Everyone has probably heard about the physical benefits of having sex (it helps the immune system, lowers blood pressure, burns calories). But are you aware of the long list of psychological benefits?
Sex eases stress
It’s well known stress can have serious implications. Stress is largely the result of many interacting psychological factors and can vary significantly between people. Nevertheless, it can cause all kinds of health problems from mild headaches, sleeping difficulties and muscle tension, to more severe issues such as malfunction of the immune system and chronic depression.
There is evidence that being close to your partner (physically and emotionally) can lower stress levels. Physical intimacy can trigger the release of all kinds of chemicals in the brain including:
- dopamine - which plays a major role in reward-motivated behaviour, focuses attention and generally increases motivation
- endorphins – our body’s natural pain and stress fighters, and
- oxytocin – affectionately known as “the cuddle hormone”, which can trigger feelings of compassion.
After an orgasm, the body releases the hormone prolactin, which often leads to drowsiness and a general feeling of relaxation. Comfort ultimately resulting in sleep is a common post-orgasm response.
One study actually found having sex every day for a full fortnight decreased anxiety and led to cell growth in the hippocampus (the emotion centre) of rodents. There’s also evidence suggesting regular sex lowers stress-related blood pressure.
Sex boosts self-esteem
There’s an old saying “sex is like food; it’s only a big deal when you’re not getting enough of it”. With sex it’s not so much a matter of “the more the better”, but a complete lack of sex can be quite harmful. There is some evidence a lack of sex is associated with feelings of depression and low self-worth.
In today’s world there is a lot of social pressure to be sexually active. Having a nonexistent or minimal sex life can feel socially stigmatising. In this way, having sex can unburden someone from a strong social pressure and enhance their self-esteem.
All of us have fundamental psychological needs we need to fulfil in order to remain mentally healthy. Having sex isn’t (strictly) a fundamental human need, but it’s an important part of love and connection.
Eminent psychologist Abraham Maslow suggested there were five categories of fundamental human needs. In addition to obvious physiological needs such as water, food and sleep, there are four categories of fundamental psychological needs: safety, love/connection, esteem and autonomy.
Of course we need to meet our physiological needs, but then to be happy, stable people, we need to fulfil each category of psychological need on a regular basis. If too many psychological needs go unmet for too long, our mental health can be negatively affected. Some studies suggest that in certain situations, social isolation can be a predictor of early death.