happier, calmer, and more bonded to your partner.
(If you’re looking to have better sex, adopt these habits of connected couples.)
The importance of quality sex
If you enjoy having sex, then any sex—solo or coupled, good or meh—can offer benefits. “Sex doesn’t have to be full-on sex every time,” Walsh says. “If you’re waiting for perfect sex, it’s never going to happen. Even a quickie is better than nothing.”
Simply spending time with your partner, physically touching, releases oxytocin, the hormone associated with empathy, trust, and relationship-building. That, in turn, helps you feel more relaxed and connected. However, if you really want to reap all the health rewards, go for quality and quantity, says Walsh. (Make sure you’re not falling for these myths about sex.)
Sex doesn’t need to include orgasm
Having an orgasm releases a burst of endorphins, the brain chemicals responsible for many of the health benefits of sex, says Laura Deitsch, a licensed clinical professional counselor and sexologist in Las Vegas. But that’s not to suggest sex has to include an orgasm every time. And don’t feel guilty if it doesn’t happen for you or your partner. It’s important, however, to at least try to make sure both of you fully enjoy sex, says Deitsch.
When it comes to how often to have sex, go with what feels right for you. If you enjoy sex and are looking to increase your frequency, “give sex as high a priority as you do to anything else in your life that you consider important,” Deitsch says. (Here are the ways to enjoy better sex as you age.)
By choice or by circumstance, not everyone has a partner. That doesn’t mean you can’t still take advantage of the benefits of an orgasm, Deitsch says. Masturbation is a good way to release those endorphins and feel relaxed. It can also help you become more in tune with your body and what you like so when you do partner up, you’ll be able to enjoy it more. (You may want to consider one of these affordable adult sex toys.)
However, there are instances where too many solo encounters can make sex with a partner more difficult, says Cyndi Darnell, certified clinical sexologist and psychotherapist in New York City. It’s not often talked about, but men and women can become so used to a particular style of masturbation that they struggle to have orgasms in conventional ways, she says. This can make partnered sex less satisfying for them, she explains. (Here’s what doctors want you to know about compulsive masturbation.)
Potential health benefits of sex
Regardless of how you get there, if you like sex, making time for it is worth it. Check out its potential mental and physical health benefits for both men and women. (Just avoid these sex mistakes everyone makes sometimes.)
Get a brain boost
Stuck on a difficult challenge at work? Getting busy in bed may help.
Having sex is associated with better cognition, according to a study published in the Journals of Gerontology in 2019. In a survey, 73 adults between the ages of 50 and 83, were asked how often they had sex and were then given a cognitive test that evaluated different types of mental abilities. Both men and women who reported having sex at least once a week scored higher on the test overall, showing the biggest benefits in verbal fluency and memory, compared to people who had sex less often or never.
This type of study can’t prove that the sex was the cause of better cognition, but sex increases blood flow to your brain, so it makes sense that people might feel more cognitively aware afterward, Darnell says. (You can also eat these foods that will make you smarter.)
Chronic stress is linked with health problems, including everything from heart attacks to migraines. So anything that reduces stress may benefit your overall health and well-being, Deitch says. Pleasurable activities, including having sex, can reduce your perception of stress and induce a sense of calm and relaxation, according to a rodent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Researchers allowed rats to partake in naturally rewarding activities—like eating comfort foods and having sex—and then measured their neuroendocrine, cardiovascular, and behavioral responses to stress. They found that pleasurable activities all had a stress-dampening effect. This was likely due to physical changes in the brain and an increase in dopamine. That’s the brain chemical associated with a happier, more relaxed mood. It’s important to note that this study was done in rats, so these findings must be replicated in humans to be applicable.
(Also, try these stress relief tips.)
Reduce insomnia and sleep better
Sex can be a way to unwind before bed, Walsh says. There’s a reason why so many people feel like going to sleep immediately after sex, she adds. However, this may be easier said than done, especially if you’ve had an exhausting day.
If you know it would help you sleep better, but you’re feeling too tired to engage after a long day, Walsh has a tip. She suggests taking a few quiet moments to think about why you do like sex and remember how mind-blowing an orgasm can be.
(You can also try CBD oil for insomnia.)
Feel less pain
Sex releases endorphins and one of the best-known benefits of endorphins is their ability to act as an analgesic, reducing the perception of pain, both physically and emotionally, Deitsch says. They possess “morphine-like” effects and create a natural reward circuit for sex, according to a study in the Hawaii Medical Journal on beta-endorphins—a hormone that’s produced by the pituitary gland that blocks the feeling of pain. The researchers looked at the role endorphins can play in reducing pain from surgery. But the effects seem to apply to physical pain in general.
“This is one of the ways we are programmed to enjoy sex,” Deitsch says. “But we often give it a low priority, causing us to miss out on one of nature’s best remedies.” (Here’s how one woman revived her sex life after menopause.)
Live a longer, happier life
Oxytocin, the “love” hormone, is a powerful brain chemical released during sex. It’s also released when you’re hugging, kissing, or cuddling. It can help create a tight, loving bond with your partner, Walsh says.
Oxytocin itself provides health benefits. But people who feel bonded to their partner in a loving relationship, experience better health in general and live longer, according to a study published in Psychological Science in 2019. Researchers followed over 4,000 couples, most of whom were heterosexual, ages 50 and over, for eight years. They found that those in a happy relationship, particularly those whose spouse reported being satisfied, enjoyed a 13 percent reduced risk of death during that time. This was true despite the couples’ household wealth, demographic differences, and baseline health.
