Friday, August 21, 2009

Make love, not laps. Sex benefits our health

The new swine flu, flesh eating bacteria, e-coli at the salad bar, where will it end? Just when you thought science dredged up only bad news comes this from across the Atlantic. Finally, there’s proof that sex, and it seems that it’s happy, satisfying, monogamous sex we’re referring to, actually helps us live longer. In an age of anxiety over health care plans, HMOs, managed care, overpriced insurance and uncertainty out of Washington, it turns out that regular bedroom intimacy with a loving, faithful partner is as salutary as we’d suspected all along.
Yes, there will be the naysayers, and those who claim that it’s just those randy Brits at it again with their prurient diversions, this time from a laboratory, funded no doubt with cash from their socialized medicine coffers. And there will be those who claim, not without justification, that the study was a waste of such funds, since a celibate life isn’t worth living, much less extending anyway. But for the real proof, here it is.
A recent study at Queens University in Belfast Northern Ireland* showed that frequent, satisfying sex has a remarkable affect on overall life satisfaction. No surprise there. As I said, we’ve long suspected as much. But the extensive study also demonstrated that regular sex has a proven affect on overall health and longevity in males. The mortality of about 1,000 middle-aged men was followed over the course of a decade. After a 10 year period, the British Medical Journal Lancet revealed that the men who reported the highest frequency of orgasm enjoyed a death rate 50 percent lower than the others.
It gets better. This and other studies have shown that having sex a few times a week has a direct link to reduced risk of heart disease: In a 2001 follow-up to the Queens University study, researchers looked at cardiovascular health. They found that men who have sex three or more times a week lowered their risk of heart attack and stroke by 50 percent. (!)
There were remarkable other findings as well, none of which are terribly surprising either, it’s just that they’ve rarely been demonstrated in a scientific journal. Here’s an example. From enjoying regular intimate contact with their mates, weight loss was noticeable in men over fifty. It makes sense; particularly after a certain young age, sex is a lot like exercise, not to say work, at times. A vigorous session in bed is about the same as running for 15 minutes or playing a game of tennis. They don’t call a tie score in tennis love for no reason, after all. During sex, your pulse rate rises from about 70 beats per minute to 150, similar to what you'd get from a vigorous workout at the gym. It may be the perfect aerobic exercise. Make love, not laps.
But wait, it gets even better. Sex as pain relief? Here’s another fascinating outcome of the study. Just before climax, our level of a hormone called oxytocin surges to five times its normal level. Five times! This flood of hormonal anesthesia releases endorphins, which alleviate the pain of everything from headaches to arthritis - even migraines. In women, orgasm stimulates the production of estrogen, which can reduce the pain of PMS. “Not tonight, dear, my headache is gone”.

As far as the long-term partner aspect of the study, there was really no mention of the gender of the so called ‘control group’, the other half of the participants. Indeed, the study focused solely on male health and longevity. Let’s hope a similar experiment arrives soon, based on the female model, and what the affects of a robust sexual experience has on them. If the Queens study is any indication, the results will be similar. One potential outcome may be, that women who enjoy a lot of intimate activity just happen to be married to a person who just happens to enjoy as much intimacy as she does, and just happens to want her to stick around for as long as possible. And that would come as no surprise either. We don’t really need to spend a lot of research money that could be put to better use. We could spend those dollars, or pounds sterling, developing vaccines for swine flu, eradicating this flesh eating menace, or buying sneeze shields for the salad bar.

*Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, Queen's University of Belfast, Belfast BT12 6BJ

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