The Lesser-Known Benefits of Intimacy
By Nicholas Traugott
Intimacy is generally quite amazing. It’s quite literally the reason you— or any of us— exist, biologically speaking. And so there’s no confusion, by intimacy- we’re talking about the act of sex.
There’s a lot more to gain from having sex than just procreation, however. Sex helps us bond with each other. It can open the door to some of the most beautifully tender experiences of intimacy we can experience as human beings.
Sex can be a space of play and healing. A place of self-expression and even self-transcendence. Many of you know this already.
But many of you may not know that sex can also directly and concretely benefit our physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being.
If you’ve had an inkling of this before, you’ll be glad to hear that there are now many studies to prove it. The classic Marvin Gaye song finally has scientific backing!
Here are three health benefits I’ve noticed personally from having sex.
When you have sex, your brain releases an enchanting cocktail of chemicals.
These include testosterone, estrogen, prolactin, oxytocin, and several beta-endorphins. The release of these chemicals reduces stress levels and the intensity of cardiovascular reactivity, i.e., the heart’s response to stress.
Oxytocin in particular lowers both your heart rate and blood pressure. Studies show that even a simple comforting touch from a partner can have similar effects, though to a lesser degree than what sex itself would produce.
Improves Heart Health
Of course, reduced stress, lowered heart rate, and lowered blood pressure are all great for heart health on their own.
However, sex has also been proven to significantly decrease the risk of heart attack. One study, which followed more than 900 men for 20 years, found that those who had sex twice or more a week were more than 50% less likely to die of a heart attack!
Boosts Immune Function
Sex also boosts your overall immunity.
In a study from Wilkes University, those who had sex once or twice a week showed a 30% increase in levels of salivary immunoglobulin (IgA– a key antibody in immune function).
Study participants who had sex less frequently still showed higher IgA levels than those who had no sex at all. These findings align with the idea that regular contact with foreign fluids stimulates our immune system to be on alert.
Sex serves as a surprisingly effective source of pain relief, thanks again to the brain chemical oxytocin. The release of oxytocin, which occurs during both sexual arousal and orgasm, triggers the release of endorphins and corticosteroids in the brain. Both chemicals are powerful painkillers.
What’s more, oxytocin has been shown to increase our capacity to withstand pain. In one study, subjects given a dose of oxytocin showed more than 50% increases in their pain threshold.
Next time your partner uses the old “I have a headache” excuse, I give you full permission to reference this article!
Removes Toxins and Prevents Cancer
One study has linked frequent ejaculation (masturbation counts) with a decreased risk of prostate cancer later in life. It’s unclear why exactly.
One theory is that ejaculation “cleans out the pipes,” so to speak. The idea is the prostate accumulates toxins during the semen-making process, which involves concentrating minerals and other substances. As the theory goes, when semen is released during ejaculation, the toxins collected in the prostate are also released.
As a final note, the above-mentioned study pointed to 21 as the ideal number of ejaculations per month for reduced risk of prostate cancer. A lofty goal, perhaps, but I believe in you!
Aligns Women’s Cycles and Increases Fertility
Sex has also been shown to normalize women’s menstrual cycles and improve fertility. (Being a man, this benefit has obviously only affected me indirectly.)
Research shows that women who have heterosexual sex at least once a week have more consistent menstrual cycles and fewer fertility problems than women who abstain from sex completely.
One study pointed to contact with male pheromones as the reason behind this. In this study, when pheromones from men’s underarm secretions were placed on the upper lips of women (pretty gross, I know), these women’s cycles normalized to a consistent 29 ½ days.
Yet another study showed that women who have frequent sex (oral sex included) with a regular partner for several months or more have an easier time getting pregnant. These results indicate that, over time, women’s bodies get used to a particular individual’s semen profile. This leads to higher conception rates and a decreased risk of miscarriage, preeclampsia, and high blood pressure.
Sex has the potential to be a fantastic (not to mention fun!) source of exercise. Research estimates that between 85-100 calories are burned every 30 minutes of sex, and I’m sure you could up those numbers if you really put your mind to it! Heart rates can also easily get up to levels associated with intense exercise.
Sex is not just great for cardio— it can also be a highly enjoyable form of strength training.
Experiment with different positions and you’ll quickly feel the burn in muscles you didn’t even know you had. Even if you stick with more traditional movements, you’ll still be stretching and toning your arms, legs, and core…not to mention those pelvic floor muscles.
Sex is an instinctual drive for good reason. Many reasons, in fact!
We’re drawn to sex not only because of the biological drive to propagate the growth of our species, but also because we know (perhaps only instinctually) that sex can heal us, bring our bodies into alignment, and contribute to our overall health, strength, and immune function.
If you were determinedly avoiding sex before reading this article, hopefully these science-backed health benefits will convince you to dive back in.
Let me leave you with some parental advice: make sure to practice safe sex!