Health

Does Sex Really Boost Your Immune System?

You’ve got a lot of free time on your hands while social distancing. Your partner has a lot of free time on their hands, too — especially if the two of you don’t have kids. If you’re cooped up together, why not use that extra time to get busy?

That’s the pitch psychologist and sex therapist Janet Brito is making to her clients, especially those who are stressed from reading COVID-19 update after COVID-19 update.

“I have been encouraging my clients who live with their partners to limit their media intake and consider engaging in solo or partnered mindful sex activities,” said Brito, who lives and works in Honolulu.

Mindful sex ― the kind where you’re focused on experiencing pleasure and less concerned about performance or meeting an end goal (orgasming, for instance) ― is the perfect pandemic activity for many reasons, she said.

“At its core, mindful sex is about unwinding and being in the moment with your partner,” she said. “With some soothing music, mindful sex during COVID could be a great solution to managing pandemic stress.”

The connection between sex and feeling good psychologically and physically goes deeper than that, though. Brito and other sex-perts explain how sex can boost your mood and potentially help your immune system during lockdown.

Good sex naturally puts you in a good mood.

Ah, that afterglow. You’re generally in a better mood after sex (or solo play!) thanks to a flood of endorphins and other feel-good hormones released post-climax.

Here’s how that works: Getting it on reduces levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, according to research published in The Journal of Health and Social Behavior. All the while, it stimulates the production of endorphins, which are neurochemicals that naturally trigger a positive feeling in the body, similar to a morphine high.

Oxytocin, sometimes called the “love” hormone, is also released during sex and other intimate gestures, such as hugging or holding hands. Scientists say it strengthens social bonds in mammals.

Sex once or twice a week may fend off illness.

According to a study put out by Wilkes University in Pennsylvania, there may be a link between having sex a few times a week and a strong immune system.

The researchers found students who had sex once or twice a week had higher levels of Immunoglobulin A (IgA), which are illness-fighting antibodies found in the mucous membranes of the lungs, sinuses, the stomach and intestines. (They’re also found in the fluids these membranes produce: saliva, tears and blood.)

People who had sex once or twice a week had the highest levels of IgA, which helped them stave off colds. The group had 30% more IgA than the two groups who had less frequent sex and the group that had sex more than twice a week. (Apparently, doing it all the time has its drawbacks.)

“Immunoglobulin basically fights against viruses and boosts your immunity,” said Shannon Chavez, a psychologist and sex therapist in Los Angeles. “Plus, regular sexual activity is good for your heart rate, blood pressure and circulation. These processes keep your body healthy and release toxins and pent up tension in the body.”

Cuddling also has health benefits, experts say. 
Cuddling also has health benefits, experts say. 

Cuddling and simply kissing has health benefits, too.

It’s not just getting down and dirty that’s good for your mental and physical health. A good cuddle or makeout session has its health perks, too. (That kind of intimacy and affection is something we all crave, coupled up or not; in a study conducted by the Kinsey Institute, researchers found that more than half of participants want to cuddle or even spend the whole night cuddling with their casual sex partners.)

Affectionate partners report lower stress, have a lower susceptibility to depression and lower anxiety, said Amanda Gesselman, the associate director for research at the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University.

“Kissing also contributes to heart health, affecting cholesterol and risk for heart disease through improved blood lipids,” Gesselman said. “Some studies have even shown that kissing for about 30 minutes reduces people’s responses to allergens. Kissing produces a physiological change inside us that can reduce the immune system’s inflammatory responses.”

Single? Masturbation comes with a lot of the same benefits.

You don’t have to be partnered up to use sex as an antidote to a lot of your stress right now.

“If you’re single, you have more time to engage in erotic fantasy, to masturbate, to sext, to share nudes and sexual content, thus nurturing your erotic self and increasing sexual desire,” Brito said.

If you’re currently self-quarantining away from your partner and feel a lot more horny than usual, you’re not alone, Brito said.

“It’s a stress response, triggered by a fear that you won’t be able to have sex with your partner again due to the current situation,” she said. “Masturbating may offer comfort during distressing times.”

Yet it’s totally understandable if you aren’t in the mood.

Of course, not everyone’s sex drive is through the roof right now ― we all respond to stress differently. In a study Gesselman is conducting with her Kinsey colleagues, many people say their sex drives have declined since the beginning of the pandemic.

“Certainly that’s because many people are physically separated from their partners or potential partners now, but overall, stress has been shown to have a large impact on sexual desire,” she said. “Some people feel a shutting down of their sexual desire. They’re too stressed to want sex or to even think about sex, and that may add even more stress because a part of their life that they may have really enjoyed is now inaccessible.”

For those who look at sex as a form of stress relief, having more sex with their partners is an obvious way to bide their time. And if you’re not in the mood and need some sort of incentive to do it, knowing that it can relieve stress could make it extra enticing.

“[Sex] can give you distraction from the feeling of impending doom we’re all dealing with right now, and can provide a way to feel emotionally close to their partner, which provides comfort and assurance,” Gesselman said.

Bottom line? Do what feels right to you sexually during quarantine, whether it’s abstaining, solo play or getting it on with your partner at home.

“Most of us have more time to think, to seek out entertainment or pleasure right now,” Gesselman said. “It makes sense that for some, this idle time would be an environment to explore their sexual selves.”

Sex Ed for Grown-Ups is a series tackling everything you didn’t learn about sex in school — beyond the birds and the bees. Keep checking back for more expert-based articles and personal stories.


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