What are the effects of being sexually active?
Sex is one of the four fundamental needs of humans as described by psychologists. Everyone knows that sex makes us feel good, and depression does exactly the opposite, which makes us feel low.
Being with someone you care for can definitely pep up your mood. There is evidence that sex can stimulate the release of the following feel-good chemicals in the brain:
- Dopamine: It helps focus attention and generally increases motivation.
- Endorphins: These fight the stresses of daily life and give you a temporary high.
- Oxytocin: Also referred to as the cuddle hormone, oxytocin increases the feelings of compassion and affection.
All these feel-good hormones and chemicals that are released during sex can temporarily reduce the symptoms of depression. This, however, does not mean you should indulge in meaningless one-night stands to combat your lows. The benefits of sex are optimal if you are intimate with someone you really care about and connect at an emotional level. A series of flings night after night may only attack your self-esteem and push you deeper into an abyss of depression.
How does sex benefit your mental health?
- Acts as a stressbuster: A dose of sex reduces the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the blood. The decrease in cortisol levels releases stress and makes you feel calm and relaxed.
- Sets you in a good mood: A study conducted on 58 middle-aged women found that physical intimacy with a partner led to less stress and a positive mood the next day. The same study found that being in a good mood led to improved physical affection and good sex. This proves that sex helps improve your mood and a positive mood leads to better sex.
- Offers a temporary but feel-good diversion: Sex lets your mind wander away from the stress and anxiety that you face daily. Concentrating on various aspects of the sex, such as the touch, the position, and foreplay can take your mind off your current depressive state and ease your mental burden.
- Helps you doze off: Depression and stress can make it hard to fall asleep. Sex and even orgasm, without actual intercourse, stimulates the release of the hormone, prolactin, which is known to induce feelings of comfort and drowsiness.
- Lowers your blood pressure: Elevating your blood pressure is one of the ways that your body responds to stress. A study examined the effect of sex on the blood pressures of individuals who were exposed to stressful events, such as solving a math problem or standing on stage. When these individuals had sex, they were found to have lower baseline blood pressures. This study suggests that people who have sex are less likely to feel anxious during stressful events.
Sex is not a treatment for depression. Practicing unsafe sex and having multiple sexual partners exposes you to the risks of sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV. Hypersexuality or compulsive sexual behavior is often a plea for help and indicates underlying emotional pain or loneliness. It is important to seek the help of a mental health professional to treat your depression and address any compulsive sexual behavior to prevent these mental health issues from overtaking your life.
Ditzen, B., Neumann, I.D., Bodenmann, G., et al. "Effects of Different Kinds of Couple Interaction on Cortisol and Heart Rate Responses to Stress in Women." Psychoneuroendocrinology 32.5 (2007): 565-574. <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17499441/>.
Sumioka, H., Nakae, A., Kanai, R., and Ishiguro, H. "Huggable Communication Medium Decreases Cortisol Levels." Sci Rep 3 (2013): 3034. <https://www.nature.com/articles/srep03034>.
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