Overcoming Pain

Why people experience chronic pain, and the power they have to de-intensify it

Sexual Healing

Make love, not Midol.

For many years, the chronic pain-relieving qualities of sexual activity have been the subject of locker room lore and pubescent masturbation rationalizations. Finally, serious scientific study of the subject began over a quarter-century ago: A 1985 study published in The Journal of Sex Research found that vaginal stimulation increased pain thresholds of women. Stimulation resulting in orgasm produced the highest increases in pain threshold. Further analysis a decade later concluded that sexual arousal and orgasm have their pain-reducing effects through increasing levels of endorphins and corticosteroids, easing the burden of menstrual cramps, headaches, among other painful conditions:

• A study of 83 women published in a 2001 edition of the journal Headache found that orgasm resulted in some degree of relief in over fifty percent of the subjects. While not as effective as medication, the analgesic effect of orgasm, to whatever degree, does have a more rapid onset.

• In the year 2000, it was reported that almost ten percent of 1,900 women who reported masturbating in the prior three months stated that one of the motivations for masturbation was the relief of menstrual cramps.

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• An article in Paraplegia published in 1991 found that in men with spinal cord injuries rectal electrostimulaition with subsequent ejaculation resulted in spasticity relief in 42 percent of subjects, which lasted about nine hours. Comparable results have been noted in the female population. 

• Stress often predisposes or worsens pain. Sexual activity and orgasm have been shown to reduce stress. A 2002 article in Sexual and Relationship Therapy found that the surge in oxytocin that accompanies orgasm appears to reduce stress and alter the response to stress. Oxytocin causes feelings of warmth and relaxation, according to interviewed subjects. Indeed, a study of over 2,500 women in the United States found that 39 percent of those who masturbated did so as an aid to relaxation.

The biochemical fallout from sexual activity and orgasm can have a positive impact on sufferers of chronic pain. Chronic pain does not have to be an excuse to not make love. As the research cited above demonstrates, it can be a prescription for the relief of pain. Sexual activity can bring with it the expected feelings of well-being, and also the unexpected relief from chronic pain.

Talk to your doctor to ensure that you are physically healthy to engage in sexual activity with the one you love.

Talk to the one you love, no matter what that doctor might answer. Loving words also have a lot to offer those with chronic pain and illness.

Mark Borigini, M.D., is a board-certified rheumatologist who has devoted his career to treating illnesses that cause chronic pain and disability.

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