If you’re trying to bust the blues or beat stress, you may be overlooking one of the easiest and most natural cures — healthy sex. Studies show that intercourse can help the body and mind by reducing tension and improving your mood. And, hey, it’s fun.
The Good Life
Study after study shows that people with a healthy sex life experience a greater sense of well-being. One analysis of the sex practices of middle-age adults showed a correlation between sexual activity and a better current (and future!) quality of life. Listen up, ladies: The more you have sex, the higher your personal happiness is likely to be. Guys, that’s true for you too, but you probably didn’t need us to tell you that!
“We don’t know nearly enough about the intricacies of what makes sex have certain physical benefits,” admits Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH, sexual health educator at the Kinsey Institute and author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction. “However, sexual satisfaction and relationship satisfaction are closely linked. When people feel happy and satisfied in their relationships, that may in some ways protect them from depression, anxiety or other health risks.”
De-stress with Sex
Some research, however, does draw a direct link between actual intercourse (specifically between men and women) and reduced stress. The upshot is that if you have to give a speech, get in some nookie. In a 2005 study, British researchers tracked men and women’s sexual activity over a two-week period. Participants were then put through two notably tension-producing activities: speaking in public and doing math problems aloud in front of an audience.
Using blood pressure to gauge stress reactions, the researchers found that those who had done the horizontal monkey mambo fared the best under pressure — they started off with lower baselines, experienced less of a rise in blood pressure and returned to normal levels the quickest. The researchers found that those who hadn’t had sex at all had the highest blood pressure reaction out of everyone.
The Bonding Factor
One theory about the connection between sexual activity and contentment focuses on the release of oxytocin into your system during orgasm by both men and women. Oxytocin, Greek for “quick birth” and known as the “cuddle” or “love” hormone, is thought to promote bonding and intimacy with your partner. (In women, it’s also released during labor and breastfeeding, and promotes bonding between mothers and their newborns.) Oxytocin is also thought to be responsible for the release of endorphins, which are natural pain killers and mood boosters.
Additionally, research suggests that there’s a link between oxytocin, reduced stress and emotional intimacy. Beverly Whipple, PhD, author of The G Spot and Other Discoveries About Human Sexuality, explains that oxytocin combats cortisol, the stress hormone. “There is an inverse correlation between amounts of oxytocin and cortisol,” Dr. Whipple says. “The more oxytocin, the less cortisol.” Conversely, she says, research shows that people with low levels of oxytocin tend to have higher incidences of anxiety disorders.
So, the next time you feel stressed (particularly if you have to give a presentation the next day or so), snag a snuggle with your partner!