“A relationship is, at its core, an exchange of care that benefits both partners and sex is one way to show that care,” Walsh says.
Lower your risk of cardiovascular disease
An intense session of sex may increase the risk of a heart attack in the short-term, particularly in people who are already at risk for heart disease. Meanwhile, over time, a healthy sex life can potentially reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Part of it is due to the release of oxytocin, which has anti-inflammatory and heart-protective effects, while also helping to improve your vascular system and your metabolism, according to a study published in the Brazilian Journal of Biological and Medical Research in 2014. Researchers examined the structure of rodent and human hearts and found that oxytocin plays a role in five different cardiovascular functions. They then induced heart attacks in the rats and found that giving them an intravenous injection of oxytocin improved cardiac healing and heart function, reduced inflammation, and stimulated the development of new blood vessels.
The more foreplay you do, the more oxytocin is released. Even just a warm hug, a passionate kiss or some skin-to-skin contact can get it flowing, Walsh says.
(This is what happens to your brain when you have sex.)
It counts as exercise—a bit
Researchers asked 21 heterosexual couples in their 20s to wear armbands. These armbands measured their heart rates during sex. Researchers then used that data to calculate each person’s calorie burn.
They found that in a moderately active 24-minute sex session, men burned an average of 101 calories and women burned about 69 calories, according to the study published in PLOS One in 2013. This calorie burn isn’t as big as a gym workout or a run. But when you include them with other forms of incidental activity you get during your day, it can add up.
Fortify your mental health
Having sex floods your brain with serotonin, a neurotransmitter known to affect mood, according to the PNAS study. “Having an orgasm is a powerful and immediate way to boost your mood,” Deitsch says.
Boost your immune system
Thirty premenopausal women had blood drawn at four different points during their menstrual cycle and those who had sex at least once a week had more T-helper cells than women who abstained, according to a study published in 2015 in Fertility and Sterility. These cells help your immune system adapt to different attacks by destroying ingested microbes and killing infected target cells.
A separate study of 112 college students, published in Psychological Reports, found that both genders showed a stronger immune response when they had sex one or two times per week. Researchers collected saliva samples and found that those who frequently had sex had higher levels of immunoglobulin A, a class of antibodies used as a first-line defense of the immune system.
(Here are some sex facts you probably didn’t know.)
Boost pregnancy odds
Having trouble getting pregnant? Having more sex may sound like a no-brainer, but the key is to have more sex overall, not just during ovulation. Women who have more frequent sex, even during the “less fertile” parts of their menstrual cycle, are more likely to conceive, according to the Fertility and Sterility study. Being sexually active may cause changes in the body that make it more favorable for conception.
(Having trouble conceiving? Here are surprising reasons you’re not getting pregnant.)
Reduce job-related stress
Enjoying your work is a key component of good health. As it turns out, having sex is also linked with improved job satisfaction and greater engagement at work, according to a review of studies published in 2017 in the Journal of Management. Researchers aggregated studies of married, employed people and found that those who engaged in sex reported more positive moods the next day. These elevated mood levels in the morning led to more sustained work engagement and job satisfaction throughout the workday. The effect was seen in both men and women and lasted for at least 24 hours.
(Also, here are some short positive quotes to boost your mood.)
Enjoy a better sex life
Good sex leads to more good sex and then great sex, Darnell says. The more good sex you have, the more you’re likely to enjoy it and want to do it more often, creating a positive cycle of sex and health benefits, she says. Remember, good sex is what you and your partner think works best for you. (This is one of the things sex therapists wish you knew.)
“Achieving climax can boost self-esteem, improve your self-image, and make you feel happier with your body,” Dietsch says. There’s a chemical reason: The endorphins and hormones give you a natural mood boost which can translate to positive vibes. But there’s also a psychological reason: Seeing yourself through a lover’s eyes is one of the most powerful affirmations there is.
Having a good sense of self-esteem benefits not just your mental health, but also your physical health by encouraging you to take loving care of your sexy body. But a healthy sex life can do a lot for your overall health. you don’t need to achieve climax to boost self-esteem. (You can also try these instant self-confidence boosters.)
- Cyndi Darnell, certified clinical sexologist and psychotherapist in New York City
- Wendy Walsh, PhD, a clinical psychologist, author, and professor of Psychology at California State University
- Laura Deitsch, DHS, a licensed clinical professional counselor and sexologist in Las Vegas
- The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological and Social Sciences: "Frequent Sexual Activity Predicts Specific Cognitive Abilities in Older Adults"
- Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: "Pleasurable behaviors reduce stress via brain reward pathways"
- Fertility and Sterility: "Sexual activity modulates shifts in TH1/TH2 cytokine profile across the menstrual cycle: an observational study"
- Physiology and Behavior: "Interaction of menstrual cycle phase and sexual activity predicts mucosal and systemic humoral immunity in healthy women"
- Journal of Management: "From the Bedroom to the Office: Workplace Spillover Effects of Sexual Activity at Home"
- PLOS One: "Energy Expenditure during Sexual Activity in Young Healthy Couples"
- Hawaii Medical Journal: "Understanding Endorphins and Their Importance in Pain Management"
- Psychological Science: "Having a Happy Spouse Is Associated With Lowered Risk of Mortality"
- Brazilian Journal of Biological and Medical Research: "The role of oxytocin in cardiovascular regulation"
- Psychological Reports: "Sexual Frequency and Salivary Immunoglobulin A (IgA)"