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The Health Benefits of Sex

The Health Benefits of Sex
The Health Benefits of Sex
Great Reasons to Have Sex Tonight
By Norine Dworkin-McDaniel, Special to Lifescript

Think of all the health advice you’re bombarded with daily: Eat more vegetables, stop smoking, exercise, get more sleep, use sunscreen, floss, boost your fiber, don’t text while driving. Protective? Sure. Fun? Not so much.

But here’s one suggestion that’s hardly drudgery: Have more sex. Yep, you read that right. Romping regularly in the sheets really does a body good.

“Having sex benefits us in [many] psychological and biological ways,” says Irwin Goldstein, M.D., director of sexual medicine at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego, Calif.

➨1. Sex makes menopause easier to handle.

Menopause is the time when a woman’s sexual appetite dries up with her estrogen, right?

Not really: The “use it or lose it” credo is established fact, says Barnard.

“Regular penetration with lubricant, 2-3 times a week by anything – including a vibrator or fingers – fights vaginal atrophy and improves the flexibility and thickness of the skin inside the vagina,” she says.

Slack off during menopause or perimenopause (the time before menstrual periods cease) and “you’ll see a much quicker acceleration of loss of flexibility and thickness of that skin,” Barnard says.

Other research suggests that regular sex may reduce hot flashes. In a small study, middle-aged Nigerian women who had sex at least once a week had fewer hot flashes than women who avoided it.

➨2. Sex relieves pain.

This one’s proven too, especially when orgasm is involved.

A climax releases endorphins, natural pain-relievers that can blunt all kinds of pain from menstrual cramps and arthritis to whiplash, back pain, even labor contractions and migraines.

A study of 83 women with migraines, done at Southern Illinois University, found that nearly half of those who climaxed during sex reported that their headaches disappeared.

Why? In the throes of orgasm, pain tolerance jumps dramatically, according to Beverly Whipple, Ph.D, R.N, co-author of both The G Spot (Holt Paperbacks) and The Science of Orgasm (The John Hopkins University Press), who has measured the effects in her lab.

“When women had orgasms, their pain thresholds went up over 108%,” she says.

And it’s not a distracter or anesthetic. “It’s an analgesic,” she says, and even better than Motrin.

Unfortunately, relief is short-lived – 10 minutes at best. Which is the perfect excuse to lure your mate back for another round.

➨3. You’ll live longer.

Sex will help you live longer, but what's interesting is how: For women, quality counts; for men, it’s all about quantity.

In one of the best-known studies on sex and longevity, involving nearly 1,000 middle-aged British gents, those who had at least two orgasms a week had half the mortality risk of those who reported just one a month.

And a Swedish study found that men past their 75th birthdays were the ones who stayed sexually active; those who died before 75 had holstered their pistol long before.

For women, frequency has no bearing on longevity – the sex has to be good.

In one 25-year-long North Carolina study published in 1982, women who said they enjoyed sex lived longer.

The findings suggest that it’s orgasm, not just sex, that’s important for women’s health, Barnard says.

➨4. It’s good for your heart.

"Dissatisfaction with sexual activity” is linked with peripheral artery disease, a condition that boosts the risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke by up to seven times, according to data from the Women’s Health Initiative, a multi-year study by the National Institutes of Health.

Of course, that hardly proves an unhappy sex life will give you a heart attack. But researchers know that stress, anger and depression are huge markers for heart disease. Plus, when we’re in emotional turmoil, we hardly feel like making love.

But we should. Sex helps men and women cope with stress by lowering blood pressure, a notion that’s solidly backed by research.

Even simple caresses are known to slow women’s heart rates and reduce the stress hormone cortisol in anxious situations.

In a 2006 small study of 67 women done at Switzerland’s University of Zurich, those who got a neck and shoulder massage from their husbands or boyfriends before encountering a stressful situation had lower heart rates and cortisol levels than women who just talked with their partners or had no contact at all.

We know that improving your mood and reducing stress lead to healthier cardiovascular status, and we know those things come from sexual experiences,” Barnard says. “For that reason, sex is good for your heart.”

➨5. It counts as exercise (sort of).

Having sex – even lots of it – is unlikely to get you in shape for a triathalon, especially if your partner is driving most of the action. But it’s no slouch either.

The energy spent in sex is said to equal "walking several flights of stairs or washing windows,” Goldstein says.

Unfortunately, few calories are spent in sexual activity, because – at least in the U.S. – it’s a seven-minute event.

“So the calories burned are not that great,” Goldstein says.

But regular sex keeps your pelvic floor in shape, says Barnard. And that’s important because a toned pelvic floor means big orgasms.

➨6. It prevents cancer.

For guys, anyway, there’s iron-clad evidence that regular sex (with someone they love or just by themselves) lowers the risk of certain cancers.

According to a 2003 Australian study, 20-something guys who ejaculated five or more times a week cut their risk for getting prostate cancer later in life by a third.

Another study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that for every three ejaculations a man had during the week, his prostate cancer risk dropped up to 19%.

That’s because ejaculation is a workout for the prostate, explains sex and relationship expert Laura Berman, Ph.D., author of The Book of Love (DK Publishing).

“The prostate contracts during orgasm and ejaculation, and that keeps it in good shape,” she says.

Plus, it “keeps the plumbing clean.”

➨7. Sex improves immunity.

Don’t skip your H1N1 vaccine for a lost afternoon in bed, but research suggests some – but not too much – sexual activity may help boost immune function.

In a small 1999 study of 112 students at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania, those who had sex once or twice a week had 30% more infection-fighting immunoglobulin A (IgA) in their saliva than students who made love less frequently.

Interestingly, it may be possible to get too much of a good thing: Randier students had IgA levels on par with their celibate compadres.

➨8. Sex helps you sleep.

Ever gone wild with your man only to have him roll over and snore afterward?

It’s because of a potent combo of strenuous exertion and feel-good brain chemicals, like oxytocin and endorphins, released during orgasm, Berman says.

“You relax, get calmer, disconnect from the worries of the day and it makes it easier to drift off,” she explains.

➨9. Sex can make you happier.

If just touching and hugging gets oxytocin flowing to your brain, orgasm makes it surge. That’s like being hooked up to happy drugs and explains why having sex can put us in a great mood and even guard against depression.

Oxytocin, knows as the “bonding hormone,” makes moms fall in love with their newborns. It also makes us feel more connected to the person we’re making love to.

According to a 2008 Arizona State University study, when women were sexual and affectionate with their partners, they felt better and were less stressed the following day. Which led to more sex.

Preliminary research from the State University of New York at Albany even suggests that semen may contain some antidepressant compounds.

In that study, women exposed to more semen (because they didn’t use condoms) scored lower on depression scales than those who either had less sex or used condoms more frequently. Still, you might want to wait for the follow-up studies before tossing out your Paxil.

➨10. It improves fertility.

But not in the way you might think. Having frequent sex regulates menstrual cycles, which makes conception easier. Plus, having an orgasm, especially after your partner finishes, may even boost the odds of getting knocked up.

“During orgasm, the uterus dips down into the vagina and vacuums up sperm, so orgasm may actually assist with fertilization by helping sperm get into the uterus [and] the egg,” says Mehmet Oz, M.D., host of “The Dr. Oz Show” and co-author of YOU: Having a Baby (Free Press). 


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