How Sex Improves Your Mental Health
It only takes one Google search of the terms “sex” and “mental health” to realize that the two go hand in hand—like, fingers-intertwined, palms-pressed-together, never-let-go, hand in hand. In many ways, this dynamic duo is the epitome of the mind-body connection. An activity illustrated by tangled limbs and beads of sweat—so physical and instinctive, that it bonds effortlessly with some of the most intense and rewarding emotions a human can experience: trust, passion, and love.
Understanding this symbiotic relationship is not only interesting, it also allows us to enter intimate spaces with confidence and awareness. The result? A sense of empowerment, stronger relationships, and, you guessed it, more enjoyable sex. Here are four important ways that sex can boost your mental health.
- Sex reduces stress, depression and anxiety
The physicality of sex provides abundant benefits to the body and mind. Those with active sex lives see improvement in their cardiovascular health, a decrease in their blood pressure, and a healthy influx of endorphins, which are feel-good brain chemicals. While there are many more related health perks, the aforementioned benefits curb some of the common physiological sensations that spike our stress and lead to unhealthy thought patterns.
Improved heart health resulting from exercise (and in this case, sex) means that, in the face of stressful situations, our physical response is greatly reduced. So anxiety-inducing symptoms like sweaty palms, dizziness, flushed cheeks, and a racing heart are kept at bay. Additionally, endorphins provide a natural dose of calm and optimism that ground you in the here and now, mitigating stressful cognitive distortions. The cherry on top is that while sex is improving your mental health, the opposite is also occurring. Positive mental health is associated with a strengthened libido so you can take ample comfort in knowing that your increased sex drive will keep this sexy, health-promoting cycle going and going and going…
- Better sleep
Endorphins aren’t the only hormones released during sex that help us feel good. Oxytocin and prolactin, the latter of which reaches its highest level at peak orgasm, are responsible for the post-sex internal relaxation that lulls us to sleep. Put simply, these chemicals begin to mimic sedatives, slowing down brain activity and allowing us to wind down. Additionally, estrogen levels spike after sex which has been known to help women sleep more deeply, enhancing the REM cycle. And as if that wasn’t exciting enough, the key to your best sleep is linked directly to your own pleasure. That’s right, studies have shown that those who reach orgasm are more likely to report better sleep. Note: we didn’t say sex, we said orgasm… so a partner isn’t required. Sweet dreams!
- Increased relationship satisfaction
Oxytocin, affectionately known as the “love hormone,” is well-known for the role it plays in childbirth and breastfeeding, its release promoting a mutual bond between a newborn and its parent. This same neurotransmitter is responsible for heightened feelings of trust and empathy in romantic pairings—qualities that contribute to greater relationship satisfaction between partners. Oxytocin increases when we hug, lock eyes, share skin-to-skin contact, and have orgasms. People whose romantic attachment is new also experience greater levels of oxytocin than those who are single, alluding to that warm and fuzzy honeymoon phase. It is exciting to know that nourishing a healthy sex life can support feelings of novelty and appreciation at any stage of a relationship. When one feels more connected to her sexual partner, she feels more comfortable being vulnerable. She unlocks a confident manner of communicating what she wants and doesn’t want in terms of intimacy. Honest conversations like these benefit everyone involved and keep one’s sexual experience in line with personal values.
- Improved memory
Some studies have found that sexual activity is linked to greater memory performance, contributing to a growing body of research that links sex and cognitive functioning. Certain conclusions suggest that sexual activity stimulates cell growth in the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for memory, while others attribute greater performance on memory tests to be a result of the rush of hormones that takes place in the brain. Whether the benefits are short-term, long-term, or both—there are studies suggesting all three—the main takeaway here is that sex has a positive impact on your cognition. That’s a tip we won’t soon forget.
With all that said, sex might just be the piece missing from your self-care puzzle. With clear benefits for your mind, emotional wellbeing, cognitive function, and relationships, sex makes a compelling case for why it’s an integral part of the mental health conversation.