10 benefits of a healthy sex life and how to talk about sex with your partner

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10 benefits of a healthy sex life and how to talk about sex with your partner
Sex has many benefits for mental and physical health.South_agency/Getty Images
  • Sex has mental health benefits like reducing stress, boosting mood, and increasing libido.
  • Sex also has physical health benefits like burning calories, boosting immunity, improving sleep, lowering blood pressure, and relieving pain.
  • To have a healthy sex life, it's important to communicate with your partner about how much sex is right for you and what makes you feel good.

Having sex ushers in a rush of feel-good chemicals that can reduce stress, improve sleep, and more.

It doesn't matter how often you have sex or whether it's solo or with a partner. Just remember that leading a healthy sex life is all about what makes you feel fulfilled.

"Most of what we focus on is that sexual health and intimacy is based on consent, honesty, and mutual pleasure," says Barb Depree, MD, a gynecologist and founder of MiddlesexMD. "If they're feeling respected and fulfilled it's going to be healthy for them."

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While what constitutes sex is an open-ended question that's highly individualized to the person, sexual activity, especially in a loving relationship, can offer many surprising benefits, ranging from the physical to the psychological.

Important: Sex is "any physical contact between two persons that involves stimulation of the genitals of either one or both participants," says DePree. The benefits of a healthy sex life also apply to various sexual activities like masturbation, foreplay, kissing, or anything that a person might find arousing.

Mental health benefits of sex

Sex can help reduce feelings of stress or anxiety and also boost your mood, self-confidence, and libido.

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Reduces stress and anxiety

Sexual arousal has been shown to decrease levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which may explain why sex can feel relaxing or calming.

Lower levels of cortisol can also reduce feelings of stress and anxiety over time. "We know that people who engage in sex generally have less anxiety and stress," Depree says.

Boosts mood and self-confidence

Another reason sex may improve your overall mood is that it releases endorphins, the neurotransmitters associated with increased feelings of pleasure, motivation, and energy.

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This surge of endorphins can also improve your self-esteem and help you feel more confident in your everyday life.

Increases libido

Sexual intimacy and satisfaction increases your oxytocin ("the love hormone") levels, which are responsible for the feelings of trust, empathy, and desire for your partner.

Since oxytocin influences physical and emotional connection, it is crucial in building intimate relationships. When you feel more connected to your partner, your sex drive - aka your libido - may also increase.

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Physical health benefits of sex

Sex can help you burn calories, get better sleep, boost immunity, lower blood pressure, and relieve pain. It also has health benefits specific to gender, like reducing risk of prostate cancer in men and strengthening pelvic floor muscles in women.

Burns calories

Sex won't replace your regular workout routine, but it does burn more calories than if you were just sitting on the couch.

What the research says: According to one 2013 study, heterosexual couples in their early 20s burned 69 to 100 calories during the average sexual session. That's roughly the equivalent of running for 10 minutes on a treadmill.

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However, you may burn more or fewer calories depending on the intensity and duration of your sexual escapades.

Boosts immune system

A small 2018 study found that women who were sexually active had higher levels of the antibody called immunoglobulin A in their saliva compared to sexually abstinent women.

Deficiency of immunoglobulin A can increase your risk of certain respiratory illnesses like pneumonia and bronchitis as well as other infections of the sinuses, ears, and eyes.

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Therefore, the study suggests a possible link between sex and immune function, though the researchers note that more research is needed to be certain.

Additionally, some research has found that masturbation can boost immunity and improve overall health.

Improves sleep

Both men and women self-reported better sleep after an orgasm, whether they achieved that with a partner or through masturbation, according to a 2019 study.

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"More specifically with orgasm for women, sex, in general, helps release oxytocin, which directly impacts the brain to encourage relaxation - and it's actually a little sedating," says Depree.

Orgasm also boosts levels of prolactin - a hormone associated with feeling sleepy and relaxed - which means having sex may make it easier for you to settle in for the night.

Lowers blood pressure and helps prevent heart disease

Depree says that having sex can lower blood pressure in two ways:

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  • Increases heart rate. Sex ramps up your heart rate, and over time, it can help the heart pump blood through the body more efficiently and lower blood pressure in the process.
  • Decreases stress. Sex releases chemicals that lower stress and anxiety - both of which can help bring down your blood pressure.

High blood pressure can take a toll on your long-term health, leading to dangerous conditions like heart disease. That's why getting your blood pressure under control is one of the leading recommendations for preventing heart disease.

What the research says: One report found that men who had sex once a month or less were 45% more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than men who had sex twice a week or more.

Relieves pain

Sex releases endorphins, which some research indicates may help manage pain from menstruation and during childbirth. It may also help relieve chronic pain.

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However, if sex is causing you pain, there are ways to manage it. Conditions like endometriosis, vulvodynia, or menopause can make sex painful for women but can often be managed with physical and sexual therapy.

Strengthens pelvic floor muscles in women

Sex can strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which is an especially important health benefit for women.

That's because strong pelvic floor muscles - located around the uterus and bladder - help with incontinence, bladder control, and vaginal pain. They may also contribute to UTI prevention.

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Reduces the risk of prostate cancer in men

A 2010 review noted that men who had sex more often - specifically penile-vaginal intercourse - also had a lower risk of prostate cancer.

There may also be a link between more frequent ejaculations and a reduced risk of prostate cancer in men, however, more research is needed to determine which types of sex may actually lead to this benefit.

The importance of sex in a relationship

Sex can be very beneficial towards building a healthy relationship, as it increases intimacy and helps you feel more connected to your partner.

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There's no right answer for how much sex is healthy in your relationship. Everyone is different - some people may want to have sex several times a day, while others prefer sex once or twice a week.

Sex drive can also change over time as you get older. It's important to communicate often with your partner about how much sex you want to have, so you agree on a sex life that's healthy and beneficial for both of you.

How much sex is healthy?

"I think generally we would say whatever amount [of sex] is agreed upon, safe, and mutually beneficial is going to be the right amount of sex," DePree says.

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Overall, it is completely normal and even healthy to have sex every day, as long as both you and your partner feel good about it.

Sex addiction is when sex impedes your ability to function and has an unhealthy impact on your own or your partner's life.

Here's how to have healthy conversations with your partner about sex:

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  • Set up a time each week or month to check-in and talk about your sex life
  • Discuss how often you're having sex and whether you want more or less
  • Ask about your partner's sexual satisfaction and how it can be improved
  • Figure out if there are different types of sex you'd like to experiment with
  • Make sure consent is active and ongoing every time you have sex

Insider's takeaway

Sex can have a wide range of benefits for your mental and physical health.

Sex reduces stress and anxiety, and can boost intimacy and feelings of connection with your partner. It allows you to get better sleep, burns calories, and may also help you fight off infection more effectively.

Over time, a healthy sex life may even reduce your risk of long-term illnesses, such as heart disease. But it's important to communicate with your partner and set terms for a healthy sex life to reap these benefits.

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