Marvin Gaye was right, it is good for us
A celebration of human pleasure, our senses and often our souls, sex is an all-encompassing act that also happens to confer many health benefits. Sex may be shrouded in moral mystery to some, and an endless pursuit to others, but its healing properties are anything but taboo.
Having sex is like doing a workout:; approximately 200 calories are burnt after a single vigorous session of sexual intercourse. Sex exercises the muscles in our pelvis, thighs, buttocks, arms neck and thorax and conditions our cardiovascular system.
Two hormones released during sex, dehydroepiandrostone and testosterone have been linked to fortifying bones and muscles, and reducing the risk of heart disease as well as protecting the heart muscle after an attack.
Several studies in men have shown that those who had an orgasm two or three times a week, compared to those who only had an orgasm once a month, had half the risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke and lived longer. Women who have frequent sex may also increase their longevity through the increase in estrogen, which can help avoid heart disease. Furthermore, studies have linked frequent sex in women with reduced incidence of breast cancer, suicide and depression.
During sex, our bodies release endorphins (natural opiates), that give us the sense of euphoria, and act like natural painkillers. Studies have shown that direct stimulation of the anterior vaginal wall (the ‘G’ spot) or clitoris, lead to a pain numbing effect with the greatest effect being felt during orgasm. These endorphins last for several hours post orgasm and with other hormones released during sex, relieve the pain from many ailments such as premenstrual tension, arthritis and migraines. Evidently, having the classical headache is more of a reason to have sex, than a reason not to.
Amongst the mélange of chemicals released during sex is oxytocin whose levels surge five times its normal levels during orgasm. Oxytocin is multitasked, acting on the uterus during childbirth, stimulating lactation, regulating body temperature, blood pressure, relieving pain, and enhancing wound-healing (people who have regular sex heal their wounds faster than those who have less sex).
Oxytocin is also involved in reducing stress hormone levels, depression and anxiety (stress and anxiety relief were two of the main reasons why people masturbate). The emotional attachment and cuddly feeling we often have towards our partner after sex may be due to this “love hormone, as studies have found the highest levels of oxytocin in people who are in love.
That sex has been the subject of so many artists, novelists, poets and scholars is not surprising when you think of all the chemicals it induces to swirl in our brains, stimulating our pleasure centers.
One key chemical is dopamine, which, during orgasm, flushes our pleasure centers the way one huge rush of heroin would. In men, post orgasm, dopamine decreases rapidly, while another chemical, prolactin increases, to curb our sexual appetite. Prolactin determines the man’s “recovery time, and is involved in sexual satisfaction, and sleepiness post coitus.
Thus, contrary to what you may think, his falling asleep is actually a good sign; orgasm from sexual intercourse releases four hundred times more prolactin than masturbation. Ejaculating also confers protection against developing prostrate cancer due to the ejection of toxins that would otherwise be left to fester. Men’s semen is apparently full of nutrients, such as zinc and calcium and has been found to deter tooth problems; a good reason to please him.
Further benefits to regular sex include keeping us looking younger (studies have shown regular sex was the second most important parameter in youthful appearance, after exercise); boosting our immune system (immunity is higher in people who have sex one or twice weekly than in those who abstain); release of a natural amphetamine (phenetylamine) that curbs our appetite; reducing our cravings for junk food and addictive substances like cigarettes; improving fertility in women and regulating menstrual cycles; increasing our self esteem (“sex begets sex due to the pheromones released that may actually make us more attractive to the opposite sex).
Many of these benefits of sex are confounded when it comes to promiscuity and sex with someone other than your partner (if you have one) as other factors such as stress, anxiety, sexual diseases and unwanted pregnancy come into play. Although too much sex may be detrimental for men’s health because of depletion of nutrients and straining of penile tissues, too much sex for women does not seem to have any contraindications.
Kissing has many of the benefits of sex without many of its complications and may be a delightful alternative or prelude to sex. But if your libido is not quite up to scratch (or caress), tune in next week when a full menu of libido stimulating substances will be discussed.
May El Meleigy holds a Ph.D in Immunology (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine), an MSc in Toxicology/Pathology (Royal Postgraduate Medical School, London) and a BSc in Pharmacology (University College London). May is a medical and health journalist, and is a regular contributor to the British Medical Journal, Lancet, and WHO bulletin. May also produces health programs for Egyptian Television