Sex isn’t just about procreation or pleasure, it can also make a significant impact on our health and wellbeing. With Sexual Health Week just around the corner (11-17 September), ZoomDoc GP Dr Jenny Ellenbogen talks through the benefits of having sex, some of which may well surprise you …
- It helps improve heart health
If you’ve always wondered if sex counts as exercise then the answer is yes. ‘Because it counts as a physical activity, like exercise, it can help boost your cardiovascular system,’ says Dr Jenny.
‘There’s evidence  to suggest it can have a protective effect on your heart health and decrease the risk of hypertension and heart attack, so it really is worth adding to your exercise regime,’ she says.
- It can boost your immune system
Ok, so sex may not be a miracle cure for illnesses but it can play a role in helping your immune system, as Dr Jenny explains:
‘A study  looking at immunity in people in romantic relationships found that people who had frequent sex (one to two times a week) had more immunoglobulin A (IgA) in their saliva. IgA is the antibody that plays a role in preventing illnesses and is the first line of defence against human papillomavirus, or HPV. Those who had infrequent sex (less than once a week) had significantly less IgA suggesting regular sex could help ward off some unpleasant conditions,’ she says.
- It’s nature’s pain relief
Having sex, or more specifically an orgasm, releases endorphins and oxytocin, feel–good hormones that can act as natural painkillers.
‘A study  looking into this specifically found that sex can in turn help in reducing headaches, arthritis pain, and menstrual cramps,’ says Dr Jenny. ‘As for having sex during migraines, 60% of sufferers reported an improvement,’ she adds.
- It can help you sleep better
Ever noticed you sleep soundly after sex? ‘That’s because another hormone released during orgasms is something called prolactin, a hormone that is responsible for feelings of relaxation and sleepiness,’ says Dr Jenny. ‘This can aid in improving sleep quality ,’ she adds.
- It can reduce your risk of prostate cancer
One study  found that men who had regular sex (4.6-7 ejaculations each week) reduced their risk of prostate cancer before turning 70 by over a third (36%). That’s compared to men who reported ejaculating 2.3 or fewer times a week on average.
- It can help prevent incontinence
As well as offering a full body workout, sex also offers a more targeted strengthening, too.
‘Sexual activity, and especially the contractions that occur during orgasm, help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. This can help prevent urinary incontinence, reduce your chance of vaginal prolapse and improve sexual function,’ says Dr Jenny.’ 
- It can reduce stress
The benefits of sex can help with your mental health as well as your physical health, explains Dr Jenny.
According to one study , the intimacy associated with sexual activity can foster a deep emotional connection and increase feelings of security and support.
‘Engaging in regular sexual activity can enhance feelings of self-worth and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety’ she says.
- It can boost your mood
… and help fight depression, explains Dr Jenny.
‘Sexual activity and especially orgasms release a plethora of endorphins and neurotransmitters like dopamine and oxytocin, which can improve mood, provide feelings of satisfaction, and act as natural antidepressants .’
Safe sex is the healthiest sex
While the benefits of having sex are clear and beneficial, it’s also important to practise safe sex and to recognize that the quality of your sexual relationships plays a significant role in determining its potential health benefits.
With STIs on the rise, it’s still important to use protection and be aware of the symptoms of sexually-transmitted infections to get checked out.
If in doubt, get tested or test yourself at home using one of our kits available here.