Relationships and Health
 
by Jhon Wlaschin

Sex is a good thing.  It is essential to the survival of the species and comes with all kinds of incentives like increased intimacy and the release of a host of neuro-chemicals that bathe us in joy.  Yet when we consider the science linking sex to health, the vast majority of studies involve the health problems associated with sexual behavior and almost completely ignore how sex might enhance health and well-being.   

When we consider how relationships affect health, sexual behavior should have significant effects on the quality of a romantic relationship and also play a role in overall health.  We know that married people live longer and somewhat surprisingly married couples have, on average, more sex than singles. 

Could sex have something to do with why married couples are living longer?

The idea that sex may benefit health is not new yet historically many cultures have warned that frequent sex might result (at least for men) a loss of an "essential essence" that would cause a reduction of strength, memory, and even reason. Freud theorized that sex was necessary to relieve tension and that masturbation was not sufficient to avoid heightened stress reactivity.  There is some that intercourse is required for the bursts of oxytocin and improved heart rate variability that might be the physiological routes to improved health from sex.

In one  researchers found that frequency of sexual activity was related to lower stress reactions when preparing to speak in public.  Volunteers who reported having no sexual relations or masturbation had the greatest spike in blood pressure during the task. Those who had frequent sex but no masturbation had the smallest increase in BP before speaking in public.

Another  found that middle age men who engage in frequent sexual activity with a partner were 50% less likely to die than men with little or no sexual behavior over a 10 year period.

Given these results you might imagine that the medical profession would start prescribing more nookie for stressed out and unhappy couples.

The sad truth is that many of us do not get the love and affection we crave. A  in 27 countries revealed that sexual dissatisfaction is widespread, with 58% of women and 57% of men reporting that they are not fully satisfied with their sex life.  Sex, like wealth, seems to be unevenly distributed with a relatively small proportion of couples having the most frequent sex.  The researchers found strong evidence demonstrating that sexual intercourse is a significant predictor of satisfaction with life in general, satisfaction with partnership, and satisfaction with one's mental health.

Finally, we can't ignore the way sex might help us connect and treat our partners better, facilitating a closer and more satisfying relationship.  A found that when couples engaged in physical affection or sexual activity  they were more likely to experience  positive mood and less likely to experience negative moods and stress afterwards and into the following day.  Masturbation did not affect mood in the same way but was related to a reduction in stress.  Most marriage counselors will point out that a non-existent sex life is a strong sign that a marriage is in trouble and that improvements in a couples sex life are some of the best methods for improving the relationship.

So plenty of questions arise here.  What about gay sex?  Why doesn't masturbation have the same health benefits?  How much sex does a couple need to have for it to benefit health?  Since there are so few studies on sex and health, there really isn't enough good evidence to answer these questions yet.  Perhaps when academics get a little less squeamish about studying sexual activity and can convince funding agencies of the health protective function of sex, will we be better able to understand how "getting busy" is also helping us toward staying healthy and connected to our closest partner. 
 


Comments

Amy
06/16/2011 19:43

Let's try that again... Just wanted to let you know how much I'm enjoying your new blog. Social Psychology was my favorite class at university and I've been following Gottman's work for years. I attended a seminar with David Wallin about attachment in psychotherapy a few years back; interesting stuff. Anyway, it looks like I'll be glued to your blog for a long time to come, Dr. Jhon! Hope you and the fam are enjoying your summer so far.

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07/16/2012 21:51

You described all things very well. We never know how our relationship relate to our life and our happiness. We never think how dissatisfaction disrupt our relation. Thanks for the post.

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07/18/2012 23:52

I am waiting for your next interesting article. We all know that sex has better effect on relationship but don't know about the effect of it on our health. I want to know about both male and female both.

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07/31/2012 01:22

I normally do not write comments on posts, but your post urged me to commend your writings. Thanks for writing this, I’ll definitely popular your site and arrive back once in awhile.

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08/16/2012 06:50

The kindness of things. I do not know what I would do, if I did not find such a theme. I can see at this moment, my future. Thank you very much for reliable and results-oriented guidance.

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