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The sexual healing route to health

An active sex life is not only important for a relationship, but is also essential for well-being, writes Fred Tasker.

india Updated: Feb 14, 2006 14:04 IST

"Sexual healing is good for me, Makes me feel so fine, It's such a rush, Helps to relieve the mind, And it's good for us", Marvin Gaye.

Marvin Gaye was a soul singer, not a scientist. But there’s growing evidence his proposition was right: Sex is good for you. Take it as a Valentine’s Day gift from Cupid— together with studies that say wine protects the heart, filet mignon makes you slim, chocolate is chock with antioxidants and that post-prandial cup of espresso discourages diabetes. “A good sexual relationship is essential to good health,” says Dr. Barbara Bartlick, psychiatry professor who founded the Human Sexuality Program at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York.

Even apart from its psychological benefits, having sex creates physiological changes that relieve anxiety, mask pain, aid sleep, reduce stress, foster fitness, boost immune systems, stave off heart attacks, maybe even promote longevity, experts say.

 Even apart from its psychological benefits, having sex creates physiological changes that relieve anxiety, mask pain, aid sleep, reduce stress, foster fitness, boost immune systems, stave off heart attacks. Maybe even promote longevity, experts say.

New studies range from clinical to whimsical— a Scottish paper says women who have sex three times a week have fewer wrinkles. Others say it gives the heart an aerobic workout, how much depending on the act’s vigour.

In describing how lovemaking helps, increasing attention is being given to three neurotransmitters released by the brain before, during and after sex: Oxytocin, the “cuddle” hormone, which promotes emotional bonding. Endorphins, which dull the perception of pain, relieve stress, strengthen immune systems, provide that “runner’s high.” Serotonins, which foster the feeling of satiety, the “afterglow” of sex. The three work differently:

Oxytocin: It promotes sexual ¦ bonding, keeping marriages alive. It boosts nonsexual bonding— the instant adoration of a mother for the infant who has just put her through the pain of childbirth. It’s produced when mother breastfeeds baby. Dads with more of it stick around to help raise the kids.

Oxytocin triggers the physical contractions of childbirth and breast-feeding in women, and orgasm in both women and men. How it promotes social attachment is less clear. Some say it triggers other brain opiates, making that contact warmer and fuzzier.

In humans, oxytocin can be stimulated by touch — massage or simply holding hands. It can attract a woman to a man across a crowded room because his facial features are similar to those of a past lover.

“Your brain focuses on things your earlier experiences predict will produce a good sexual reward,” says Dr. Jim Pfaus, research psychologist at Concordia University.

Endorphins: They provide natural relief from the pain of arthritis, injury, even migraine. Dr. Beverly Whipple, sex educator and professor emeritus at Rutgers University, said in an e-mail interview that endorphins are part of the reason that stimulating a woman’s G-spot, her centre of sexual pleasure, elevates her pain threshold by 40 pe rcent or over 100 per cent if she has an orgasm.

Endorphins enhance the immune system by fighting stress, dampening the harmful hormones that stress stimulates.

Serotonins: After endorphins have induced that lovely “high,” serotonins kick in to create feelings of satiety that come after a good meal or good sex, bringing relaxation, also relieving stress, says Pfaus. “You never sleep better than after good sex,” says Bartlick. “Some of my patients use it as a sleeping aid.” Little research exists into the benefits of lovemaking in same sex couples. The lack of research leaves holes in many theories about the benefits of making love. For example, studies show that men who are sexually active have lower annual death rates. But which causes which?

“It would not be surprising if a good sexual relationship made for better physical and mental health,” says Dr. John Bancroft, director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction. “The difficulty is that it works in the opposite direction also, and I am not aware of any research which has disentangled this.” But even if not every benefit is firmly nailed down, it can’t hurt to try— to give that Valentine’s Day box of chocolates, chill the wine, flambe the steak in butter and brandy, put on that Marvin Gaye CD and see what Cupid has in his quiver for you and yours.

Bang On: A good sexual relationship is essential to good health. Good sex may even promote longevity Sex also gives the heart an aerobic workout.

Sex not only has psychological benefits but also creates physiological changes that relieve anxiety, mask pain, aid sleep, reduce stress, foster fitness, boost immune systems, stave off heart attacks Studies reveal that women who have sex three times a week have fewer wrinkles.