The Health Benefits of Sex

Affectionate young African American couple kissing intimately in their bedroom at home

 Adene Sanchez / E+ / Getty Images

Is sex good for you? It certainly can be. The many potential health benefits of sex include everything from improving your mood to strengthening your heart. Consensual sex, where both partners want to be there and are taking any appropriate precautions, can be an important part of a person's life and make a big difference in both their physical health and overall sense of well-being.

In fact, one study of middle-aged men found that the more sex they had, the more likely they were to say they were in good health. Don't have a partner? Having sex with yourself can also have some of the same health benefits. Masturbation can be a great tool for relaxation and also can have some specific health benefits.

For example, frequent ejaculation has been suggested to lower the risk of prostate cancer. Orgasm can be effective for helping with pain. Arousal has benefits as well, no orgasm required.

Below, find 10 of the ways that sex can potentially improve your health.

Healthy Heart 

Is sex good for your heart? The truth is, scientists don't really know. Most of the studies looking at sex and the heart look at whether sexual activity increases the risk of a cardiac event like a heart attack. It's far rarer for studies to try and ascertain whether sex is good for the heart.

There is some evidence to suggest that more sexual activity reduces stroke and heart disease risk in middle-aged men (45-59). There is also some evidence for improved heart rate variability and a lower death rate for people who engage in vaginal intercourse.

In addition, people who have more sex are less likely to die of heart attack or other causes, but some of that may be due to the fact that healthier people are more likely to be having more sex.

The best evidence that sex may be good for your heart is the evidence that suggests that sex is good exercise. It's been found to be equivalent to mild to moderate physical activity, like a brisk walk or climbing stairs. Sex can also involve stretching and strength training, depending on how you do it. And we all know that exercise is good for the heart.

One study confirmed that sex was the equivalent of moderate-intensity exercise and measured an average energy expenditure of 101 calories for men and 69 calories for women.

That said, research suggests that too much sex could potentially put a strain on your heart—just like too much exercise. What's too much? It likely depends on your age and your overall health.

Some of the difficulty with studying the effects of sex on the heart is that the heart also has effects on sex. Individuals with high blood pressure are likely to have decreased sexual function.

In particular, in at least one large study hypertension has been associated with reduced erectile function and lower quality erections. However, other studies have not always found similar associations between heart health and sexual quality of life.

Strong Immune System

There is a large body of evidence suggesting that sexual activity can affect the health of the immune system. That said, the reported effects of sex on the immune system are highly variable, differing across the sexes as well as across other factors, such as mental health.

Some of these differences may be due to the changes in immune function that occur across the menstrual cycle, which may have implications for fertility

That said, one of the few studies that looked explicitly at sexual frequency in young people found that more frequent sex increased the amount of IgA antibodies present in saliva—and possibly people's ability to fight infection.

It's important to note that one of the ways that sex could improve immune function is by reducing stress. High stress levels are well known to decrease immune function and increase the likeliness a person will become sick.

It's possible that the answer may be that sex improves immune function only when it's a stress reducer, but it isn't helpful when it's a source of stress,

Less Stress

Some people find sex to be a good stress reliever. But can that be demonstrated biologically? The answer appears to be yes. Several studies have looked at the effects of sex on the stress hormone cortisol.

One fascinating study looked at the effects of intimacy on the stress levels of 183 heterosexual couples. What they found was that, in times of stress, higher levels of partner intimacy made it easier to cope (for women), and to recover (for both).

Interestingly, this and other studies have suggested that it's not just sex that reduces stress—it's affection and other types of intimacy. The connection appears to be just as important as the exercise. Furthermore, the association goes both ways. Sex reduces stress and makes people happier, and happier, less stressed people have more sex.

Quality Sleep

Does sex help you get better sleep? People certainly think that it does. When asked about how sex (either alone or with a partner) affects their sleep, most people say that they sleep better after having an orgasm. They also say that they fall asleep faster. So people think that sex is a good sleep aid, but is it?

The jury is still out. Unfortunately, it's hard to study sleep quality. It's even harder to study it in relation to sex. After all, good sleep studies require a lot of observation and equipment, neither of which is terribly conducive to getting in the mood.

Headache Relief

People who experience chronic headaches are always looking for new ways to make them better. It turns out that, for some people, sex can help.

