5 Health Benefits of Sex

Sexual activity can improve your physical and mental well-being—and it's a form of exercise too.

Research has shown that sex has many physical and psychological health benefits. You can feel these effects through sex with a partner or masturbation. Even simple, intimate behaviors such as holding hands or hugging can improve your mental well-being. Read on for more benefits of sexual activity, orgasms, and intimacy.

Sex Can Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Sexual activity can have "positive and healthy" effects on psychological well-being by reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, per an October 2020 study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. The study found sex had a protective effect against quarantine-related anxiety and mood disorders during COVID-19.

Intimate behaviors—including holding hands, hugging, and kissing—can also reduce cortisol levels (the stress hormone), per a January 2019 study of couples published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.

Sex May Improve Sleep

Both orgasms with a partner and during masturbation were associated with perceptions of better sleep in a March 2019 study of 778 participants published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health. The paper suggested sexual activity may help you sleep.

Other research has found an association between poor sleep (specifically insomnia severity) and sexual function. However, a study published in September 2018 in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research couldn't determine if sleep disturbance led to sexual function problems or if it was the other way around.

Sex Is a Form of Exercise

Sexual intercourse can be a moderate-intensity physical activity, on par with jogging or relaxed swimming, per a February 2022 review published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. Average heart rates during intercourse ranged from about 90–130 beats per minute (bpm) and reached nearly 170 bpm.

These numbers may vary depending on sexual position, health status, lubrication, and sex. But the conclusion of the review: "Sexual intercourse may be a significant contributor to physical health, and it can be considered as a form of physical activity."

You may have heard that sex can impact your workout the next day—athletes sometimes abstain ahead of major competitions. But a January 2019 study published in the journal Sexual Medicine found no significant differences in physical exercise performance between people who had intercourse the night before and those who didn't.

Sex Can Increase Intimacy and Bonding

Research has shown that sex can lead to increased love, trust, and intimacy in relationships, per a November 2020 review published in the journal Sexual Medicine Reviews. People can also get better at identifying and expressing their emotions.

Orgasms release oxytocin, a hormone that promotes social bonding, per a September 2017 review published in the journal Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences. You can feel closer to your partner when you have a great experience with them.

Sexual Activity May Protect Cognition

Research has shown that sexual activity in older adults was associated with better performance on some cognitive tests.

A January 2016 study published in the journal Age and Ageing found that people between the ages of 50–89 who engaged in sexual activity did better on tests of memory and executive function (skills such as decision-making, flexible thinking, and self-control). The authors hypothesized this might be due to the release of dopamine during intercourse—a hormone shown to improve thinking processes.

Another paper, published in June 2017 in the Journals of Gerontology: Series B, repeated the 2016 study with people aged 50–83. It also found an association between sexual activity and higher cognitive functioning test scores.

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