Naveed Saleh, MD, MS, ( MDLinx )
Sex binds humanity; people from all walks of life do it. Recently, researchers have taken a bigger interest in the benefits of sex in terms of quality of life and health. More research on the subject is emerging.
Sexual activity may offer some welcome health benefits.
Although research is limited because of the personal nature of the subject, the health implications of sex have been studied in the past. In now-classic research, William H. Masters, MD, and Virginia E. Johnson looked at physiological responses to sex in a laboratory setting in 1966. They found that during sex, respiratory rates increased up to 40 respirations per minute, systolic blood pressure levels rose from 30 mmHg to 80 mmHg, and heart rate increased to 110-180 beats per minute.
Let’s take a look at five health benefits of sex, according to scientific research.
Calories burned during sex has been a topic of debate for quite some time. Although not a lot by marathon standards, it seems that having sex does burn off some energy.
In a low-powered study published in PLoS One, young couples (mean age: 22.6 years) were monitored for energy expenditure during sex via wearable technology (armband). In total, participants burned about 85 kCal at moderate intensity. Specifically, men burned an average of 101 kCal total or 4.2 kCal/min, while women burned about 69 kCal total or 3.1 kcal/min.
In the study, participants also performed 30-minute endurance tests on a treadmill at moderate intensity. In men, average energy expenditure was 276 kCal on the treadmill, and in women, 213 kCal. Curiously, a few male participants managed to burn more calories while having sex vs using the treadmill, which begs the question of what exactly it is they do in the bedroom.
“These results suggest that sexual activity may potentially be considered, at times, as a significant exercise,” the authors concluded.
Researchers of one study showed that in 112 college students stratified by sex frequency with a partner—none, infrequent (less than once a week), frequent (one to two times per week), and very frequent (three or more times per week)—those who had sex “frequently” had higher levels of salivary immunoglobulin A (SIgA) independent of sexual satisfaction or length of relationships. In other words, having more sex could do the trick in terms of boosting SIgA—an antibody that has been shown to play a pivotal role in protecting vulnerable areas (eg, oral cavity, lungs, and gut) from invading pathogens.
Then again, other investigators have demonstrated mixed results regarding the effects of sex on immune status. For instance, according to the results from one dyad of studies that included both community and undergraduate cohorts, higher levels of partnered sex was linked to lower immunity in women with depressive symptoms in contrast to men with depressive symptoms, who actually demonstrated higher immunity.
Importantly, these studies employed SIgA as a proxy for immunity. Obviously, immunity is much more complex than one biomarker and depends on other elements of the immune system, including inflammation and white blood cell counts.
Reduced risk of prostate cancer
Some researchers have shown a link between increased total ejaculations—sexual intercourse, nocturnal emissions, and masturbation combined—and decreased rates of prostate cancer. In the high-powered Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, men who ejaculated ≥ 21 times a month had a 31% lower risk of prostate cancer vs those who ejaculated 4-7 times a month.
Reduced depressive symptoms
Some experts have suggested an association between increased amounts of sex and decreased levels of depression. In fact, Stuart Brody, PhD, stirred up controversy in sexology circles when he wrote the following in a review:
“It is likely that only unfettered, real [penile-vaginal intercourse (PVI)] has important mood-enhancing benefits. A study of young women in the United States found that not only did Beck Depression Inventory scores worsen with increasing time since last PVI (ie, lower [frequency of PVI] is associated with more depression), but the use of condoms obliterated the apparent antidepressant effects of PVI.”
Obviously, lots of pleasurable and healthy sexual activities do not involve “unfettered, real” PVI, ergo the controversy.
However, there’s no controversy that sexual activity releases endorphins, neurochemicals, and hormones—like dopamine, oxytocin, and prolactin—that elevate mood and feelings of satisfaction and pleasure.
“Yes, sex can actually make it easier to fall asleep,” according to the National Sleep Foundation. “This is mostly because of the hormones that are released during the act. Sex boosts oxytocin (a hormone that makes you feel connected to your partner) and lowers cortisol (a stress-related hormone). Plus, having an orgasm releases a hormone called prolactin, which makes you feel relaxed and sleepy. All of that leads up to a nice, drowsy state that’s perfect for cuddling up and falling asleep.”
On balance, sex may very well have some health benefits. At least it makes sense that sex could boost quality of life. However, research has been done on this very personal subject is limited, and studies are ripe for bias. So many other factors obfuscate any causal associations. Furthermore, studies are also often done in small populations of college students, so infer what you will.
Being physically fit may not only make you feel more confident in the bedroom but could also help you perform better and get more enjoyment from sex. Your daily workout, though, probably doesn’t target the specific muscles you need for a nighttime workout. To that end, here’s a few excellent exercises to help improve your love life. They’re all easy to do, and the only “equipment” you’ll need is your own.
Squats are good for the butt and the core. This move also gets the blood flowing to the “Southern tropics,” which can help you put you in the mood. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with your arms straight out. Keep your feet full on the floor as you slowly lower into a sitting position. Your back should be neither rounded or over-arched. The lower you go, the more you work your gluteus maximus. Then slowly push up from your heels, keeping your abs tight.
Exercise experts say that lunges build strength, endurance, balance, and core stability in the butt, hips, and thighs, which all come into play when engaging in sexual activity. Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart. With your back straight (but not tight), take one long step forward so that your knee is directly above your foot and your thigh is parallel to the floor. Your other foot should not be turned in any way. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then slowly push back to the original position. Repeat with the other leg.
Push-ups are good for the partner on top because this traditional exercise works the arms, shoulders, chest, and abs for better upper body support and stamina. Like any exercise, good form is key: With your hands just beyond shoulder-width apart, keep your legs, back, and neck in a straight line, and elbows at your sides, as you slowly lower your body until your chest almost touches the floor. Then slowly press your arms to push yourself back up again, but don’t lock your elbows. One down, 19 more to go for one set!
This exercise strengthens the muscles you use most during intercourse—the glutes, and lower abdominal muscles—and helps maintain hip muscle balance. Pelvic lifts also build core strength and strengthen the lower back. Low back pain can affect your ability to perform in certain positions, and put a crimp in your libido as well. To do this exercise, lie flat on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Raise your pelvis so that your spine is in a straight line. Tighten your abs and glutes while you push your inner thighs toward each other. Hold that position for 10 seconds or more, breathing easily, then slowly lower your butt to the floor.
Cardio is not only good for a healthy heart, it’s good for a healthy sex life. Regular cardiovascular workouts—whether running, swimming, cycling, or other heart rate-raising activity—can increase stamina, improve blood flow, and even lead to more satisfying orgasms. To help the heart and other “vital organs,” aim for 30 to 60 minutes of cardio exercise 3 to 5 times a week.
Kegel exercises are recommended for both women and men to strengthen the pelvic floor and avoid incontinence, but this helpful exercise also improves sexual satisfaction, experts say. It’s the one exercise that directly targets and isolates the pubococcygeus (PC) muscle. For both men and women, strengthening the PC muscle can lead to more powerful orgasms. In men, Kegels can also produce firmer erections and may improve control of ejaculation. And once you get the hang of doing them, they’re easy to do and can be done anywhere. Here’s how: Contract your pelvic muscles as though you’re stopping the flow of urine. Don’t push down—squeeze your muscles tightly as if you’re trying to lift this muscle up. Hold tight for 5 seconds, breathing normally. Relax and then repeat. Aim for 20 Kegel exercises three or four times per day.
With a little focus, and these simple exercises, you could enhance your sexual stamina and performance. No equipment needed.