If you are already eating your fruits and vegetables, exercising and taking your vitamins, you might ask what more you can do for your health. One answer might please you: Have more sex.
While the impact of sexual activity on health is not a major topic of research, a handful of studies suggest that sex can be good for you. So consider these potential fringe benefits the next time the opportunity for (safe) sex arises:
Even though sex probably burns fewer calories than most aerobic exercise, it can be a workout, depending on how vigorous it is. After all, sex, and particularly sex with orgasm, involves the contraction of muscles in the arms, legs and abdomen. Also, similar to when you hit the gym or play a pick-up game, your heart and breathing rates increase.
On the flip side, regular exercise may rev up your sex life. Since sex requires some stamina, it appears that people who are physically fit may be more likely to have satisfying sex than people who simply shift from their office chair to their couch. Regular exercise may make sex better because it improves muscle tone, cardiovascular fitness and mental health.
A Happy Heart
In a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, British researchers examined whether sex affected the heart health of about 900 middle-aged men. They found that over 10 years, men who had sex twice or more a week had a lower risk of heart attack than men who had sex less often. The findings suggest that sex offers a cardiovascular boost - though it's also possible that men who are already in better physical health simply have more sex.
One study suggests that sexual activity might prevent endometriosis, a common gynecological condition that occurs when the tissue lining the inside of a woman's uterus also grows in other areas, such as on the ovaries or fallopian tubes. This growth can cause pelvic pain and sometimes infertility. The study, published in the journal Gynecologic and Obstetric Investigation, found that women who were sexually active during their periods were 1.5 times less likely to develop endometriosis than women who avoided sex during their periods. The researchers also found that orgasms during menstruation were associated with lower endometriosis risk.
According to study author Dr. Harvey J. Kliman, a research scientist at Yale University School of Medicine, the risk of endometriosis may go up if menstrual debris flows backward into the pelvic area. The contractions of the uterus that occur during sex, and specifically orgasm, may help push the menstrual debris out of the uterus, Kliman explains.
While sexual activity has been thought to increase the risk of prostate cancer, newer research, including a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, indicates that frequent ejaculation might help protect the prostate from cancer. This research supports a smaller Australian study that found that men in their 20s who ejaculated more than five times a week were one-third less likely to develop aggressive prostate cancer than men who ejaculated less often. Ejaculating regularly might lower the risk of the disease because cancer-causing substances get flushed out of the body in the seminal fluid, instead of staying in the prostate.
Satisfying sexual activity can, of course, be an exhilarating mood lifter. If you're in a relationship, says Dr. Carol Rinkleib Ellison, a San Francisco-based psychologist and author of Women's Sexualities, sex can "bring the relationship into harmony and make you and your partner feel closer, so you feel less stressed and more relaxed."
And whether you are having sex with a partner or masturbating, an orgasm itself can also help release tension. During orgasm, there is a surge in a hormone called oxytocin, which may account for both the stronger emotional connection between partners and the tension relief.
Oxytocin appears to regulate blood pressure and body temperature, and is also thought to have a role in relieving pain and promoting healing. Ellison describes an orgasm as a way to "re-boot" your body and mind just as you would re-start a computer. But she notes that focusing too much on having an orgasm can be stressful and sometimes self-defeating. Instead, people should think about successful sex as "mutual erotic pleasure in whatever form it takes."