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Sexual Healing: Science Proves That Sex is Good for Health

Pain relief, immune boost, and added longevity—sex produces them all, and more.

Years ago, Marvin Gaye’s song, “Sexual Healing,” touted the emotional benefits of lovemaking. True enough. But sex is also good for physical health. Here’s what the latest research shows:

Fitness

Fitness involves three elements: stamina, strength, and flexibility. Many people focus on strength and stamina (aerobics), but don’t care much about flexibility. However, exercise physiologists agree that flexibility—moving the major joints through their range of motion—is crucial to optimal fitness. Leisurely, playful sex gently moves many joints through their range of motion. This boosts fitness, and it’s therapeutic for musculoskeletal conditions, particularly osteoarthritis.

Deep Relaxation

The most satisfying sex involves playful whole-body sensual massage. Massage is deeply relaxing. So are sex-related deep breathing and orgasm. Sexual deep relaxation is very similar to the physiologic relaxation that comes from meditation, yoga, and other stress management regimens. Meditative relaxation has been shown to help treat an enormous number of ailments, including: arthritis, pain, asthma, anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, heart disease. Regular sex with a loving partner offers similar benefits.

Pain Relief

Sex reduces pain in two ways. It’s an enjoyable distraction. During sex, people focus less on their pain—and as a result, suffer less. And because it’s exercise, sex releases endorphins, the body's own pain-relieving compounds. One of the nation’s most prevalent chronic-pain conditions is osteoarthritis. The Arthritis Foundation recommends regular sex to help control it.

Mood Elevation

Got the blues? Sex elevates mood. The endorphins released during lovemaking not only relieve pain, but also have antidepressant action. Massage is also a mood-enhancer, and good sex includes whole-body massage.

Immune Enhancement

Regular moderate exercise boosts immune function, which helps prevent all manner of illness. Sex is moderate exercise, so it, too, boosts immune function. Researchers at Wilkes-Barre University in Pennsylvania found that compared with those who have sex less than once a week, people who enjoy it once or twice weekly are less likely to catch colds. This finding was surprising because colds are passed by close personal contact, so you’d expect sex to increase risk as lovers share their colds. But the researchers found that something else outweighed the risk-raising effect of close contact. It was the immune protein immunoglobulin A (IgA) that boosts the body’s defenses against colds. Sex raises IgA levels significantly.

Stress Incontinence

Many women suffer stress incontinence, urine leakage when they cough, sneeze, or laugh. Why? The muscles that close the urinary sphincter weaken—often with age, sometimes for other reasons. In 1948, Arnold Kegel, M.D., developed a cure for stress incontinence, Kegel exercises, which involve tensing and relaxing the muscles used to interrupt urine flow, or squeeze out the last few drops. These same muscles are also involved in orgasm. Kegels not only cure stress incontinence, they also intensify of orgasm. Try Kegels in sets of 10 several times a day.

Menstrual Problems

A few studies show that weekly sex reduces menstrual cramping and promotes menstrual regularity.

Longevity

Exercise, immune enhancement, and deep relaxation are all associated with longer life. Sex incorporates all three, so it should come as no surprise that regular sex helps extend life. That's what British scientists at the University of Bristol discovered in a study of 900 middle-aged men. Compared with those who had sex once a month or less, those who reported it twice a week had a significantly lower death rate.

Critics argued that the association between sex and longevity might not be causal. Sexual frequency is associated with better health, so perhaps it’s health and not sex that prolongs life.

But the researchers took care to correct statistically for this possibility. Comparing the men with low, medium, and high sexual frequency, there were no significant differences in age, smoking, weight, blood pressure, or heart disease, all of which have major impact on longevity. The researchers' conclusion: Sex helps prevent death in middle-aged men.

Of course, no one makes love simply because it’s health-enhancing. But the health benefits of sex are icing on the erotic cake. And if you like making love to music, try playing “Sexual Healing.” It’s a catchy tune—and it’s true.

 

San Francisco journalist Michael Castleman, M.A., has written about sexuality for 36 years. more...

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