Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
17 Feb

8 Health Reasons to Have Sex (As If You Needed Them)

As promised in last week’s Hunter-Gatherer Fitness post, I’m stirring up the (apparently much awaited) subject of sex – specifically the benefits for physical and mental well-being. Uh, you mean coitus? Yup. Thanks to everyone who responded to the announcement with rousing enthusiasm as well as comments and questions.

What could be more Primal than sex, many of you have suggested. Absolutely right. It was probably one of Grok’s most valued pleasures. (Are people today much different?) For our part, however, we have new freedoms in a manner of speaking. Although we might honor the evolutionary imperative behind our primal appetites with eventual procreation, we’re not beholden to the natural odds with every tryst. As I’ve said many a time, I love studying and learning from the example of Grok and his kin. Nonetheless, I’m a happily modern man in this instance as much as any.

I’m not just talking hedonistic indulgence here (not that there’s anything wrong with that). There are genuine health benefits to be garnered after all. Today I’m after those copious “ancillary” benefits of bonk – the gratifying (albeit overshadowed) enhancements to our physical and mental health that come from the physical exertion itself as well as the biochemical cascade of everything from estrogen to testosterone, prolactin to oxytocin to beta-endorphins.

Before we proceed, let me offer the expected and requisite Primal caveat: I’m talking here about safe sex ideally with a committed partner. What good does it do to blow the overall health benefit by putting yourself at risk for the myriad of sexually transmitted diseases. Likewise, why negate the mental health boost by pursing sex in a relationship/liaison that isn’t emotionally healthy? ‘Nuff said?

Now for those long awaited advantages…. Let’s cut to the chase here, get to it, and jump right in. After all, there’s much to discuss and disseminate today. Lot of ins, lot of outs. (All right, I’ve had my fun….)

1. Improve Your Stress Response – And Your Blood Pressure

Sex certainly has the power to take the edge off. (Stress just kind of slides off….) The process of arousal and orgasm, of course, let loose a mesmeric elixir of natural pain killers and relaxers. What’s not to love? Though sex generally offers the most intense dose of aforementioned chemical cocktail, caresses of all kinds can impart generous benefits. (All the more reason to take your time and relish the full experience, I’d say.) Research has shown that a partner’s touch – whether curling up under the sheets or simply passing in the hall – initiates the release of oxytocin, which in turn can lower blood pressure and heart rate. The effect goes for so-called cardiovascular reactivity, the response of the cardiovascular system to stress. Participants who received comforting touch from their spouses before stressful events displayed lower blood pressure and lower heart rates. If that’s what a simple hug can do, imagine the inspiration you can give your partner the morning of a big presentation?

2. (While You’re At It…) Cut Your Risk for Cardiac-related Death

On a more dramatic note, the unique closeness of sex can have more consequential impact in the cardiovascular realm. In a 20-year long cohort study, researchers followed more than 900 men and found that having sex twice or more a week decreased a subject’s risk for a fatal heart attack – by more than 50%. That’s nothing to shake a stick at.

3. Upgrade Your Immune Function

An often cited study from Wilkes University suggests regular sex might offer a surge of immune potency. Among the 112 surveyed students, those who had sex 1-2 times a week showed a rousing 30 percent boost in salivary immunoglobulin. Those who had sex less frequently than once a week had a slight IgA edge over total abstainers. (In an interesting wrinkle, the “three or more times a week” crowd showed slightly lower IgA levels. To their possible chagrin, the researchers didn’t ask participants about the number of partners or other potential “relationship” factors that might have influenced the findings. Hmmm…lack of sleep?) Although it’s a study to take with a grain of salt, the basic premise is probably sound. As welcome as it is, the usual exchange of fluids (or the body’s anticipated exchange) represents contact with a foreign substance that likely contains some kind of microbial profile.

4. Get Some Pain Relief

Anyone who’s gotten jiggy with it when they’re sick knows sex can offer a temporary respite from their symptoms – especially when it comes to pain. (Kind of turns the proverbial headache excuse on its ear.) Both arousal and orgasm trigger the production of oxytocin, which then initiates a sensational rush of endorphins and corticosteroids – both fairly potent pain killers. Post coital bliss indeed.

In a study published in the Bulletin of Experimental Biology and Medicine, subjects who were given a dose of oxytocin saw their pain thresholds balloon by more than 50% during the course of the experiment. Seriously, who needs Advil for an analgesic?

