by Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN, NP
S-E-X. Sex. For a small word, s-e-x evokes all sorts of varied emotions for people! Some women tell me that sex was never discussed in their homes when growing up; others say that it was discussed infrequently and in hushed tones. Rarely do I hear that sex and sensuality were encouraged topics of conversation. Sensuality and sex are two wonderful facets of being human. Being knowledgeable about sex – everything from the how to’s to the risks – is so very important these days. Understanding sensuality and how that affects you and your relationship is important for all women to understand. Pushing this information aside or not recognizing your feelings isn’t healthy!
At Women to Women we’d like every woman to understand her own body, to be able to ask questions about topics she’d like to understand better and, most importantly, to know about all the positive benefits of sex.
There is good news! It’s not too late for you to reap the health benefits of sex, no matter what your age may be. For those women who are menopausal, you are at the age where you can enjoy sex without fear that you might get pregnant! Sex is good for your health! Let me explain why.
Sex and Your Heart Health
Do you ever notice that when you are sexually aroused, that your heart and breathing often increase? Your body actually does that to channel more blood to your genitals to get ready for sex. However, there’s more to it than just that. An entire cascade of hormones released during your sexual arousal and climax – DHEA, prolactin, adrenaline, noradrenaline and testosterone are all called into action – and most of these have great cardio-protective effects.
Once you have an orgasm, your body releases the hormone oxytocin. One of the results of the oxytocin surge is lowering your blood pressure. It’s a well-publicized fact that healthy blood pressure makes you less likely to have a heart attack or stroke. In fact, there was a study done on more than 900 men (ages 45–59) that suggested that having sex two times or more per week might aid in preventing cardiac events, like heart attack and stroke. While this study didn’t include women, it still demonstrates a hope for both sexes, as much of the chemistry involved in the study applied to both men and women.
Sex and Exercise
Did you know that your body treats sex just like exercise! Your heart rate increases, muscles contract and calories are released from fat to create energy just as if you were lifting weights, hiking or bike riding! Not many people talk about this, but it’s a great benefit of having sex!
Sex and Sleep
What do you feel like after you have an orgasm? If you’re like most women and men, you will want to relax and close your eyes. You feel very relaxed and can easily doze off – even if you usually have insomnia. This probably has to do with oxytocin and the release of endorphins at the time of orgasm. These are like natural sedatives. Sleep itself has amazing health benefits! It’s a time when your body rebuilds and rejuvenates – every body needs this!
Sex and Decreased Depression
Having sex releases endorphins in your body – and these endorphins can make you feel elated and even relieve pain! Many women talk about the euphoric feelings they have right after having sex – and some even comment that sex makes them forget their aches and pains!
Sex and Stress Relief
There are additional benefits that oxytocin can provide as well. One of them is stress relief. You’ve probably heard some women describe their orgasm as the “ultimate release.” That moment is the time when they can let everything go. Oxytocin is present in your body when you are in a stressful setting. Women with greater oxytocin levels are usually calmer and more relaxed. A study done at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) showed that the estrogen that was present in women would enhance the calming effects of oxytocin, while testosterone might counteract it. This probably explains why so many women want to cuddle after sex.
At Women to Women we understand that sensuality and sex are very important pieces of a woman’s being! We encourage all women to know their bodies, to ask questions and to express this part of themselves – both to promote good physical health and for their emotional wellbeing. It’s also good to recognize that sexual fulfillment doesn’t require a partner – masturbation is healthy way to meet your needs – and fulfilling these needs leads to a happier, healthier YOU!
For more on this topic, read our informative article, “Safe (and Enjoyable) Sex In Your Middle Years.”