s*x burns calories
Yes, knocking boots counts as exercise—and it sure beats the gym! Depending on how physical you get, s*x can strengthen muscle tone, increase your heart rate, and get your whole body working, says Justin Lehmiller, PhD, creator of lecturer in the department of psychology at Purdue University and author of The Psychology of Human se*uality. And according to a 2013 study in which volunteers wore activity trackers while they did the deed, men burn about 101 calories per session, while women torch an average of 69. “Relatively speaking, that’s not a huge amount,” says Lehmiller. He points out, however, that s*x in the study (from foreplay to climax) lasted an average of 25 minutes. “If you have s*x for a longer period of time, you can have even more of those calorie-burning benefits.”
s*x helps you sleep
After climax, the body releases a relaxation hormone called prolactin, says Kristin Mark, PhD, director of the s*xual Health Promotion Lab at the University of Kentucky. “If you’re not feeling particularly tired beforehand, having s*x and reaching climax may certainly help you nod off a little more quickly than you would have otherwise.
s*x lowers your blood pressure and stress levels
In a 2005 Scottish study, volunteers were asked to record their s*xual activity for two weeks and were then given anxiety-inducing tasks, like public speaking or solving math problems out loud. Those who’d had s*x over the study period experienced smaller blood pressure spikes, and recovered from them more quickly, than those who hadn’t. (Only penile-vaginal intercourse seemed to have this effect, not self service or other forms of s*xual activity.)
The study suggests two important benefit of regular s*x, says Mark: Better blood pressure control, and better stress management overall. “s*x not only lowers people’s perceived levels of stress, but it also appears to helps them handle stress more effectively, as well,” she says.
s*x strengthens your heart
Regular s*x may benefit the cardiovascular system in other ways. A British study found that men who had s*x at least twice a week over a period of 20 years were less likely to have died from heart disease than those who got it on less than once a month. After 10 years, in fact, their risk of sudden death was 50% less than that of the group that had less s*x, although that gap lessened over the next decade.
These sorts of findings only show a correlation, not causation, says Mark. “People who have healthy s*x lives probably have overall healthy lifestyles.” Even so, she suspects there may be a connection: “s*x helps regulate hormones like estrogen and testosterone,” she says, “which impacts all kinds of systems in the body, including the heart.”
s*x may protect against cancer
Some studies have suggested that men who release more frequently may have a reduced risk of prostate cancer—although the difference appears to be very small, and others haven’t found a conclusive link.
The benefits may be clearer for chest cancer prevention, however: A French study found that women who had s*x at least once a month were less likely to develop chest cancer than those who didn’t. And while the disease is rare in men, those who climax less than six times a month appear to be at increased risk of chest cancer compared to those who do so more often, according to a Greek study.
s*x boosts immunity
Getting busy on a weekly basis stimulates the immune system and provides protection from the common cold, according to a Wilkes University study. Researchers gave college students questionnaires about their s*x lives, then tested their saliva for levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA), an antibody that helps fight off viruses. They found that the students who had s*x once or twice a week had 30% more IgA than those who had s*x less frequently. (They also, however, had higher IgA levels than those who had s*x three times a week or more, suggesting that in this case, maybe you can get too much of a good thing.)
s*x relieves pain
Women often skip s*x because of headaches, or so the cliché goes—but, according to a 2013 German study, going through with it may actually help them feel better. When study volunteers chose to have s*x during a headache episode, about 60% of migraine sufferers and 30% of cluster headache sufferers reported partial or total relief.
Endorphins released during climax, as well as increased blood flow to the private part area, likely play a role in s*x’s pain-relieving power, says Mark. “Pain sometimes has to do with blood flowing to one particular area, like the head, and s*x can take some of that pressure off by redirecting the flow.”
s*x may extend your life
Several studies have found connections between a busier s*x life and a longer life in general, most notably a Duke University study that took place between 1955 and 1980. Researchers found that for men, frequency of intercourse was related to longer lifespans; while for women, enjoyment of intercourse was the most significant factor.
“We can’t really do cause-and-effect studies, so we don’t know if s*x actually helps people live longer, or if healthier people are just having more s*x,” says Lehmiller. “But from what we know about the other health benefits of s*x, it probably won’t hurt to have more of it!”
s*x strengthens relationships
Oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone,” is released during physical intimacy and skin-to-skin contact—and it can help increase romantic feelings between you and your partner, says Lehmiller.
Want to boost that bond even more? Be sure to cuddle after s*x: A University of Toronto study found that couples who were asked to spend extra time together after s*x—kissing, talking, and being affectionate—reported higher levels of satisfaction with their s*x lives and with their relationships.