Is Sex Good for You?
According to the Masters and Johnson Institute, at least a third of American couples experience "inhibited sexual desire." Yet research shows that people who neglect their sex lives may be missing out on real physiological and psychological benefits.
What Is Good Sex?
When doctors and therapists say sex is good for you, they really mean that "good" sex is good for you. But what is good sex?
"Anything that promotes intimacy and closeness seems to be good for your health," says Anthony Fiore, PhD, a sex therapist in Santa Ana, California. "Everybody has different standards for what good sex is."
Making time and saving energy for sex should be a priority for even the most harried couples, therapists say. Sexual ability and physicality can atrophy.
The Human Touch
Studies have shown that physical touch between mothers and babies is essential to infant health. Today, hospitals finally allow skin-to-skin contact between new mothers and their newborns because this early touching is so essential to the mother-and-child bond. But many researchers now believe that we never lose the need for human touch. Throughout our lifetime, physical touch enables our bodies to relax and feel comfortable and protected.
Other Physical Benefits of Sex
There is evidence that sex has measurable physical health benefits. Some researchers believe that regular sex promotes a regular menstrual cycle in women, improves women's fertility, and may have a role in promoting calcium into bone. There is even evidence that postmenopausal women who have sex at least once a week have higher levels of blood estrogen and fewer detrimental changes in their vaginal lining.
The Side Effects
While the health benefits of sex may be very real, that's no reason to jump in bed with just anyone. Sexually transmitted diseases are perhaps the most obvious threat to health that can come with indiscriminate sex.
Sex without intimacy is also potentially devastating psychologically. Men and women may find that sex without love or intimacy leaves them vulnerable and depressed.
The Health Benefits of Sex
Many researchers believe that sex and masturbation may provide the following benefits:
- Helps regulate menstrual cycles in women whose cycles are irregular
- Helps promote fertility
- Increases estrogen in women's blood, especially important to postmenopausal women
- Lessens vaginal dryness and hot flashes in postmenopausal women
- Helps men and women relax
- Eases pain in joints and muscles, including the pain of conditions like arthritis
- Shields the body from illness and the mind from depression or aggression
- Promotes a healthy heart
- Lengthens lifespan
American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States
Last reviewed July 2007 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
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