Are sexual health and mental health two separate concerns or are they connected? Turns out, they are.
Regular sex provides various benefits to the body and to the mind. Meanwhile, an inactive sexual life can play a negative role in someone’s mental stability. Things are not simply black and white, though, as the quality of sex and the fulfillment one is able to derive from it play a part as well.
Photo by Anthony Tran
Benefits of sex to mental health
How can sex be beneficial to mental health? Let us count the ways:
Lessens depression or anxiety
Feel-good hormones are released during intercourse. These include dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. All of these hormones can help lift up your mood and can even create that pleasurable feeling of establishing a bond with your partner.
Dopamine is especially effective in boosting motivation as it directly affects the part of the brain that controls reward-motivated behavior. As for oxytocin, this hormone can improve the levels of feeling compassionate. Additionally, it is also sometimes called the “cuddle hormone” and isn’t cuddling with your partner one of the best feelings that can be experienced? Then there are the endorphins, which play a crucial role in the body’s ability to tolerate pain.
What all these mean is that, while sex is not considered the best cure for depression and anxiety, it can greatly reduce the symptoms. Someone dealing with these mental health challenges, therefore, can benefit from a satisfying and active sexual life.
Studies have shown that intimacy can help reduce the body’s cortisol levels. That translates to the reduction of feeling stressed out and mentally pressured.
Dopamine is also partly responsible in this because aside from helping the brain and body fight pain, this hormone fights stress as well. On top of that, the hormone called prolactin is also released during orgasm. This chemical in the brain makes the body relax and even feel drowsy. This combination of hormones makes for a wonderful stress-relieving cocktail produced right after a good romp with your partner.
Partners who do not feel they are intimate enough can have feelings of resentment or rejection between each other. These negative feelings, of course, are not ideal for a healthy mental state. If left unresolved, these could spiral down to more serious cases of depression.
Sex, however, is one of the quickest ways to establish intimacy. That feeling of closeness can bring security and stability to a relationship, which in turn lessens the stress and burden on a person’s mind.
Encourages a positive body image and improves self-esteem
A satisfying night between the sheets can engender the feeling of being desirable or being loved. Also, as mentioned above, sex can bring about intimacy and security in a relationship. These can definitely boost a person’s image of one’s self, thus improving confidence as well – all of which are crucial for maintaining a healthy mindset.
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Sex is considered an exercise
And exercise is good for mental health.
A study conducted on 20 heterosexual couples between the ages of 22-28 showed that, for about 25 minutes of sex, the men were able to burn about 100 calories while the women expended around 69 calories. The study concluded that sex can be considered a “significant exercise”.
Add to that the fact that regular exercise can reduce anxiety and depression symptoms, then intercourse can indeed be beneficial to mental health.
Helps you sleep better
Because of the hormone prolactin that is released after a sexual climax, people tend to feel languid, relaxed, and drowsy. This can lead to a more restful and deep sleep. By getting good sleep, the mind is able to recuperate from daily strains.
Improves the brain’s functions
Numerous studies have already shown that sex activates the brain. In fact, according to this study on genital stimulation, imagery, and orgasm in women conducted in 2014 – women’s orgasm leads to “widespread activation throughout the brain, including primary sensory, motor, sensory-motor integration and reward regions”.
As pleasure is achieved, blood rushes to the brain. This activity delivers oxygen and nutrients to the brain cells, thus nourishing them and boosting their functions. Some studies have claimed that sex can help make a person smart and that even just recalling a sexual encounter in the past can improve analytical and creative thinking skills.
The risks of casual sex to mental health
Clearly, intercourse goes a long way to maintaining excellent mental health.
However, not all sexual encounters are created equal.
A loving and fulfilling tryst between committed partners can do wonders to lessen their stress, anxiety, or depression. Casual sex, on the other hand, can be detrimental to a person’s mental health. This is, of course, not true for everyone since there are many people who enjoy and benefit from casual encounters.
Many other factors can come into play though that can beleaguer the minds of some individuals. For one, a casual fling or a one-night stand can lead to feelings of frustration or guilt. While feel-good hormones are released upon climax and tell the brain that there is an intimacy there, the reality afterward may contradict these emotions, causing a disconnect that is hard to handle. As a result, feelings of insecurity can arise and trouble an individual deeply.
Then there are also societal factors and double standards. Various circles in society will, unfortunately, ostracize their members who commit perceived sexual faux pas. That includes casual sex or sex before marriage, non-heterosexual coupling, and participating in what is considered inappropriate or too-kinky sex.
Whatever these societal factors may be, sex within these conditions can instead be harmful to one’s mental health. They might feel guilty or be forced to be secretive about their encounters, which triggers insecurity, shame, helplessness, or the feeling of doing something terribly wrong.
What happens when there is no sex?
Now, how about if a person abstains from sex for a long time?
Pent-up sexual frustrations can lead to increased levels of anxiety or depression. Some people become irritable or cannot focus properly. All of these can affect different types of relationships.
For couples, since sex is a great way to establish and strengthen their bonds, the lack thereof can cause a wide gap that may become too hard to cross. This can further cause sadness, resentment, frustration, guilt, and any number of negative emotions that can weigh down the mind.
Individuals who are too irritable or have a hard time focusing can encounter trouble at work or during communications with friends and family. Fights may arise or mistakes may happen. Once they do, the emotional and mental stress will further heighten and negatively affect a person’s mental health.
Aside from that, libido can be affected. Going for a long time without sex can lead to losing interest in this activity altogether. Some people also get thrown off from their rhythm. That is to say that after so long without intercourse, the next time they have one they may feel that it was off and not as enjoyable. This can sow frustration, the feeling that their self worth is lacking, and a lot of stress.
Naturally, there are times when one can benefit from sexual abstinence. Some individuals may find that they need to focus on other things in their lives first and that sex will just muddy the waters. For example, someone may need to sort out their feelings for someone else properly first before engaging in further intercourse that can complicate their situation.
Other people, meanwhile, find that saying no to sex improves their peace of mind in regards to unwanted pregnancy or acquiring STDs.
Overall, abstinence has its pros and cons. It is up to the individual to reflect and discern carefully whether it is beneficial to have or not have sex.
Maintaining a healthy sex life for better mental health
Photo by Hian Oliveira
While sex can be highly beneficial to mental health, it can also have a negative impact. Therefore, it is advisable to maintain a healthy sex life to also achieve a healthy mind.
Inevitably, sex is linked to relationships. While casual sex is not entirely something to frown upon, an individual must consider carefully if this is indeed what they want. If there are other factors that need to be resolved before engaging in intercourse, then it is advisable to take care of those first.
A healthy sex life also means exercising the necessary precautions to avoid acquiring sexually-transmitted diseases and urinary tract infections. Contraception and family planning should also be considered.
Sex is highly beneficial as it lessens stress, helps you have a good sleep, and improves your bond with your partner. But what about after that? What if you get sick or get pregnant when you are not ready? These situations have led many individuals down a dark path in terms of their mental health. So being prudent in these matters will help you take fuller advantage of the many wonderful benefits of sex.