5. Steady Your Cycle – and Possibly Increase Your Fertility

Physicians prescribe the birth control pill left and right to women who have irregular menstrual cycles. Regular sex might present a more enjoyable alternative for that particular purpose. Women who have sex with male partners once a week or more, research has shown, are more likely to experience consistent menstrual cycles and (as a result) have fewer fertility problems than women who had sex less often or abstained entirely. One possible reason? Male pheromones. Researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine honed in on the pheromone link by applying men’s underarm secretions obtained to the upper lips of women subjects. (The image itself is kind of mood killer.) Whether absorbed or inhaled, the magic mix of aromatics in the male samples caused the women’s cycles to normalize toward a consistent 29 ½ day cycle.

Frequent sex with the same partner over several months or more can also “prime” a woman’s body for a healthy, full term pregnancy. Research at the University of Adelaide in South Australia showed that women who engaged in frequent sexual activity with their committed partners (including oral sex, which actually appeared more effective in the study) had higher rates of conception and fewer incidences of miscarriage, preeclampsia, and high blood pressure. Women’s bodies, the researchers suggest, literally learn and come to accept the particular proteins of their partners’ semen in a process called immune modulation. Having become accustomed to the familiar semen profile (oh, you again), the woman’s body is less likely to reject the fetus and placenta that result from conception with that partner.

6. Reduce Your Risk for Prostate Cancer

Research has linked frequent ejaculations (yes, the solo gig counts here) with a slightly lower risk for prostate cancer in later life. The golden frequency in this study? Twenty-one times per month. It’s a tall order, but I know you can do it.

One possible explanation for the decrease is the “flushing” theory. In its efforts to concentrate minerals and other necessary substances from the blood to make semen, the prostate can end up collecting a concentration of toxins as well. Releasing the semen – with said toxins – flushes the system of said impurities. (Gives a new meaning to cleaning out the pipes.)

7. Look Better

Now we’re getting to the good stuff. (Kidding.) Yes, there’s the ever flattering afterglow. It’s a shame they can’t bottle that. There’s so much more to gain, however, or maybe lose. How about calories for instance? Estimates vary but average around 85-100 calories per half an hour. Of course, real life expenditures diverge depending on how zesty an enterprise you enjoy. In terms of calories burned, you’re looking at low to moderate level activity, but your heart rate can easily climb to high intensity levels. It’s probably the most enjoyable cardio you’ll pursue any day of the week.

Then there’s the workout itself – a toning and stretching and strengthening that includes muscles you didn’t even know you had – ala that next morning ache. (Don’t forget about those less obvious – and all important – pelvic floor muscles, which support everything from orgasm intensity to urinary continence.) On the chemical front, intercourse offers a boost in testosterone for stronger bones and muscles. Finally, how about the appeal of a totally relaxed face and body – and the inevitable smile?

8. Finally… Feed Your Primal Self

I’m talking about more than your primal with a lowercase “p” appetite here. I mean your more inclusive, nuanced Primal (as in PB) self. As I’ve said many a time, living Primally isn’t an exercise in asceticism or deprivation. It’s about knowing and inhabiting your physical self more appreciatively, more pleasurably as well as responsibly. Sex isn’t just a procreative act. (Even in Grok’s day it served many more purposes than that.) Though technically unnecessary, it’s far from some isolated, tangentially relevant act. The desire and delight of sex is unique. It’s not an interchangeable element of our human experience. The shared intimacy and individual rapture teaches us, reveals to us, unfolds layers of our humanity, and lays bare a sensitivity and vulnerability, a vigor and power otherwise unknown to us. Even in its absence, sex helps define who we are and how we connect with life.

Not surprisingly, our sexual enjoyment extends far beyond the immediate physical crescendo. It has significance in our broader fulfillment. A cross-national study (PDF) revealed that both men’s and women’s sense of sexual well-being significantly correlated with their general life satisfaction.

When it comes to garnering all the good health benefits of sex, a lot of readers ask about frequency. As I mentioned in last week’s fitness post, your start racking up the health gains at once a week, but the composite of research suggests that two to three times will maximize overall advantages. Needless to say, it’s well worth working into the calendar.

Okay, the floor is officially open to discussion. I’ll be interested to see what comes of today’s post and its suggestions… Thanks for reading, and I hope you were inspired today. Have a great day (or night, as the case may be), everybody.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. 21 times a month? That’s a lot, even for me – and I’m single!!!

