Valentine’s Day – Top 10 Health Benefits of Love & Sex
Kate Hanley – Published
Ah, love and its frequent companion, sex. People spend countless hours pursuing these two heights of human experience. But is the rush of positive emotions and the physical pleasure worth all the drama? Or are romantic pursuits, like Valentine’s Day, over-hyped?
When it comes to your health, that swooning in your stomach and aching in your loins offer an undeniable boon of benefits that are supported by reams of research. Whether you’re a hopeless romantic or a hardened cynic, whether you’re growing weary of the search to find love or are wondering where the heat in your relationship has gone, here are the top 10 health reasons to keep seeking that emotional and physical connection with another person.
#1 Less stress
You know a good roll in the hay can take your mind off your worries. Researchers have documented this link and theorize that it is due in part to the release of oxytocin, the hormone that helps us feel bonded to others and triggers feelings of comfort and relaxation. A 2007 study found that middle-aged women who reported having sex one day enjoyed a better mood and less stress on the following day. Even better, this improved mental state predicted more affectionate touching and sexual activity with a partner on the day after that — creating a self-perpetuating upward spiral of satisfaction.
And it’s not just sex that has a calming effect: A 2009 Japanese study found that subjects who were shown romantic films experienced a change in heart rate variability (which measures how quickly the heart rate recovers from a stressful event) that only comes when the parasympathetic nervous system is activated — the portion of the central nervous system that triggers the relaxation response. And in a University of Zurich study of women about to undergo a stressful event, such as a speaking engagement, those who received a neck and shoulder rub from their partner had significantly lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and less intense stress-related spikes in heart rate.
#2 Longer life
Contrary to the messages we get that high levels of sexual activity are somehow dangerous — either through exposure to potentially life-threatening STDs or by fostering an appetite for risky behavior — there is plenty of research to promote the opposite view: More sex leads to longer life. A Welsh study that followed 918 men aged 45 to 59 for 10 years found that those who had two or more orgasms per week had 50 percent fewer instances of mortality than those who had low or no incidence of sexual activity. A similar study followed 252 people in North Carolina for 25 years; at follow-up, men who reported having frequent intercourse lived significantly longer than those who didn’t. Sorry, ladies, the researchers didn’t find the same correlation in women. However, they did find that women who reported enjoying their sexual encounters over the years lived longer than women who didn’t.
#3 More youthful appearance
Forget painful Botox appointments and expensive skin creams. If you want to look younger than your years, have more sex. In a fascinating study, a panel of judges observed 3,500 participants — a group of men and women from Europe and America — through a one-way mirror with the directive to guess the age of each subject. The people who were perceived to be seven to 12 years younger than their actual age were found to have sex an average of three times per week (as opposed to the control group, which had sex an average of twice per week).
#4 Stronger muscles for men and women
French researchers may have figured out why King Kong was so unstoppable when in pursuit of his beloved. An even mix of male and female participants in a 2009 study were shown a series of pictures that were chosen for their ability to elicit either a negative, neutral or positive state of arousal. After looking at each picture, they performed a feat of physical strength in hopes of winning a monetary reward. The subjects produced more force — and reported feeling the least amount of physical effort — after being shown photographs that were rated the most arousing.
#5 Clearer thinking
You may think that being in love overrides logic, but a 2006 Swiss study begs to differ. Women in love performed much better on a cognitive task when they were subliminally exposed to a beloved’s name. And a 2006 Columbia University study found that experiencing powerful emotions enhanced memory: Both men and women performed better on tests of long-term (in this instance, one week) memory recall after being shown emotionally arousing images.
#6 Improved heart health
Although sex may not qualify as an intense cardio workout, it does offer a demonstrable benefit to the old ticker: A study that followed Welsh men for 10 years found that those who had sex at least twice a week had half the incidences of fatal coronaries than men who had sex only once a month. A 2009 study of American men found a similar result: Those who had sex at least twice a week had a significantly lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease than men who had sex once a month or less.
Sex can also be beneficial for your blood pressure. In a 2006 Scottish study, people who had engaged in vaginal intercourse in the previous two weeks had lower blood pressure after giving a speech to an unfriendly audience than those who had not engaged in any sexual behavior, or had masturbated, or who had sexual activity that did not include intercourse.
#7 Stronger relationships
Relationship satisfaction is strengthened when both partners are sexually satisfied: In a 2008 Finnish study, researchers found that in couples aged 33 to 43, relationship satisfaction was highest in those couples who had sexual intercourse and sessions of kissing and petting as often as they hoped. In fact, a mutually satisfying sex life can even compensate for less than ideal communication in a relationship, according to 2005 study by researchers at the University of Tennessee.
#8 Pain relief
Sufferers of chronic pain, take note: Orgasm has been shown to raise the pain threshold. “We know that orgasm releases neurotransmitters into the spinal fluid that have a very strong pain-blocking effect,” says Beverly Whipple, PhD, a prominent researcher on women’s sexuality, professor emerita at Rutgers University, and the author of The G Spot and Other Discoveries About Human Sexuality. “We’ve shown in the lab that these neurotransmitters elevate pain thresholds by 80 percent. For women with chronic pain from conditions such as arthritis and whiplash, orgasm can help the pain disappear. Others have reported that it can help headaches go away.” Indeed, research has found that having an orgasm resolves migraines in nearly half of study participants. (There is also a reported phenomenon of orgasm-induced migraines, and 5 percent of study participants reported those happening.)
#9 Stronger immunity
A 2004 study interviewed students at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and found that those who had sexual activity one to two times per week had higher levels of immunoglobulin A — a vital component of the immune system — in their saliva than students who reported having infrequent (less than once a week) sexual encounters. Interestingly, those students who claimed to be having sex more than three times a week had IgA levels similar to those who had infrequent sex, suggesting that perhaps there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
#10 Reduced risk of some cancers
A French study found that women with a long history of having frequent sex without a condom had a significantly lower risk of developing breast cancer than women who either didn’t have frequent sex or who had sex with condoms, suggesting there is some protective effect of regular exposure to semen. (We will now pause for all the men reading this to beam with pride.)
Men benefit from these cancer-protective benefits too: A 2003 Australian study interviewed 2,000 men in their fifties and sixties. Those who claimed to have had four or more ejaculations per week (from intercourse and masturbation) during their twenties, thirties and forties had one-third the risk of developing prostate cancer of those men who had three or fewer ejaculations during the same decades. Similarly, a 2004 U.S. study that interviewed 50,000 middle-aged men found that the more ejaculations the men had each week during the course of their lives, the less likely they were to develop prostate cancer.