From better mood to brain power, here are five ways sex can make you healthier
If you need the motivation to choose hot action in bed over the action on telly this weekend, we’ve rounded up the major health reasons to have sex tonight – or any night. In fact, making love could be one of the few pleasures in life that is genuinely good for you, say researchers. A new study from Coventry University has even just found that frequent sexual activity in older adults can boost brain power.
Researchers found that people who engaged in more regular sexual activity scored higher on tests that measured their verbal fluency and their ability to visually perceive objects and the spaces between them. But what other ways can sex help us out on our health kick?
1. BETTER MOOD
The evidence suggests that the ‘feelgood’ effect of making love could be more about chemicals than sexual ability.
During lovemaking and orgasm, a cocktail of endorphins (the body’s natural mood-lifting opiates), neurotransmitters and hormones are released.
Oxytocin, in particular, is a hormone released during and after sex that has been shown to make people more generous towards their partners and can also help induce calm and sleep.
Oxytocin is called the ‘cuddling’ hormone because it’s released after just 20 minutes of hugging. Women produce four times as much as men, for whom production is inhibited by the prevalence of the hormone testosterone, which drives libido. In fact, the Top Sante research found our favourite simple pleasure was a hug – that’s oxytocin at work.
Another key neurotransmitter is serotonin, the body’s key antidepressant chemical and one of the major reasons people smile and feel happy and relaxed after sex.
Sexually active women in longterm relationships were less likely to be depressed than women who went without sex, according to a study of nearly 300 women by American psychologist Gordon Gallup and published in the Archives Of Sexual Behaviour.
Gallup speculated that semen contains several hormones which may have a mood-boosting effect when they are absorbed through the vaginal wall into the bloodstream.
2. HEART HEALTH
A study at Queens University in Belfast found that having sex three times a week could actually halve the risk of heart attack or stroke.
Indeed, the idea that men are more at risk of a heart attack during love-making is mostly misconception, say experts. Professor Peter Weisberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, says there is no evidence that men who have sex regularly in their 40s, 50s and beyond are at an increased risk of heart attack.
‘As far as the heart is concerned, sex is just another form of exercise,’ says Dr Graham Jackson, consultant cardiologist at Guy’s & St Thomas’ Hospital and president of the Sexual Dysfunction Association.
‘In fitness terms, it’s equivalent is going for a mile-long walk or climbing up and down two flights of stairs.
‘If you’re physically fit enough for that, there should be no increased risk during sex.’
3. INCREASED IMMUNITY
Having more sex might increase immunity from colds and flu. Getting down to it once or twice a week has been linked with higher levels of immunoglobulin A, or IgA, a substance found in saliva and the nasal lining thought to help our immune systems fight colds and flu.
In one study, scientists asked 11 volunteers how often they had had sex over the previous month, then measured levels of IgA in their saliva.
Those who had sex once a week or less had a slight increase, compared with those who abstained; but those who made love more often had 30 per cent higher levels.
4. LONGER LIFE
One of the largest studies on longevity and sex – conducted on Welsh men – found that those who had sex less than once a month had double the risk of dying prematurely than those who had sex twice a week.
‘Sexual activity seems to have a protective effect on men’s health,’ says Dr Brewer. ‘This may be linked with the effects of the master sex hormone, DHEA or dehydroepiandroterone, which is made in the adrenal glands and functions as a building block of other hormones such as oestrogen, testosterone and progesterone.
‘DHEA levels rise just before orgasm and ejaculation to three times higher than normal, and some claim this is how regular sex can prolong your life.’
For people trying to conceive, one of the biggest myths associated with fertility is that refraining from ejaculation boosts sperm motility, that’s the rate at which individual sperm can move forwards to penetrate an egg for fertilisation, says gynaecologist Dr Gillian Lockwood, medical director of Midlands Fertility Services.
‘When sperm is hanging around in the epididymis, the long coiled tube in the back of the testes where sperm is stored, it dies off rapidly,’ she says.
‘Unless a man has a low sperm count, the more often he has sex, then the better the quality of his sperm,’ she says.
Preliminary results of a small study by Australian researchers found that in men whose sperm showed significant DNA damage, daily ejaculation reduced this damage by 12 per cent.
‘When it comes to sex for fertility, having sex little and often – at least every other night – is far better than lots of it on infrequent occasions,’ says Dr Lockwood.