    Ben wrote on February 17th, 2011
  2. Alright, alright. If only for the sake of my health! :-)

    Been looking forward to this post as well. And let me guess, you watched The Big Lebowski recently?

    Darrin wrote on February 17th, 2011
  3. Sweet deal. Would a *clears throat* single guy still be able to get these benefits relying solely on the right hand? 21 times is a tall order!

    Apolo wrote on February 17th, 2011
  4. I want to know, too – anything much gained from masturbation?

    Ulla Lauridsen wrote on February 18th, 2011
  5. Fritzy, the diet is based on meat and vegetables and i know Primal is a lifestyle but the diet is totally flawed on the basis that you will have a low pH if most of the food you eat is meat.

    Sean wrote on February 18th, 2011
    • Really? You know I don’t usually post on these things, but I drives me crazy when someone pops up and starts trying to criticize something that obviously works for a large number of people. Yes, if your diet consist of near 90 percent meat and only 10 percent veggies, your ph would be off, but most people on the primal blueprint eat ample amounts of veggies and fruits to balance it out. What kind of plan do you follow where your ph is so great? The way I figure it, eating more veggies and fruits and no grain would actually help balance ph. Also, if you think about, most people are way overweight, even when they’re following some so called diet, would meat and veggies be such a bad idea? No one has ever gotten fat eating just meat and veggies. If you don’t like it, or you have something that works better for you (after all, we are all different) then great, just don’t come saying something is “totally flawed” when it obviously works. There is more than one way to skin a cat.

      David wrote on February 18th, 2011
    • Sean, I don’t think you are paying attention to anything anyone is saying. Have you seen Mark’s food pyramid? Veggies are at the very base of that. Have you read up on the various amino acids, such as glutamate, that counter-balance the acidic pH of meats? Have you read all of the testimonials of people, on this very site and all over the net, who have lowered their weight, markers for various diseases, joint pain, etc? Have you thought logically about the undeniable fact that our ancestors recieved a great deal of their nutrition from animal products? Do you think our bodies would have evolved to do anything less than thrive on the foods that were available to us during the formation of out species? There are people today, living off diets almost entirely consisting of animal protien that, from all indications not only avoid the common western diseases but live long, healthy lives.

      As David said, there is more than one way to health. If you found a way that works for you, great. But to make the claim that a diet is “totally flawed” when it is obviously working for a great many people, is patently ridiculous.

      Don’t believe everything PETA tells you. Chances are, they are very selective in the information they pump out.

      fritzy wrote on February 18th, 2011
  6. My newly found primal self is quite frisky, much to my husband’s pleasure (pun intended). Lose weight, feel sexier, feel HEALTHY, mind is clear… great recipe for increased desire! So far this morning I’ve had bacon AND nookie – ok well not at the same time lol

    there’s an idea…. hehe

    Kristina wrote on February 18th, 2011
  7. Agreed, agreed, agreed. Burying my nose in my boyfriend’s neck and just breathing him in is a great stress reducer.

    Sandy wrote on February 18th, 2011
  8. At Boo…. respectfully, the woman who hates you has nothing to do with it AT ALL… I paid child support to my daughter until she was 21… It helped her and her mother out…. also engendered good fellings all around…. Try it!

    Randy Clere wrote on February 18th, 2011
    • Wonderful post! You are an amazing man! If I hear my boss complain one more time about giving half his salary to his kids I’m gonna scream!

      Melanie wrote on February 18th, 2011
  9. I know this comment has nothing to do with being primal, but I can’t help myself…The term “sexually transmitted diseases” has been replaced with the more accurate term “sexually transmitted infections.” Since unsafe sex puts you at risk for bacterial and viral “infections” I think this is a more accurate term that we should all adopt using. STI’s are not “diseases” and it’s important to stop labeling people with them as “diseased.” Just my two cents…Other than this, I thought this was a fabulous post! Yay sex!!! I’m getting all primal just thinking about it :)

    PC Girl wrote on February 18th, 2011
  10. friends with “health” benefits , eh , eh!

    Alex wrote on February 18th, 2011
  11. Mark,

    Could you address birth control methods in a future post?

