Sexual behavior and activity vary from person to person. Some people wait to have sex, whereas others may be on the asexual spectrum. Those who have sex or are curious about the health benefits of sex, however, might wonder what the advantages of sex are and how they work. So, how can sex benefit your mental health, and how do you establish a healthy sex life?
How can sex benefit your mental health
Though enjoyment and feeling good are reasons enough to take part in sex, a large body of research tells us that it’s propitious for the mind and body in more than one way. Here are some of the advantages of sexual pleasure that we know of:
Stress and anxiety relief
If you’ve ever noticed that you feel calmer or less stressed after sex, there’s a reason. Although it can, in part, be due to the simple fact that it gives you something to focus on outside of life stressors, there are hormones and neurotransmitters involved that can help us explain the relief one may get. These include such hormones as oxytocin, dopamine, and prolactin which are known for the role they play in stress reduction. Additionally, the serotonin released during sex can help regulate feelings of anxiety and moodiness.
Why is this important? Prolonged stress is linked to insomnia, anxiety, and depression, among various other unfavorable mental and physical health outcomes. With that said, anything you can do to decrease feelings of anxiety and stress healthily might benefit your well-being in a powerful way. For those who are sexually active, sex is one of those activities.
A better night of sleep
All around, sleep is one of the most crucial components of caring for ourselves and our well-being. Generally speaking, if you’re doing something that supports your sleep and sleep hygiene, you’re doing something that serves your mental and physical health in a notable way — including sex. Studies show that sex can not only help you fall asleep, but it can promote sleep quality, too.
Getting a sufficient amount of quality sleep may help mitigate concerns that affect our emotional, psychological, and social health if created or influenced by a lack of sleep.
While lack of sleep is linked to irritability, changes in mood, feelings of anxiety and nervousness, lower productivity in occupational settings, and a variety of physical health concerns, too. For example, a heightened risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and a substantially greater likelihood of experiencing a car accident.
Temporary ease of depression symptoms
Does sex help with depression? Believe it or not, sex actually can ease depression symptoms temporarily. As far as how it all works, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Dopamine is released during sex. Dopamine induces feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and even motivation, which is something that many people who live with depression face.
- You also release hormones oxytocin and epinephrine during sex. Epinephrine is another name for adrenaline, which might be why many people express feeling exhilarated during or after an orgasm.
- Sex and self-pleasure or masturbation are both known to increase endorphins, which can ease depression symptoms briefly and promote happiness.
- During and after orgasms, self-stimulation, or sex, people may experience a higher tolerance for both physical and emotional pain. This is due to the serotonin released during these activities.
- Many find sex empowering as well as enjoyable. Synchronically, sex may boost self-esteem.
It’s important to note that these benefits are short-term and are not a form of treatment at all. Depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions require attention from qualified healthcare specialists. If you notice signs of these conditions in yourself, it’s vital to speak to a professional who is equipped to address mental health conditions.
How to have a healthy sex life
Now that you know some of the health benefits of sex and a healthy sex life, you might wonder, what exactly does it mean to have a healthy sex life? The answer ranges for everyone. What a healthy sex life looks like can vary based on factors such as:
- Sex drive and levels of sexual attraction. Some people have higher or lower levels of sexual attraction than other people, and the same is true for a person’s sex drive.
- What brings you, as a unique individual, pleasure. Sex isn’t limited to what you may see in a heteronormative environment. It is also not limited to sex with other people. Self-pleasure carries many of the same advantages or benefits of sex, and it can be a great way to learn more about what you like or enjoy sexually, too.
- The relationships you have. The different relationships you have may mean that you engage in different sexual acts, or certain acts might be more accessible to you than others. You may have one sexual partner, or you may have more than one sexual partner.
- Emotional safety. Sex should be fun, low-stress, and engaged in with someone who you feel secure with both emotionally and physically. Sometimes, it can take time to build that trust, and that is okay.
All that said, there are things you can do to cultivate a healthy sex life. First, safety is important in all sexual relationships. While it’s not the only component of a healthy sex life, it’s not something to overlook.
Second, communication, both with yourself and any sexual partner is imperative and indispensable. Talking about what you enjoy, what your ultimate sex frequency is, how you prefer specific body parts to be called, sharing thoughts on things you want or don’t want to try can all help to make your experience the best it can be.
Third, mindfulness, or being present and embodied during sexual activity, can help you get the most out of sex. This is because it leads to increased satisfaction. It may take trial and error to find what works for you, and that’s okay. It can sometimes be awkward or challenging to talk about what we enjoy sexually, or we may even carry shame ourselves when it comes to what we like or exploring ourselves and our own bodies, too.
Do I Have to Have Sex to Get These Benefits?
While sex has temporary health benefits, none of this is to say that you “should” have sex if you don’t want to. Physical closeness alone — through hugs and kisses, including those that are platonic in nature — can also give your body and brain a short-term boost.
Can a healthy sex life be a part of caring for overall well-being? Absolutely. However, sex is not a treatment for any medical or mental health condition. Talk therapy is recognized as a leading method of care for many mental health concerns, including depression and anxiety. However, you don’t need a diagnosis to start working with a therapist, and therapy is something that many people benefit from.
Licensed mental health professionals at Calmerry are versed in helping those who live with anxiety and depression, as well as those facing difficulty with self-esteem, communication, interpersonal relationships, and a number of other matters that can impact a person’s life. You deserve to feel empowered and lead a life you’re proud of, and the confidential support of a mental health professional can help.
Sparklle is a mental health content specialist in Portland, Oregon. They are part of the LGBTQIA+ community and love covering all topics related to therapy, self-help, mental health conditions, confidence, and interpersonal relationships. Paired with life experience, their educational background in psychology and sociology informs their goal to produce accessible mental health information.Read more