Of course sex is healthy, but did you know that a good sex life can provide specific health benefits? We spoke to the experts to find out just how sex improves our health (not that you needed any convincing).
It May Make You Thinner
Dread working out? Don't break up with your treadmill just yet. But if it's late and you haven't made it to the gym, don't forget that sex counts as exercise, too! "Sex burns between 75 and 150 calories per half-hour," says Desmond Ebanks, MD, founder and medical director of Alternity Healthcare in West Hartford, Connecticut. It's comparable to other physical activities, he says, like yoga (114 calories per half-hour), dancing (129 calories per half-hour) or walking (153 calories per half-hour).
Bonus: Sex may also help your muscles stay lean in the process. "Sexual arousal and orgasm releases the hormone testosterone, which, among other things, is necessary to build and maintain bone and lean muscle tissue," he adds.
It May Improve Your Heart Health
You're probably already aware that heart disease is the number-one killer of women. Eating a healthy diet, and keeping your cholesterol low and sodium in check are great ways to stay on top of heart health, but so is having sex. "Sex is exercise that raises heart rate and blood flow," says Dr Ebanks. "In a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, researchers found that having sex twice or more a week reduced the risk of fatal heart attack by half." While the study results were focused on men, Dr. Ebanks suspects similar effects for women, too.
It Can Help You Get a Better Night's Sleep
What do you do to help you sleep? When chamomile tea and other remedies aren't doing the job, sex may help—especially if you're having trouble sleeping due to anxiety or stress. "People having frequent sex often report that they handle stress better," notes Dr. Ebanks. "The profound relaxation that typically follows orgasm for women and ejaculation or orgasm for men may be one of the few times people actually allow themselves to completely relax. Many indicate that they sleep more deeply and restfully after satisfying lovemaking."
It Can Boost Your Immune System
With all the concerns about cold and flu viruses, combating germs can sometimes feel like a full-time job. Surprisingly, there may be something you can do in the bedroom to keep your immune system strong, says Dr Ebanks, who points to a study by researchers at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania. "Individuals who have sex once or twice a week show 30 per cent higher levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A, which is known to boost the immune system," he says. So, make this your new cold-and-flu season mantra: Wash your hands and make a bedroom date with your sweetie—often!
It Can Improve Your Mental Health
The quickest way to boost your mood, fight depression and beat anxiety? Patricia Tan, MD, a board-certified internist in Arizona and medical expert for JustAnswer.com, says the answer is simple: sex (in a loving, committed relationship, of course). "Psychologically, sex improves one's mental health by building intimacy and reducing stress," she says. "The stress reduction component lowers a person's cortisol level, thereby reducing the chances of increased blood pressure, hyperglycemia and increased acidity in the abdomen."
It Can Help Relieve Pain
You might change "Not tonight, honey, I have a headache" to "Yes, tonight, honey, I have a headache," or so says Dr Ebanks, who believes there's a real correlation between sex and pain management. "Through sexual arousal and orgasm the hormone oxytocin is secreted in your body, which in turn causes the release of endorphins," he explains. "Because of these natural opiates, sex acts as a powerful analgesic."
It Can Help You with Bladder Control
It may sound weird—the idea that sex can help you minimise incontinence—but it's true, say experts. Sex therapists have long recommended that women do Kegel exercises (flexing the muscles in your pelvic floor) throughout the day, but also during sex. Why? Not only can the exercises help increase pleasure, they also strengthen the muscles associated with incontinence. You can do Kegels anywhere (including during intercourse), so don't be shy! Gently flex and tighten your pelvic floor muscles in the same way you would to stop the flow of urine. Hold for three seconds, then release.
It May Give You Healthier Skin
Could sex make you more beautiful? It sounds far-fetched, but Eric Braverman, MD, founder of PATH Medical Center in New York City, says having sex releases a key compound in the body that is good for all kinds of things—including improving your complexion. During sex, your body produces a hormone called DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone). "It can boost the immune system, give you healthier skin and even decrease depression," he says. So much for the $79 night cream!