The Hidden Health Benefits of Sex
Twisting the sheets comes with a slew of body-boosting side effects.
By Cari Wira Dineen
“Having sex regularly can do more than make you feel closer to your partner—it can actually make you physically healthier,” says Hilda Hutcherson, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University and author of Pleasure: A Woman’s Guide to Getting the Sex You Want, Need, and Deserve. Check out a few of the surprising perks you can reap from great sex.
If you’re freaking out about tomorrow’s job interview, slip between the sheets. Research from the University of the West of Scotland reveals that people who had intercourse at least once over two weeks were better able to manage stressful situations such as public speaking, says study author and psychology professor Stuart Brody, Ph.D. That’s because endorphins and oxytocin are released during sex, and these feel-good hormones activate pleasure centers in the brain that create feelings of intimacy and relaxation and help stave off anxiety and depression, says WH advisor Laura Berman, Ph.D., an assistant clinical professor of ob-gyn and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University and author of It’s Not Him, It’s You! You don’t have to climax to net the effects, but you’ll get the biggest surge of soothing hormones if you have an orgasm. Just one more reason to shoot for a stellar finish!
It’s downright dreamy how an O can lull you to sleep. That’s because the same endorphins that help you de-stress can also relax your mind and body, priming you for slumber, says Cindy M. Meston, Ph.D., director of the Sexual Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin and coauthor of Why Women Have Sex. Plus, during orgasm, the hormone prolactin is released. “Prolactin levels are naturally higher when we sleep, which suggests a strong relationship between the two,” she says. But if you’re wild in the sack, take note: Highly active sex can make you feel more energized than sleepy. Sex should never be a snooze, but if you want to use knocking boots as a sleep aid, skip the acrobatics and opt for a subdued session.
Talk about flipping the script: “Yes, tonight, honey—I have a headache.” The surge of hormones released after an orgasm can help ease any annoying ache, whether it’s a strained back or a head pounder, says Meston. A study conducted at the Headache Clinic at Southern Illinois University found that half of female migraine sufferers reported relief after climaxing. “The endorphins that are released during an orgasm closely resemble morphine, and they effectively relieve pain,” says Meston. Have a migraine but your man isn’t around? Self-medicate by treating yourself with some solo sex. As long as you hit your peak, masturbating will have the same soothing effect.
There’s nothing sexy about sneezing, wheezing, or that runny-nose look. But getting hot and bothered can help you avoid coming down with the sniffles: People who have sex were found to have higher levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A (IgA), according to researchers at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania. These antibodies help combat diseases and keep the body safe from colds and flu. Save up your sick days and use them as sex days!
A Youthful Glow
Get busy to get gorgeous: In a study conducted at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital in Scotland, a panel of judges viewed participants through a one-way mirror and guessed their ages. Those who were enjoying lots of nooky with a steady partner—four times a week, on average—were perceived to be seven to 12 years younger than their actual age. Regular sex promotes the release of hormones, including testosterone and estrogen, which can keep the body looking young and vital; estrogen has also been shown to promote soft skin and shiny hair, says Meston. Move over, moisturizer—time to turn back the clock with some shagging.
Lighter Periods (with Fewer Cramps)
“When a woman orgasms, her uterus contracts and, in the process, rids the body of cramp-causing compounds,” explains Meston. The increased number of uterine contractions can also help expel blood and tissue more quickly, helping to end your period faster, she adds.
Going horizontal while menstruating has also been shown to help decrease the risk for endometriosis, a common condition in which uterine tissue grows outside of the uterus, causing pelvic pain and sex that hurts, according to researchers at Yale University School of Medicine.
Sex during your period may not sound too appealing, but don’t stress over making a mess. Just lay down a dark-colored towel and stick to missionary; when you’re lying down, your flow tends to be lighter, says WH advisor Michelle Callahan, Ph.D., author of Ms. Typed: Stop Sabotaging Your Relationships and Find Dating Success.
A More Toned Bod
Sex counts as cardio! A romp can burn anywhere from 85 to 250 calories, depending on the length of the session (obviously a quickie will be less strenuous than an all-night pleasurefest), says Meston. In fact, cardiologists consider sexual activity comparable to a modest workout on a treadmill, according to a study published in The American Journal of Cardiology.
Not only will your ticker get a workout, but you’ll also squeeze in some sculpting: “Your abs and the muscles in your back, butt, and thighs get a good workout as you thrust during sex,” says Hutcherson. Looks like you have a pretty good reason to skip spin class on Sunday morning and work up a sweat in bed.