Posted On Feb 17, 2017
By Beth Landman
Photography by Stewart Shining/Trunk Archive/Thinkstock
A group of attractive, high-powered women meeting up for cocktails at a trendy bar near Manhattan’s Gramercy Park begin chatting, first about work, but ultimately about men and dating. “I haven’t had sex in six months,” whispered a stunning 35-year-old Asian woman, her long shiny hair catching the light as she stared at the floor.
“It’s been a year for me,” confessed a toned blonde, eyes opening wide as if she were trying to comprehend the notion.
All eyes turned to one friend in banking, who had seemed happily married for eight years. Surely she was having an active sex life filled with fireworks. “By the time we get home, we are both so tired, we usually skip it,” she sighed.
Sex is supposed to be one of the strongest human instincts—without it we could not ensure the continual survival of our species—so why do so many people today, 50 years after the Sexual Revolution, appear to be having less of it than the Victorians? The question reality inspires an investigation.
Perhaps it’s the lack of personal interaction that comes from Internet immersion and texting rather than speaking, or the lack of time set aside for intimacy due to busy schedules. Women’s sex lives aren’t being nurtured the way they should be. We seem to be accepting it as the norm, so it’s not too surprising that books celebrating abstinence are getting so much attention.
The fact that women aren’t as aggressive about achieving orgasm is another piece of the puzzle. “Men tend to be more goal-directed toward sex, where women are more pleasure-directed,” says sexual expression expert and Rutgers University professor Beverly Whipple, a member of the team that discovered the Gräfenberg, or G-spot. “I use the analogy of a staircase in describing goal-oriented sexual behavior, where one step leads to the next one—i.e., touch, kiss, caress, genital contact, then orgasm.”
Perhaps, if we knew the true upside of a healthy sex life, we would be a little more eager and vigilant in our pursuit: Your optimum health routine should include a healthy diet, regular exercise, supplements, and yes, sex. The advantages may surprise you.
SEX AND INCREASED LONGEVITY
A 1997 South Wales study showed that an active sex life actually slows the aging process for men and women alike. The research, which had a 10-year follow-up, examined the relationship between orgasm frequency and mortality, and found that men who had intercourse at least twice a week lived longer than men who had sex less than once a month. Additionally, a 1982 North Carolina study followed 252 people over 25 years to find out what factors were important in determining lifespan. Three of the factors studied were frequency of intercourse, past enjoyment of intercourse, and present enjoyment of intercourse. Results showed that women who reported enjoying sex lived longer than those who did not enjoy having sex.
Not surprising, sex is a tension-reliever and has been shown to actually lower blood pressure, an important health plus, since elevated pressure is a risk factor for stroke, heart disease, and kidney disease. A study from the University of Scotland showed that those who were sexually active had lower blood pressure when placed in stressful situations (such as public speaking), and a study by psychiatrist Stuart Brody, published in Biological Psychology, found that frequent sexual intercourse was linked with lowered blood pressure readings. Additionally, during orgasm the body produces oxytocin, or “the love hormone.” Oxytocin has been shown to promote feelings of contentment, calmness, comfort, and even a reduction in anxiety.
A HEALTHIER HEART
A British study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health revealed that those who had sex twice or more each week cut their risk of heart attack by 50 percent. Research on middle-aged men by Henry Feldman in the Annals of Epidemiology showed a relationship between the levels of the hormone dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), which is released during orgasm, and a reduction in the risk of heart disease.
DECREASED RISK OF CANCER
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed a direct correlation between high ejaculation frequency (three times per week) and a 15 percent decrease in prostate cancer risk among those men. Research has also suggested that sexual activity may decrease the risk of breast cancer in women. “This is a result of the increased levels of oxytocin and the hormone DHEA, which are associated with arousal and orgasm,” says Dr. Whipple. Additionally, a 1989 French study evaluated the risk of breast cancer in 51 women with few sexual partners and infrequent sexual activity. Having sex less than once each month was associated with a much greater risk of cancer.