    Lauren wrote on February 18th, 2011
  12. Mark you should put more emphasis on PC muscle isolation & exercises for more intense / multiple orgasms – it is a muscle after all and along with the Playful Anti-Stress benefits of sex aren’t you also all about physical fitness?

    mm wrote on February 18th, 2011
  13. Already tried this one out this morning… 😉

    Breastfeeding works pretty well for child spacing — just so long as you don’t look at it in a modern way as “birth control.” It will give you, on average, a healthy space between babies, but it doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant. I just got my cycle back at 9 months postpartum, probably because my kid doesn’t like to nurse that often. He’s all business. A needier baby generally gives you a bigger space.

    Anyway, great article!

    Sheila wrote on February 19th, 2011
    • Sorry, breastfeeding as birth control is a myth. I have two sons born exactly one year apart to prove it which means I became pregnant 3 months after having the first while breastfeeding. After the second was born my husband wouldn’t come near me until we put the “permanent” birth control into place.

      Randalland wrote on February 20th, 2011

        “only “ecological” breastfeeding provides extended postpartum infertility. This is a form of baby care which is characterized by constant mother-baby togetherness and frequent nursing, both by day and by night.”

        (means carrying your baby on your body)

        “babies and toddlers were nursing an average of two minutes every 15 minutes, and the mothers were conceiving at about 35 months”

        Lili wrote on February 20th, 2011
  14. “disseminate”? I see what you did there.

    Great article, as usual.

    Jenny wrote on February 19th, 2011
  15. I did not read through all the posts but google ‘how to be a good lover’ and ‘how to last longer in bed’.
    Good lovers are sought after regardless of how old or out of shape….sought out by their SO or…
    If you’re going to partake, might as well perfect it.

    jem wrote on February 19th, 2011
  16. I keep my weight down when I am having sex. If my husband and I become complacent ( I think that’s the word I want ) then I am doomed to gain weight.

    mary titus wrote on February 21st, 2011
  17. What if you never have opportunity for sex? :( Actually how does masturbating compare in terms of health affects?

    steven wrote on February 21st, 2011
  18. Jem, you do not hafta to be a good lover to get healthy benefits from sex. As a matter of fact, I consider myself a “sucky” lover but my husband loves having sex with me simply because I want to have sex with him. THe only thing that really counts is that you are itnerested.

    mary titus wrote on February 21st, 2011
    • Wouldn’t “sucky” be a GOOD thing in this context??

      Will wrote on February 23rd, 2011
  19. So where does this fit on the exercise pyramid? Moving slowly? Lifting heavy things? Or that all-out sprint?

    I suppose you could take your pick. 😉

    Dragline wrote on February 23rd, 2011
  20. great article to see – now if Mark would explore and do an article on the additional benefits of sexuality in the context of open relationships… 😉

    (… or maybe that’s a subject for our blog…)

    DaiaRavi wrote on February 23rd, 2011
  21. i seem to get real cranky and irritable after going more than 2 days without it, i can be demanding. its one of the only things in life that take me out of myself completely. and solo doesn’t cut it, at all. its the feeling of being filled up that i need, i think. :)

    marshka wrote on February 23rd, 2011
  22. It leads to bacon snacks late at night.
    Works muscles that other wise don’t get worked. AND Passion is a wonderful thing for the braIN TO EXPERIENCE!
    GROK OK>>>

    DAVE PARSONS wrote on February 23rd, 2011
  23. Is it possible to have too much sex? Will 10 times or more per week reduce the benefits??

    On a separate note, I am in a committed relationship, but the idea of Reason #6 and releasing “said toxins” into me does not sound very assuring. Is there any other info out there about this?

    Polly wrote on February 23rd, 2011
  24. Great post, lots of info and a nice light touch!

    Odille wrote on February 23rd, 2011
  25. my girlfriend and i have sex 5-10 times a week on some weeks. I wonder if this is having an adverse effect and and hampering our weight loss efforts by burning out some of our endocrine glands.

    vic305 wrote on February 23rd, 2011
  26. This works fine when your wife is young but after menopause – FORGET IT!

    nightrite wrote on February 23rd, 2011
    • What a sexist comment! If your wife has lost her libido, she should see her gynecologist. She might need some hormone replacement.

