Why do you have sex? Whilst the primary function is to have children, many people like to have sex for lots of other reasons. In our recent study of over 2,000 women, trans and non binary people, we asked our respondents why they have sex. This was a multiple choice question, and 76% said they have sex because they enjoy it, 70% do it to bond with their partners, 33% do it because their partner likes it, and 29% have sex to relieve sexual frustration.
Sex can be a really enjoyable and bonding activity, but is sex healthy in other ways as well? If you want to feel extra good about yourself the next time you have sex, read on to find out more about the health benefits of physical intimacy!
When we talk about sex in this article, we are talking about consensual, safe sex. Remember that it’s your body, you are the only person who gets to decide if and when you have sex, and you are in charge of your consent. Don’t let anyone pressure or guilt you into doing anything you don’t want to do.
Is sex healthy?
When you’re taught about sex as a young person, educators often like to focus on the risks of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Whilst this information is really important, it can feel like sex education is skewed to the negative and doesn’t give the same priority to the benefits of sex.
“Sex is important to our overall well-being – whether that’s through masturbation or with a partner,” says Alice Leach, Sex and Relationship Expert for Tapdat Dating App. “Within a partnered relationship, intimacy is a key part of how we bond. It creates a close and confident relationship, keeping us connected and feeling appreciated. But what intimacy looks like is entirely personal.”
What does a healthy sex life look like?
“It’s important to recognize that sex does not always need to include intercourse,” says Karine Bedard, a Sex Positive Relationship and Empowerment Coach. “All parts of the sexual journey are beneficial when done with consent and care towards the other person. Care does not always mean gentle either; kink includes a lot of care and is often not gentle. Go enjoy your sex life and increase your emotional well being. Just be authentic!”
What constitutes a healthy sex life looks different for different people. Some people want to have sex every day, some want it a few times a week and some want it less. In our survey, we found that in an ideal world, 50% of our respondents would like to have sex a few times a week. When asked how much sex they are having on average, 24% are doing it a few times a week and 35% are having sex a few times a month. What type of sex and the sexual activities you want to have also varies from person to person. Rather than trying to mould yourself into your idea of what a healthy sex life looks like, it’s much better for everyone to do what feels healthy and right for themselves.
It’s also important to remember that not everyone wants to have sex. People naturally vary in terms of how often they want sexual contact, and this can change with different partners and in different stages of your life. There is no ‘normal’ when it comes to libido.
So what are the health benefits of sex?
Sex and sleep
Getting enough good quality sleep is essential for healthy brain function and maintenance of your physical health. Not getting enough sleep can make you hungrier, negatively impact your memory and focus, and have a detrimental effect on your mood, as well as increase the risk of serious health conditions such as heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression.
Can sex help you fall asleep? It would appear so! “Sex is the perfect antidote to restless sleep and trouble nodding off,” says Alice, “and better sleep makes for a better day tomorrow and a happier, healthier you,” says Alice.
When you orgasm, your brain releases neurotransmitters like oxytocin, prolactin and serotonin. These chemicals can help you feel satisfied, calm and relaxed – which is helpful when you’re trying to fall asleep! Oxytocin (known as the love chemical because of its role in mother-child and relational bonding) can also reduce cortisol (your body’s stress hormones) levels. Cortisol is naturally higher in the morning and falls as the day goes on, and having higher levels of cortisol at night is associated with difficulty sleeping.
Sex can boost your immunity
Can regular sex boost your immune system? Some studies suggest that it can. In one study, researchers found that people in romantic relationships who had sex once or twice a week had more immunoglobulin (antibodies) in their saliva. People who had sex less frequently had lower levels of immunoglobulin. Another study found that sexual intimacy can lead to ‘partial or complete’ relief of headaches and migrains.
“Research has shown that masturbation and sex can help to strengthen our immune system by releasing oxytocin,” says Alice. “There’s even some evidence to show that men who masturbate to ejaculate benefit from boosts to their white blood cell count. It’s basically doctor-recommended!”
Other studies have found that men who frequently ejaculate could be protected against prostate cancer. Research from the National Cancer Institute found that men who ejaculated 21 times per month or more were a third less likely to develop prostate cancer compared to men who ejaculated between four and seven times a month. This seems to include all methods of reaching ejaculation, so masturbation would be enough to reap the benefits.
Of course, physical intimacy with other people can come with it’s own health risks – from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to the flu. We recommend using a condom if you don’t know your partner’s STI status, and maybe not snogging someone if they have a bad cough.
“Now more than ever, it’s important to take time to appreciate physical touch,” says Alice. “Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted amongst us need some amount of human contact. During long periods of social separation, masturbation and self-touch can help alleviate some of that deprivation.”
A big part of how many humans bond is through physical touch. This doesn’t just involve sex – a pleasant hug with a friend releases oxytocin, which strengthens your bond and makes you feel good. All kinds of platonic physical contact can release oxytocin, including contact with friends, family members and pets.
“Skin to skin contact acts to reduce stress in the body and create a bond,” says Karine. “Skin to skin contact also stimulates the release of Oxytocin (the “love” hormone), Prolactin and Endorphins in the body which are connecting hormones. Often during or after sex there is an aspect of being held and feeling safe and secure. That helps the body to rebalance and allows you to breathe and calm your body. It often helps to get the Vagus Nerve back on line if we have been in a fight or flight state.”
Non sexual intimate acts with your romantic partners can also release these feel good chemicals. “Kissing also releases oxytocin, increases blood flow, reduces pain, calms the body, and creates meaningful connections just to name a few benefits,” says Karine.
Get your blood pumping
“Ok, so it’s not a marathon (for most of us), but masturbation and sex get the blood pumping,” says Alice. “It’s a small energy release that will get your body going after days of sitting on the sofa or at an office desk. And you have our permission to count it as part of your daily exercise regime. It’s a treat from you to you, with an energy boost built in.”
Sex may not burn loads of calories, but it is physical exercise, it does get the heart racing and, if you’re having energetic sex you may well build up a sweat!
Do you need to orgasm to get the health benefits from sex?
Orgasms are nice, but the pressure to have one can take the fun out of sex. “Pleasure is always a benefit,” says Karine. “When we get out of our head and connect to our body and the pleasure we feel in our body, we are able to release pent up emotions that are sometimes trapped in the body. It is also a way of getting the heart rate up, as is it a form of exercise. This is all without even having an orgasm.”
If you can’t or don’t always reach orgasm, there are still loads of benefits to having sex – emotionally and physically. We’d be lying, however, if we said that orgasms weren’t great. “Sex without orgasm is so beneficial for so many things, but if you add in a orgasm it’s like putting the cherry on top,” Karine adds. “An orgasm increases the levels of dopamine, oxytocin, norepinephrine, and testosterone which are so good for our mental health and emotional regulation. When these chemicals are released in the body, it can improve our moods and cognition and at the same time reduce your anxiety and stress responses.”
Sex comes with impressive health benefits, but it can also come with risks. If you don’t want to have a baby now or ever, it’s a good idea to think about your contraceptive options. Hana® is the UK’s number one best selling contraceptive pill available to buy over the pharmacy counter or online with no need for a doctor’s appointment.
Hana® 75µg film-coated tablets contains desogestrel and is an oral contraception for women of child bearing age to prevent pregnancy. Always read the instructions on the package leaflet carefully.