In a study of 1000 patients attending a headache clinic, researchers found out that having sex during a headache might be an option for relief. Of the people who responded to the study, 60% of people with migraines and 37% of people with cluster headaches reported that sex helped. Furthermore, when it helped, relief was usually significant.

Unfortunately, sex doesn't work as a headache remedy for everyone. A third of people with migraines, and half of those with cluster headaches, said that trying to have sex made things worse.

Higher Self-Esteem

How people feel about themselves is linked to their experience of sexual enjoyment. Young people who enjoy sex more also experience higher self esteem and a greater sense of autonomy.

Which comes first? To date, the data is unclear. It wouldn't be surprising if feeling better about yourself improves your ability to enjoy sex, as well as vice versa.

Menstrual Cramp Relief

It's widely accepted that orgasms can help relieve menstrual cramps. Unfortunately, it's so well accepted that there are very little data. People will have different experiences of sexual penetration during menstruation, with some finding it pleasurable while others find it uncomfortable.

However, not all arousal and stimulation requires penetration. If nothing else, stimulation to orgasm may provide a distraction, even if it doesn't directly offer pain relief.

Lower Risk of Prostate Cancer

One of the most discussed benefits of sex, specifically ejaculation, is a reduction in the risk of prostate cancer. The initial large studies calling attention to this association were published in 2004.

More than a decade later there is even more evidence. Men who ejaculate more frequently (more than 21 times a month compared to four to seven times a month) are less likely to get prostate cancer.

Interestingly, there is some suggestion that vasectomy may slightly increase the risk of prostate cancer. It is unclear whether or not this is related to changes in orgasm and ejaculation.

However, it's important to know that the absolute increase in risk is low. Therefore, if vasectomy is the most appropriate form of contraception for someone, prostate cancer risk should not be a reason to avoid it.

Better Memory

Data suggests that sex can help with memory, at least in older adults. A number of studies have suggested that sexual activity in the last year is associated with better performance on memory tests.

As with other research on sex, differences are seen by gender and types of sexual activity. For example, in one study, masturbation was more helpful for cognitive function in women while partner activity was more helpful in men.

In addition, as with research on stress, it appears that intimacy also has an effect on memory, beyond just participation in sex.

Longer Life 

Live longer by having more sex? Assuming you avoid any particularly dangerous sexually transmitted infections, it might be possible.

A study published in 1997 looked at a group of middle-aged men over a period of 10 years. The men who had the most orgasms were half as likely to have died in that decade as those who had few orgasms. Now, it's possible that that's because the people who had more orgasms were healthier overall, but there may be more that was going on.

That study found the biggest difference was in the risk of death from heart disease, and other studies have seen things that are similar. That includes at least one study that found that after having a heart attack, those who had more sex were less likely to die.

A Word From Verywell

A lot of sexual health writing is focused on the risks of sex. We talk about the need for contraceptives to prevent pregnancy, and barriers to prevent sexually transmitted diseases. But it's important to also think about the potential benefits of sex. Enjoyable, consensual sex can make a big person in how people feel about life.

If sex is something you want and are excited about, it can improve both your mood and your health. If it's something that causes you stress or puts you at risk, maybe you should do something else.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Holden CA, Collins VR, Handelsman DJ, Jolley D, Pitts M; Men in Australia Telephone Survey (MATeS) Working Group. Healthy aging in a cross-sectional study of Australian men: what has sex got to do with it?. Aging Male. 2014;17(1):25-29. doi:10.3109/13685538.2013.843167

  2. Rider JR, Wilson KM, Sinnott JA, Kelly RS, Mucci LA, Giovannucci EL. Ejaculation frequency and risk of prostate cancer: Updated results with an additional decade of follow-up. Eur Urol. 2016;70(6):974-982. doi:10.1016/j.eururo.2016.03.027

  3. Komisaruk BR, Whipple B. The suppression of pain by genital stimulation in females. Annual Review of Sex Research. 1995;6(1),151–186. doi:10.1080/10532528.1995.10559904

  4. Hall SA, Shackelton R, Rosen RC, Araujo AB. Sexual activity, erectile dysfunction, and incident cardiovascular events. Am J Cardiol. 2010;105(2):192-7. doi: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2009.08.671