FEWER COLDS AND HEADACHES
A healthy sex life has been linked with increased immunoglobulin A (IgA), a substance that protects the body from infection. A Wilkes University clinical study found that students engaging in sexual activity once or twice a week had IgA levels that were thirty percent higher than those who did not partake in sexual activity.
A simple headache, backache, or other aches and pains can also be relieved by sex, according to Dr. Whipple, who says the act has an analgesic effect. Oxytocin, released in the body right before orgasm, stimulates endorphins, “which are similar to opiates and occupy the morphine receptors in the brain, providing a pain blocking effect,” she says. According to a clinical study conducted by Dr. Whipple, when women masturbated to orgasm, “the pain tolerance threshold and pain detection threshold increased significantly by 74.6 percent and 106.7 percent, respectively.” Clinical research also showed that more than half the subjects who inhaled oxytocin vapor and then had their fingers pricked with a needle increased their pain threshold. So the next time you are feeling aches or pains, consider having sex rather than putting it off and reaching for that handy bottle of pain killers.
BETTER SLEEP AND MORE INTIMACY
Lack of sleep is such a common complaint, and physical intimacy seems to work as well as melatonin. The intense relaxation experienced right after orgasm can make you fall asleep faster. The next time your partner dozes off right after sex, take it as a compliment, not an insult.
Sexual activity improves our intimacy levels, in part due to the increase in oxytocin, which is associated with building trust in a relationship. Studies from the University of North Carolina showed that the more physical contact women had with their partners, the higher the oxytocin levels in their body. High oxytocin levels have also been connected to displays of generosity: A 2007 Claremont Graduate University study showed that subjects on doses of oxytocin gave strangers 80 percent more money than those on a placebo.
A BOOST IN CONFIDENCE
One of the reasons people say they have sex is to feel good about themselves, according to a University of Texas study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. “A healthy sex life makes you feel more connected to your partner, which improves the way you feel about yourself,” says University of Nevada sexual relationship expert Katherine Hertlein, PhD. “Having sex makes you feel more attractive, desirable, and confident.” Additionally, studies have shown that people with strong social and romantic relationships are happier and healthier, overall.
A SEXIER BODY
Did you ever notice that people with active sex lives also seem to be thinner? While sexual activity doesn’t burn the same amount of calories as a cardio or strength-training workout, you can still feel similar benefits. Fact: Having sex three times a week for an entire year is equal to running 75 miles.
“Some women say, ‘I can’t date until I lose weight,’ but it can actually work the other way,” says behavioral psychologist Dr. Stephen Josephson. Women may actually feel inspired and motivated as a result of a healthy sex life. “People will have all these positive collateral changes that are physical and psychological when they date. They start to eat better, and often work out more. I have one patient who got a boyfriend and the change is truly amazing. She is dressing better and she lost weight without dieting.”
RADIANT SKIN AND HAIR
Sexual activity leads to increased blood circulation, and blood that is more oxygenated leads to that glow, demonstrated in a brighter complexion. A 1998 Scottish study concluded that people who consistently have sex three times a week tend to look up to seven to 12 years younger than their non-sexually active counterparts.
Hormones released as a result of the sexual experience also positively benefit the condition of our hair and nails. Studies have shown that a good sex life leads to healthier, shiner hair due to the body’s increased ability to absorb and metabolize vitamins and minerals.
SO BASED ON ALL THIS INFORMATION AND GOOD NEWS, how much sex is enough to reap the benefits? According to doctors Whipple and Hertlein, there is no magic number. Whatever frequency works for you and your partner is great for your health. Says Dr. Hertlein, “The best prescription for a healthy sex life is a flexible and supportive partner. Couples need to be able to communicate with each other about their desires and be creative.” Dr. Whipple agrees and adds, “The key to a healthy sex life is to know yourself and know what feels good. You need to be comfortable with your own body, aware of its response to pleasure, and be able to acknowledge this and communicate this message to your partner.”