sex has many other benefits that just might surprise you. Want to clear your complexion, boost your mood, and cut your risk of cancer, heart disease, and other health hazards? No, the answer isn’t in a magic pill — it’s between your sheets. That’s right: A little loving can boost your overall health in many surprising ways.
“There have been lots of studies describing the health benefits of sex,” says Sandra L. Caron, PhD, sex therapist and professor of family relations and human sexuality at the University of Maine’s College of Education and Human Development in Orono. “Most of them relate to achieving orgasm. Nobody says you have to be with someone to do that.”
That’s an intriguing sex tip for people who do not have a committed partner: Self-pleasuring can offer sex benefits, especially those specifically related to having a good orgasm.
So whether you’re coupled up or flying solo, check out this list of healthy side effects of regular sex:
Improved Heart Health — Yes, Sex Is Exercise
Just like any physical activity, healthy sex is good for your heart. A study published in January 2015 in the American Journal of Cardiology found that men who had sex twice weekly or more had less risk of cardiovascular diseases, like stroke or heart attack than those who had sex once a month or less. And for those who worry that the exertion involved in sex is a threat to the heart, the American Heart Association’s Scientific Statement on Sexual Activity and Cardiovascular Disease says that having sex is safe for people who can exercise with no heart problems in the range of 3 to 5 metabolic equivalents (METs). METs are a measure of the energy (calories) expended during an activity. Exercising at 3 METs is about the same as walking at a moderate pace, while 5 METs is like a low impact aerobic workout.
Having sex can actually be considered a rather good form of exercise: A small study published in October 2013 in the journal PLoS One showed that men burned an average of 4 calories a minute during sex sessions that averaged 25 minutes, and women burned off 3 calories. That’s a lot more fun than toiling away on a treadmill.
Sweet Pain Relief, Even From Menstrual Cramps
Just looking at your partner — or even a photo of your partner — can help ease the pain. In another study published in PLoS One that was performed at Stanford University in California, anesthesiologists showed participants photos of their romantic partners or photos of attractive strangers or asked them to engage in a word game. They found that looking at romantic partners significantly dulled the experience of pain. So even though you might think pain is a barrier to sex, consider this a sex benefit worth the time and effort: Take a moment to really look at your lover. Other studies have found that women may get some relief from menstrual cramps through a good orgasm.
Less Stress and Lower Blood Pressure
Sex can help relieve stress by raising endorphins and other hormones that boost mood. As a form of exercise, it can also help calm you down. In addition, a Scottish study published in the journal Biological Psychology found that sexual activity prevents increases in blood pressure during stressful events. While this effect was more pronounced in people who had sex with penetration, nonpenetrative sex and masturbation can also help you stay serene.
Possible Reduction of Prostate Cancer Risk
A study published in December 2016 in the journal European Urology found that men who ejaculate more than 21 times per month, compared with those who do so four to seven times per month, were 20 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer. While more research is needed to confirm this link, it appears that men who ejaculate regularly may reduce their risk of prostate cancer.
Better Sleep With a Bonus: Increased Sexual Desire
According to the National Sleep Foundation, orgasms release the hormone prolactin, which can help you feel sleepy and relaxed. So don’t be too surprised if you and your partner doze off shortly after a satisfying session — and wake up feeling refreshed. This sleep connection also works in reverse: According to a study published in May 2015 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, getting enough shut-eye can improve your sexual response and may increase the chance that you’ll engage regularly in sex. Researchers discovered that when women slept for longer periods of time, they reported greater sexual desire the next day.
Happier Mood and a Stronger Relationship
It’s no wonder you’ve got a more positive outlook after sex: There are biochemical rationales for experiencing improved mood as a sex benefit, from the neurotransmitters that may be released during healthy sex to the mood enhancers contained in semen itself. “And,” adds Dr. Caron, “there’s a lot to be said simply for the mood-boosting effect of having a nice connection with somebody that you trust and care about.” Plus, your frisky play may result in a serious afterglow that can, in turn, help you bond better with your partner, according to a report published in March 2017 in the journal Psychological Science. In this study, which examined newlywed couples who kept a two-week sexual diary, researchers found that partners were satisfied for a full 48 hours after sexual activity. And those who were lucky enough to experience this afterglow went on to report more happiness in their relationship several months later.
Glowing, Younger-Looking Skin: That fabled “morning after” glow? It’s not just your imagination; you really do look better after having sex. “Sex even helps you look younger,” says Caron. That glow can be attributed to a combination of stress relief, better mood, and the flush of blood under your skin which’s a natural part of the arousal process.
Enjoying a healthy sex life is one of the great joys in life. Knowing intimacy could be a boon for your long-term health as well make it that much more pleasurable.