      Maxmilliana wrote on February 24th, 2011
      • I am 59 and separated–I lost my libido not to menopause but to his thoroughly boring selfishness. Premarin and Vagifem may have helped my physical capabilities but not my satisfaction (easy orgasms) w/ about a year of outrace-the-collapsing-erection even after Viagra/Cialis—all of these coitus-helper treatments are also very expensive.
        Starting Primal seeems to have increased my libido a bit, I eat very little beef so can’t be meat hormones. Voluptuous and robust are supposed to be sexy; we’ll see.

        shrimp4me wrote on October 18th, 2013
  27. If you asked the Taoist sexual teacher Mantak Chia, I’m sure he wouldn’t agree that ejaculating 21 times per month is very healthy. (There’s a reason they call it “the little death” :-) )

    In my opinion, males should try to have orgasms without ejaculation (“dry orgasms”) as much as possible, rather than ejaculate as much as possible (though once in a while certainly won’t “kill” you)

    Even though it doesn’t prove anything for humans, there was a (nearly 20-year old) study on male roundworms that linked their frequency of ejaculation to their life expectancy:

    Uberdoc wrote on February 23rd, 2011
  28. What about sex with yourself? 😉

    Grok wrote on February 23rd, 2011
  29. Hmmm…That’s why I’m so healthy. Anyway, when I showed this to my wife, she said, “It figures a man wrote it!”

    Robert wrote on February 23rd, 2011
  30. So those are all the health benifits I’m NOT getting….

    cam wrote on February 23rd, 2011
  31. ha! it’s not often i see my university mentioned on the websites i read, but here you go! on a very good-news post i might add :)

    claire wrote on February 23rd, 2011
    • My University too!! Cool, you don’t see AU mentioned much :)

      Rin wrote on February 23rd, 2011
  32. I’m assuming condoms are NOT primal.
    And raw dog is totally primal.

    John wrote on February 23rd, 2011
  33. Anyone wanna meet up? (women only thx)

    D-Beast wrote on February 23rd, 2011
  34. Just want to add….I’ve always found explanations for the strong desire for men to roll over and sleep fascinating. Is it because he needs to stay to “protect” his woman? Is it because it makes him stay to make sure no other male impregnates his woman? Is it because he’s a lazy bugger? 😀

    Rin wrote on February 23rd, 2011
  35. Love it! And forwarded to hubby. No wonder his heart health exam came out so great this week. One more side of Grok that it’s nice to see addressed here, and I love all the interesting comments about lady Grok and her child spacing.

    From my understanding, almost no one in Western society breastfeeds the way a momma Grok would do – child wearing and on-demand feeding, all-night nursing, co-sleeping, probably constant visual and tactile exposure to nipples and breasts for the baby (instead of the jacket, the shirt, and the nursing bra to be undone, not to mention that dratted nursing blanket to be “discreet”)

    FWIW, my personal data point is two and a quarter years of no ovulation after baby #1, two years after baby #2. Both babies nursed like crazy, co-slept, and carried in slings. There’s a lot of cross-over in my mind between primal lifestyle and attachment parenting. What’s healthy for baby is healthy for parents as well. Not to mention over 4 years of worry-free birth control.

    Understanding our bodies also means being able to tune in to signs like when ovulation is happening (something that many women don’t know how to tell) so that when fertility returns, we’re not caught unawares. Eating well also helps all of our body’s systems (including reproductive systems) become healthier and more likely to be predictable and worry-free.

    Robin wrote on February 23rd, 2011
  36. Hi Mark
    Can you explain if masturbation has the same positive effects as sex with a partner has? Or anyone please share your thoughts with me. I would really love to know the real scientific truth if masturbation is harmful or not.

    Yazeed wrote on February 23rd, 2011
    • My thought is that your body doesn’t care whether you have a partner or not. The emotional aspects of sharing the experience is an additional benefit, and helps keep the man around to support the woman and offspring. Religious teachings which preach against masturbation are doing so to grant power to the leaders over the followers, and to channel their energy into supporting the religion. This applies to “enlightened” gurus, as well, in my opinion.

      Maxmilliana wrote on February 24th, 2011
      • Hi
        Thanks for the reply. I have to agree with you on the religious part. They preach against it because all that they do is deny you all the pleasures. But from a health perspective, I kinda need more scientific proof. I would love to know if it is healthy or unhealthy and the frequency of doing it, if it is damaging to health or not(for males specifically).

        Yazeed wrote on February 24th, 2011
        • I’m a woman, but as I understand it, most pubescent boys/young men think about sex and masterbate quite frequently, with no apparent ill effects. Contrary to conventional wisdom a century ago, it will not make you blind. ?:-D Any comments from you guys?

          Maxmilliana wrote on February 25th, 2011

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