Between the “Birds and the Bees” talk and sex-education in school, conversations surrounding sex frequently emphasize its negative repercussions: from sexually transmitted diseases and infections to social and emotional distress.
Since our society is quick to focus on the negative consequences of sex, we do not know as much about how sex boosts our health. Sexual health is a significant contributor to our quality of life, and those who engage in safe sexual practices can reap lasting physical and emotional benefits.
There are differing views on what constitutes sex, making it a relatively ambiguous term. Some individuals solely equate sex with intercourse (sexual contact involving penetration), while others believe that sex encompasses a wider range of behaviors.
For instance, a study on conceptualizations of sex, which surveyed 204 men and 282 women ages 18 to 96 years, found: 45% of participants considered performing manual-genital stimulation to be “having sex”, 71% considered performing oral sex to be “sex”, and 80.8% considered anal-genital intercourse to be “sex”.
However you define it or prefer it, alone or with a partner, sex can have several health benefits that might just surprise you.
1. Lower Risk of Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among men in the United States. Fortunately, there’s growing evidence of a positive association between frequent ejaculation and lower chances of prostate cancer. Men with a higher ejaculatory frequency, 21 ejaculations per month to be exact, reported a 50% lower risk of prostate cancer, compared to men who average 4 to 7 ejaculations per month.
2. Better Quality of Sleep
Kiss the melatonin goodbye and kiss your partner hello! Sleep scientist Michele Lastella, PhD., conducted a survey on sex lives and sleep habits in which “64% of respondents said they slept much better after having an orgasm shortly before bed, likely due to the release of oxytocin and other endorphins which accompany orgasms.” Oxytocin is greatly stimulated during sex and has been said to act as a sedative to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, according to Lastella.
3. Decrease Incidences of Cardiovascular Diseases
When you’re around the person you love your heart skips a beat. Sounds dangerous, right? Well, on the contrary, intimacy is good for your heart’s health! It is estimated that men who had sex at least twice a week had a lesser chance of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) compared to men who only had sex once per month. A lack of physical activity has been noted as a major risk factor for CVD, which is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S. Fortunately, sex is considered a form of exercise and in turn, promotes cardiovascular health.
4. Lower Probability of Erectile Dysfunction
Sexual activity gives “getting lucky” a whole other meaning. Erectile dysfunction is a common complaint among sexually active men. In fact, 50% of men in their 50’s will experience difficulties achieving or maintaining an erection, and 70% will by the age of 70. Luckily, a survey of 1,000 men aged 55 to 75 years old concluded that men who engage in sex at least once a week are half as likely to develop erectile dysfunction than men who reported having sex less often. Why? Erections deliver crucial amounts of oxygen to the penis, according to Juha Koskimäki, M.D., Ph.D., who headed the survey. Low oxygen levels, on the other hand, can cause scar tissue to develop which can reduce the penis’ elasticity resulting in the inability to get hard.
5. Reduce Stress
Aside from the physical pleasure brought upon by sex, various research has shown that regular sexual intercourse correlates with a better psychological well-being, including reduced stress levels. Not only does sex stimulate the release of mood-bosting hormones like endorphins, oxytocin, and dopamine, but levels of cortisol (the hormone behind stress) actually lessens with frequent sex.
6. Improve the Skin’s Appearance
You may not be able to find the fountain of youth inside your medicine cabinet, but you can, however, find the secret to youthful skin in the bedroom. Having sex improves blood circulation which “provides an oxygen boost to the skin,” according to dermatologists. Oxygen triggers cell turnover for new skin, resulting in a brighter complexion. And remember our aforementioned stress hormone cortisol? Well, cortisol can damage collagen — a protein in our bodies that keeps our skin elastic. Reduced cortisol levels can improve collagen production which wards off age spots, scars, and wrinkles.
In order to harness and truly enjoy the benefits of sex, it’s imperative to have a healthy sex life by taking care of both you and your partner. What does a healthy sex life entail?
Sexual activity of any kind (including oral sex, genital touching, and vaginal or anal penetration) should always be consensual. Consent requires the agreement to participate in sexual activity by both parties without coercion and with the ability to back out or change one’s mind at any time.
Everyone has a responsibility to protect themselves and their partners from sexually transmitted infections and diseases (STIs and STDs). When engaging in sexual contact, use barriers such as condoms or dental dams.
Getting tested for STDs regularly is also a large part of safe sex; and compared to heterosexual men, gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men are affected by higher rates of HIV and other STDs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Individuals who identify as LGBTQ also face greater adversity when it comes to receiving healthcare due to discrimination, stigma, or concerns about confidentiality regarding sexual orientation.
Below is a list of resources from the CDC specifically curated for the LGBTQ community:
- CDC Men’s Health Website
- 10 Things Gay Men Should Discuss with their Health Care Providers – GLMAExternal
- LGBT Health Clinics and Services
- Medline Plus: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender HealthExternal
- PFLAG – Parents, Families, Friends and Loved Ones of Lesbians and GaysExternal
- National Resource Center on LGBT AgingExternal
- HHS.gov LGBT Access to HealthcareExternal
- Prevention through Healthcare:HIV, Hepatitis, STD, and TB Preventive Services Covered Without Cost-Sharing