Sex and stress are linked in several ways. Most of us instinctively know this already, and feel it unmistakably when a particularly stressful week or two zaps us of our sex drive. But while stress can have a hand in low libido, it can also be a great stress reliever, which is why jokes about uptight bosses needing a good roll in the hay are always good for at least one knowing chuckle. Have you ever wondered how much truth there was to the idea that a healthy sex life works nicely as a stress salve? Here’s some research on stress and sex:
Good Sex and Good Mood
In an Arizona State University study on 58 middle-aged women, physical affection or sexual behavior with a partner significantly predicted lower negative mood and stress, and higher positive mood the following day. Simply put, researchers found that sex and physical intimacy led women to feel less stressed and be in a better mood the next day. (These results weren’t found when women had orgasms without a partner.)
Good Mood and Good Sex
The same study found that being in a good mood predicted more physical affection and sexual activity with a partner the next day, showing that the sex-stress management connection works both ways: sex can lead you to feel less stressed, and being less stressed (or at least in a better mood) can lead to more sex. Further proof of the importance of effective stress management! (Read this article for more links to stress and low libido.)
Sex and Blood Pressure
Another study examined participants’ blood pressure as a measure of their stress responses during public speaking or challenging math problems—situations that often elicit stress. It was found that those who had recently had intercourse tended to have either lower baseline blood pressures, less of a blood pressure rise during stressful events, or both. These findings suggest that having sex can lead to less of a stress response during challenging situations, which is a good thing.
Sex and Stress Response
Along those lines, another study looked at women’s heart rate and cortisol levels as a measure of stress response, and found that women exhibited less of a stress response after ‘positive physical contact’ with a partner. Emotional support alone didn’t have the same effect.
Orgasm and Health
Orgasm itself has many benefits for health and stress relief. About.com’s Sexuality Site has more information on the benefits of orgasm.
- Deep Breathing: This deep, relaxed type of breathing relaxes your body, oxygenates your blood and reduces the stress you feel.
- Sense of Touch: Studies show that massage can be a great stress reliever. In fact, we need touch for our emotional health; studies also show that babies who are not touched enough can fail to thrive, and touch continues to be important into adulthood.
- Social Support: People who have a supportive social outlet tend to manage stress better, live longer, and enjoy increased overall health. The type of emotional intimacy that sex can help supply is good for you!
- Endorphins: Sexual activity releases endorphins and other feel-good hormones.
- Physical Workout: Depending on your level of enthusiasm, you can burn a lot of calories during sex, and gain the stress management benefits of exercise as well.
Unfortunately, many people find that, when they’re under stress, their sex drive suffers. Read more about how stress can affect libido, and see this article for tips on how to get into the mood when stressed.
Brody S. Blood pressure reactivity to stress is better for people who recently had penile-vaginal intercourse than for people who had other or no sexual activity. Biological Psychology. February, 2006.
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, June 2007.
Ditzen B, Neumann ID, Bodenmann G, von Dawans B, Turner RA, Ehlert U, Heinrichs M. Effects of different kinds of couple interaction on cortisol and heart rate responses to stress in women. Psychoneuroendocrinology. June, 2007.