While sex will never equal a kickboxing class or a session of strength training, the fact that you’re getting some sort of a muscular workout is undeniable. The human body has over 600 muscles and during sex, “we’re releasing and contracting all the muscles within the body,” says Patti Britton, PhD, author of The Art of Sex Coaching and past president of the American Association for Sexuality Educators. Arms, butt, legs, core muscles — they’re all getting used. And while some positions have better toning payoffs than others, as long as you’re putting some effort into it you’ll be burning calories from start to (ahem) finish.
A Happier Mood
Having sex is definitely pleasurable on a physical level, but chemically it has been suggested to elevate mood and reduce depression.
The surmised reason, believe it or not: Exposure to semen. A study done by the State University of New Yorkcontrolled the length of a relationship, amount of sex, time elapsed since last sexual encounter, and use of oral contraceptives to show that women who never used condoms reported better moods and fewer depressive symptoms or suicidal thoughts than those who used condoms. Why? One theory is that vaginal tissue is very absorptive, and semen contains a host of mood-elevating chemicals, like endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin, and prolactin. For women, sex is literally a jolt to your system, and if you’re getting it on regularly you might be on cloud nine for quite a while.
A study from Wilkes University in Pennsylvania indicated that people having sex one to two times a week had three times as much Immunoglobulin A (a major antibody) in their systems as those having no sex, infrequent sex (less than once a week), or — a note to your nosy neighbors — very frequent sex (3 times or more a week).
Forget your morning swipe of blush and overly expensive face serums. With increased blood circulation and oxygenation of the blood, a post-coital glow means a temporary brighter complexion. But there are longer-lasting beauty benefits of sex, too. An orgasm triggers a rush of endorphins and growth hormones, like DHEA, that help heal damage caused by the sun, smoking, and cortisol buildup, which is associated with the thinning of the skin. In fact, a Scottish study showed that people who have sex every other day look dramatically younger (up to seven to 12 years!) than their compatriots. If your crow’s feet are a growing concern, make sure to get some alone time in with your guy — your face will thank you.
In 2010, Brazil’s health minister recommended sex (along with other traditional forms of exercise) as a fix for the nation’s high blood pressure problems, and he wasn’t completely off the mark. Researchers from Scotland have found that people who were sexually active had lower blood pressure when engaged in stress-inducing tasks, such as public speaking, with those only having sex in the last two weeks charting the lowest number.
“In part, it’s the oxygenation of blood and the focusing of the mind away from negative stressors,” explains Britton. “Sex has that magical quality of bringing you into the moment, especially at orgasm, which is a period of time that feels like animated suspension, where your mind and body both go off-grid.”
Don’t take it personal if your guy starts snoring shortly after some quality time between the sheets. That intense relaxation you feel right after climax due to an oxytocin rush can actually make you doze off faster. Big meeting tomorrow? Include an evening romp on your list of prep work for the night before.
A Self-Esteem Boost
Those after-sex smiles on both your faces are signs of a fun night and also a job well done. “I think when people raise the potential of sexual expression, it boosts their self-esteem and gives them a sense of being attractive, desirable, proficient, and confident,” says Britton. “And that carries over into all areas of life.”
A Stronger Relationship
Here’s a perk you’ll both enjoy: increased intimacy. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of North Carolina found that among 59 couples, those with more loving physical contact showed the highest amounts of oxytocin. Released both during sex and even while kissing, “oxytocin is the hormone that creates the urge to merge and bond,” explains Britton. “There’s a surge of it after sex and that’s where the desire to cuddle and hold each other comes from.”
“Solo sex, or sex with someone who you’re not in love with can still be pleasurable, but neither fulfills the emotional needs to the extent that sex with someone you care about can,” says Marta Meana, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and president of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research. So while you’re still getting the release of oxytocin during masturbation, the pair-bonding aspect may manifest itself more in feelings of generosity toward others (e.g., baking your girlfriends cookies), rather than impulses to settle down and start knitting baby booties.
Fast Relief from Aches and Pains
That runner’s high you get after finishing your morning loop? Thank for endorphins for that. That breathless, heady haze after some midnight nooky? Thank endorphins for that, too. Right before climax, a wave of oxytocin rushes through your body that in turn releases endorphins, which are similar in structure to opiates and have the same feel-good affect by occupying morphine receptors in the brain. “It’s pain relief and pain killing effect,” says Britton. Have a headache? Ditch the nap and squeeze in a quickie instead.
Staying Mentally Sharp
In addition to providing enhanced blood flow to the body, sex also increases blood flow to the brain, delivering an extra boost of glucose that it uses as energy. So, if you’ve got a buildup of e-mails to read or really want to finish your crossword puzzle, sex might just be the jump-start you need. Afternoon delight, anyone?