Sex is used in advertising to sell everything from new cars to magazines but beyond being a way to make babies, it also has many health benefits. The healthy exploration of our bodies through intimacy and pleasure was looked down upon for centuries by the church yet it is central to a spiritual life. The negative effects of stress on our well-being have become a focus for those who are seeking a more balanced lifestyle. Sex is a great medicine to de-stress, boost your immune system, have fun, and deepen your connection with a loved one. It is not purely a physical act so including these spiritual, and emotional components will greatly enhance the experience and therapeutic value of sex.
Setting the stage for ecstasy
The traditional sex and stress reduction article will have lists of positive qualities proven by research, but it is important to take it beyond the surface level you might find in a pop-culture magazine. Don’t worry, we’ll have a nice list for you too but it is important to recognize that connection and intimacy make all the difference in a sexual experience. This starts with a deep respect for yourself and your partner and is enhanced by honesty, authentic communication, and trust. Whether single, in a relationship, or married, these truths prevail.
Having sex and orgasms increases levels of the hormone oxytocin, the so-called love hormone, which helps us bond and build trust. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of North Carolina evaluated 59 premenopausal women before and after warm contact with their husbands and partners ending with hugs. They found that the more contact, the higher the oxytocin levels. ‘Oxytocin allows us to feel the urge to nurture and to bond. Higher oxytocin has also been linked with a feeling of generosity.” -Patti Britton, PhD
The above quote is true but a long hug with a close friend or cuddling will also boost your oxytocin levels without the more addictive and potent spike of a dopamine rush. The variations of emotional and chemical reaction from sex and intimacy are described in detail in the Neurobiology of Love and Relationships. None of this is meant to discourage sex at all. In fact, it is a great way to increase your quality of sex. Passionate encounters that come from a place of health and balance instead of emotional neediness and desperation always produce the best results.
Good sexual health may mean better physical health. Having sex once or twice a week has been linked with higher levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A or IgA, which can protect you from getting colds and other infections. Scientists at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., took samples of saliva, which contain IgA, from 112 college students who reported the frequency of sex they had. Those in the ‘frequent’ group — once or twice a week — had higher levels of IgA than those in the other three groups — who reported being abstinent, having sex less than once a week, or having it very often, three or more times weekly.” -Medicinenet
The benefits of sex
The cardiovascular benefits of sex are proven but can also be achieved through a good hike in the woods which will also release feel-good endorphins. The movement and opening of the hips can release stress and tension stored in the psoas, but can be achieved also through yoga. A meaningful conversation in a safe setting can relax the nervous system and create a deep sense of connection in a similar way that sex does.
Exploring one’s cultural and personal hang-ups around sex is also a great way to connect, find liberation, and ecstasy. Though other activities can have similar stress-reducing and health benefits, nothing in the world compares to good sex. It is simultaneously one of the most powerful experiences we can have yet it is entwined with pure vulnerability. The interplay between these two energies can be quite erotic.
We speculate that another factor is more significant for orgasm than the action of oxytocin alone. The two sources of sensation (breast-nipple and cervix-vagina) that converge on the paraventricular nucleus may interact with each other there (e.g., breast stimulation altering the sen- sory quality of concurrent vaginal stimulation) and activate the par- aventricular nucleus, which in turn projects to, and activates, a neural system that generates the perceptual experience of orgasm.” -Functional MRI of the Brain During Orgasm In Women by Barry R. Komisaruk and Beverly Whipple at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Let’s talk about orgasms
Now that we have established some grounding in the emotional, spiritual realm as a foundation for the most therapeutic benefits of sex, let’s explore the orgasm. It is important to note that the experience of orgasm physiologically is different for men and women, though the health effects are similar. Also of interest is that orgasms from self-pleasuring versus orgasms from a partner have different effects on the brain. The experience physiologically is as complex as it is enjoyable and fulfilling.
Brain regions activated during orgasm included the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus, amygdala, accumbens-bed nucleus of the stria terminalis-preoptic area, hippocampus, basal ganglia (especially putamen), cerebellum, and anterior cingulate, insular, parietal and frontal cortices, and lower brainstem (central gray, mesencephalic reticular formation, and NTS).” -Barry R. Komisaruk and Beverly Whipple
While the topic is written about everywhere, many of the articles about orgasms point back to Barry Komisaruk. Sexual arousal brings blood, increased circulation, and nutrients to the organs in the pelvis. Women who orgasm at least once a week have shown to have more regular menstrual cycles. The endorphins released help to flush the stress-related hormone, cortisol, out of the system leading to better sleep and deep relaxation. Increased dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) hormone levels in the body result in all kinds of positive health benefits, including improved memory and brain function, while lowering the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. David Weeks, a clinical neuropsychologist at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, states in his book, Secrets of the Super Young, that frequent orgasms can make you look up to 10 years younger. Komisaruk has also discovered through brain imaging that orgasms increase blood flow to brain centers unlocking altered states of consciousness.
Additional benefits include:
- Lowered Blood Pressure
- Elevated Immune System through increased immunoglobulin A or IgA.
- Burns Calories
- Sex Improves Heart Health
- Better Self-Esteem
- Deeper Intimacy
- Natural Pain Relief
- More Ejaculations May Make Prostate Cancer Less Likely
- Stronger Pelvic Floor Muscles
- Better Sleep
Read more and see citations at Dr. Dhyia
Despite what advertisers might want you to think, sex is not the same as buying a car. Many of the benefits can also be achieved non-sexually, and the sexual benefits are increased if there is a spiritual or emotional connection with your partner. Rather than seeking a “silver bullet”, reducing stress is a process that happens naturally when you make better lifestyle choices. Whether you are single, in a relationship, or married, you will always be more sexually attractive to a potential partner if you eat well, and are spiritually in tune. Sex reduces stress, but so do all the steps along the way to having a healthy sex life!
Feature Image Credit: AlexGrey.com