  5. Liu H, Waite LJ, Shen S, Wang DH. Is sex good for your health? A national study on partnered sexuality and cardiovascular risk among older men and women. J Health Soc Behav. 2016;57(3):276-296. doi:10.1177/0022146516661597

  6. Brandis kepler S, Hasin T, Benyamini Y, Goldbourt U, Gerber Y. Frequency of sexual activity and long-term survival after acute myocardial infarction. Am J Med. 2020;133(1):100-107. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2019.06.019

  7. Frappier J, Toupin I, Levy JJ, Aubertin-leheudre M, Karelis AD. Energy expenditure during sexual activity in young healthy couples. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(10):e79342. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0079342

  8. Foy CG, Newman JC, Berlowitz DR, et al. Blood pressure, sexual activity, and erectile function in hypertensive men: Baseline findings from the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT). J Sex Med. 2019;16(2):235-247. doi:10.1016/j.jsxm.2018.12.007

  9. Lorenz, T., & van Anders, S. (2014). Interactions of sexual activity, gender, and depression with immunity. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 11(4), 966–979. doi:10.1111/jsm.12111

  10. Charnetski CJ, Brennan FX. Sexual frequency and salivary immunoglobulin A (IgA). Psychological Reports, 2004;94(3), 839–844. doi:10.2466/pr0.94.3.839-844

  11. Nakata A. Psychosocial job stress and immunity: A systematic review. Methods Mol Biol. 2012;934:39-75. doi:10.1007/978-1-62703-071-7_3

  12. Ditzen B, Germann J, Meuwly N, Bradbury TN, Bodenmann G, Heinrichs M. Intimacy as related to cortisol reactivity and recovery in couples undergoing psychosocial stress. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2019;81(1),16–25. doi:10.1097/PSY.0000000000000633

  13. Burleson MH, Trevathan WR, Todd M. In the mood for love or vice versa? Exploring the relations among sexual activity, physical affection, affect, and stress in the daily lives of mid-aged women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2007;36(3),357–368. doi:10.1007/s10508-006-9071-1

  14. Lastella M, O'Mullan C, Paterson JL, Reynolds AC. Sex and sleep: Perceptions of sex as a sleep promoting behavior in the general adult population. Front Public Health. 2019;7:33. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2019.00033

  15. Hambach A, Evers S, Summ O, Husstedt IW, Frese A. The impact of sexual activity on idiopathic headaches: an observational study. Cephalalgia. 2013;33(6):384-389. doi:10.1177/0333102413476374

  16. Galinsky AM, Sonenstein FL. The association between developmental assets and sexual enjoyment among emerging adults. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2011;48(6), 610–615. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2010.09.008

  17. Leitzmann MF, Platz EA, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Giovannucci E. Ejaculation frequency and subsequent risk of prostate cancer. JAMA. 2004;291(13):1578-1586. doi:10.1001/jama.291.13.1578

  18. Husby A, Wohlfahrt J, Melbye M. Vasectomy and prostate cancer risk: A 38-year nationwide cohort study. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2020;112(1):71-77. doi:10.1093/jnci/djz099

  19. Hsu B, Hirani V, Waite LM, et al. Temporal associations between sexual function and cognitive function in community-dwelling older men: the Concord Health and Ageing in Men Project. Age Ageing. 2018;47(6):900-904. doi:10.1093/ageing/afy088

  20. Wright H, Jenks RA, Lee DM. Sexual expression and cognitive function: Gender-divergent associations in older adults. Arch Sex Behav. 2020;49(3):941-951. doi:10.1007/s10508-019-1448-z

  21. Allen MS. Sexual activity and cognitive decline in older adults. Arch Sex Behav. 2018;47(6):1711-1719. doi:10.1007/s10508-018-1193-8

  22. Davey Smith G, Frankel S, Yarnell J. Sex and death: are they related? Findings from the Caerphilly Cohort Study. BMJ. 1997;315(7123):1641-1644. doi:10.1136/bmj.315.7123.1641

  23. Kepler SB, Hasin T, Benyamini Y, Goldbourt U, Gerber Y. Frequency of sexual activity and long-term survival after acute myocardial infarction. The American Journal of Medicine. 2020;133(1),100–107. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2019.06.019

Additional Reading