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What was once a taboo subject for society in the west is no longer. Television and movies have made sex a common topic of conversation in the 21st century.  Is sex a factor worth considering from a health perspective?  Let us take a look.

Studies have now been conducted to evaluate the effects of sex on a person’s health. According to an article published in 2009, regular sex improves health and doubles life expectancy. A survey conducted of 10,000 middle age men revealed that those who reported the highest frequency of orgasm lived twice as long as those who did not enjoy sex. Another study conducted concluded that sexual activity seems to have a protective effect on men’s health.

So sex can contribute to longevity in men. Does it have specific health benefits for women too? According to recent research, it has many. One interesting finding by an MD, the founder of the PATH Medical Center in New York City, is that sex may give women healthier-looking skin. During sex, the body produces the hormone DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone).  This chemical does several good things for the body, including improving one’s complexion. Another possible benefit of sex for women is increased bladder control as the muscles associated with incontinence (the pelvic floor muscles) can be exercised and strengthened during intercourse.

Sex has many other health perks across the board for both men and women. It has been proven to have a role in reducing high blood pressure and increasing circulation. Apparently those who have sex regularly are half as likely to have heart attacks and strokes as those who do not have sex at all. Sex can also be a weight loss tool because of the increased calories burned as well as the phenetylamine produced during intercourse, a hormone that regulates appetite.  Having sex can even combat the common cold because the body releases an antibody during orgasm called immunoglobulin A which is known to strengthen immunity.

Sex can also be a good stress reliever. Oxytocin is a chemical that the body releases just before orgasm. This chemical aides in the secretion of endorphins which help the body relax or “chill out”. Because of this, sex can be a natural remedy for insomnia. Other health benefits range from improved cognition to decreased incidences of breast cancer to increased pain tolerance.

There are also emotional health benefits to a healthy sex life. A survey of 500 Americans demonstrated that over 80% of married men and women believed a satisfying sex life was important to their individual lives and their relationship.  Almost 100% of those involved in the survey indicated that sexual enjoyment improves one’s quality of life at any age. Research has also demonstrated support for the theory that regular intercourse can be linked to a decreased risk of depression. Another study concluded that consistent mutual sexual pleasure increases bonding within a relationship. It appears that sex within a healthy, stable relationship is a great tool for maintaining one’s well-being.

We would be remiss not to mention the potential negative health implications of sex as well. An article published in 2011 stated that having sex during the adolescent years can have negative effects on a person’s body and mood well into adulthood. Zachary Weil, from the Department of Neuroscience at Ohio State University concluded that there is a time in nervous system development when things are changing very rapidly and part of those changes are preparations for adult reproductive behaviors and physiology. There is a possibility that environmental experiences and signals could have amplified effects if they occur before the nervous system has settled down into adulthood.

Chinese medicine has stressed the importance of not having excessive sexual activity. Your essence is present at birth. It forms the material basis for the whole body and is crucial in reproduction, growth, development and maturation. Every metabolic activity consumes it; we can nourish or deplete it through our behavior and lifestyle. But once it’s gone, you cannot make more. Sexual activity has been known to consume your essence, although there is a distinction between its effect on men and women. Excessive activity is less of a cause of disease in women than men. Essence plays a significant role in fertility. In men, loss of sperm implies a loss of essence and therefore excessive sexual behaviours can diminish it. On the other hand, in women, there is no corresponding loss during sexual activity as they do not lose any ova, making them less likely to develop disease.

Insufficient sexual activity also plays a role in disease according to Chinese Medicine. When sexual desire is present but does not have an outlet, pathological disease can result. Qi is one’s life force. It can become trapped with sexual frustration and a lack of release, giving rise to various gynecological problems including dysmenorrhea. Additionally, sexual frustration will affect the emotional and mental attitude. Stagnant or blocked Qi can contribute to feelings of loneliness and depression. Insufficient or excessive sexual activity can therefore be a disease causing factor according to Traditional Chinese Medical views.

Of course we must point out the risks associated with having sex.  Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are still a reality today. While there may be effective treatments for some of them, they are never welcome. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests several ways to limit the incidence of STDs. Abstinence, monogamy and proper protection (e.g. condoms) are their biggest recommendations. It is essential to know your status and your partner’s with respect to STDs before engaging in sexual activity. Remember when it comes to STDs you are not just sleeping with your partner; you are possibly sleeping with what was shared between your partner and their previous relationships.