Why sex twice a week is the magic medicine: Lovemaking can boost your heart, clear a stuffy nose, and even fight off Covid, study shows
- An active sex life can help reduce the risk of heart disease and incontinence
- Sexual activity least three times a month is linked to a milder Covid-19 infection
- Another study found an orgasm cleared a stuffy nose as well as a nasal spray
Have more sex is unlikely to be the advice you expect to receive from your GP.
But to judge from the latest studies, an active sex life could be as important as watching your diet, moderating alcohol intake and quitting smoking to boost health.
‘Granted “improving your health” is not usually at the top of your mind when you’re thinking about sex, but immunity, cardiovascular health and depression are just some of the areas where studies suggest that sexual activity might have a benefit,’ says Kaye Wellings, a professor of sexual and reproductive health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Research shows that it can help reduce the risk of heart disease and incontinence.
And last year, a study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility showed that sexual activity at least three times a month was linked with a milder Covid-19 infection.
The theory is that it primes the body to handle pathogens more effectively.
A study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility showed that engaging in sexual activity at least three times a month was linked with a milder Covid-19 infection
This followed a 2004 study in the journal Psychological Reports which found that intercourse once or twice a week increases levels of immunoglobulin A, part of the antibody response of the immune system that defends us against infection.
Another study suggested that orgasms can clear a stuffed-up nose as effectively as a nasal spray, reported the journal Ear, Nose & Throat last year — probably because exercise has also been shown to be a decongestant, as the resulting increase in body temperature loosens mucus while the increase in circulation encourages the flow of nasal discharge.
And research from University College London found that women engaging in sexual activity at least monthly had a later menopause than those who weren’t sexually active.
The researchers suggest that if sexual activity is not detected, the body deprioritises ovulation, triggering the menopause.
It can also be good for mental health. A study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine in January found that people who maintained a sexual relationship during lockdown — whether they were living with their partner or not — were 34 per cent less likely to experience depression than those who didn’t.
In fact, some experts believe sex to be such an important barometer of general health that it should be more widely discussed by doctors with their patients — yet this rarely happens.
‘As a doctor, you’re happy to ask women about their menstrual cycle, yet sexual activity is something we rarely discuss,’ says Geoffrey Hackett, a urologist and a professor of men’s health at Aston University in Birmingham.
‘And the issue is even worse with men, yet knowing if a man has regular erections tells me an awful lot about his health.’
An inability to get an erection can have a number of causes but may occur as a result of blockages in the arteries supplying the penis, a potential sign of furred arteries elsewhere in the body.
Being physically able to have sex also indicates a certain level of fitness.
‘We estimate that 20 minutes of sexual activity in a man is the equivalent of walking a mile, and that’s a reasonable amount of physical effort if you do it often enough,’ says Professor Hackett.
When having sex, men burned on average 100 calories and their heart rate rose to as much as 170 beats per minute — this helps strengthen the heart — according to research published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour in February.
Men having sex two to three times a week have a 45 per cent lower risk of a heart attack compared with those having sex once a month or less, reported the American Journal of Cardiology in 2010.
Professor Hackett points to the Caerphilly Heart Disease Study, set up in 1979, involving 914 men aged 45 to 59, which found that deaths from heart disease over 20 years were double in men having intercourse once a month compared with those having sex twice a week.
A study in The Journal of Sexual Medicine in January found that people who maintained a sexual relationship during lockdown — whether they were living with their partner or not — were 34 per cent less likely to experience depression than those who didn’t
‘I’d suggest men and women aim for some kind of sexual activity twice a week,’ he says.
The physical exertion is thought to help explain why it might improve immunity — specifically raising levels of immunoglobulin A, which exercise has also been shown to improve.
It’s not just the exertion — there are specific elements of sexual activity that may improve health, too.
A 2016 study from Harvard University, published in the journal European Urology, found that ejaculating more than 20 times per month reduced prostate cancer risk by 20 per cent for men aged 20 to 50 — the theory being that it ‘flushes the system’, says Professor Hackett.
Meanwhile, arousal and orgasm in women have been linked to better pelvic floor strength and reduced incontinence, thought to be linked to muscle contractions.
However, it’s unclear ‘whether regular sexual activity is making people healthier or whether healthy people are more likely to have regular sex’, says Professor Wellings.
Helping patients with a diagnosis to maintain a sex life is also important.
Patients whose sexual health is addressed ‘have better quality of life, better pain control and better relationships with their partners and their healthcare team’, Dr Narjust Duma, an oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, U.S., recently told the World Conference on Lung Cancer.
But Professor Wellings stresses that while regular sex is ‘likely to be important, I don’t want people thinking that because they don’t have sex that often, or don’t have a partner to have sexual activity with, they’re going to end up sick.
‘Many of the benefits of sexual activity can be gained in non- sexual ways, including exercise or hugging friends and family.’
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