10 Research-Backed Benefits of Sex

10 Research-Backed Benefits of Sex

By Dr. Jess

Sexual Health

Sex is more than a physical act. It has the potential to be a powerful experience that can provide benefits ranging from the physical to the emotional to the relational and beyond. And though it’s often touted as an act of pleasure, its benefits extend far beyond momentary gratification. Sex, whether solo or partnered, is associated with a range of potential rewards, including improved sleep, boosted mood, a strengthened immune system, happier relationships, and an overall improvement in the quality of life. If you need one more reason to prioritize sex, feel free to pick one from the eleven science-backed benefits below.


There are many reasons to have sex, and pleasure tops the list across the board. Indulging in pleasurable behaviors involves complex processes in the brain and body involving multiple regions and neurotransmitters. As desire and arousal build, the sensory areas are signaled, resulting in the release of feel-good hormones like dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. Systems associated with reward and emotional response are activated, and orgasm can trigger a chemical surge that results in feelings ranging from relief to relaxation to euphoria. If you want to heighten sexual pleasure, we’ve got you covered with three simple tips:

Take time to explore the entire body. Rather than going straight to your hottest spots, use fingers, lips, breath, and more to trace every curve and crevice and tune into your body’s response. It can take effort and unlearning to slow down and experiment, but it’s worth it to heighten your pleasure potential. For specific tips on head-to-toe pleasure, check out the Complete Guide to Full-Body Orgasms. Use lube. The data is clear: those who use lube enjoy better sex, from desire to arousal to orgasm to overall satisfaction. Whether you want a bit of flavor for more playful oral or want to intensify the sensations and arousal, we’ve got you covered with FREE samples of (almost) every variety. Fantasize. Your mind is your most powerful sex organ, as it allows you to traverse any terrain, explore any world, and indulge in any scenario your heart desires. Research confirms that sexual fantasies can improve both sex and relationships, so allow your mind to wander freely and check out these popular fantasies for inspiration.


The desire to find happiness is universal, and sex offers one pathway to happiness via pleasure. Experiences of pleasure are linked to happiness. One study found that those who fully indulge in and enjoy pleasurable moments without distraction report higher levels of well-being and lower levels of depression and anxiety.[1] Another study found a positive correlation between sexual frequency and happiness, suggesting that sex once per week is enough to boost happiness.[2]

The theory of hedonic well-being suggests that the ability to indulge in life’s pleasures supports joy, contentment, and life satisfaction. This might include enjoying a delicious meal, engaging in hobbies, spending time with someone who puts you at ease, or sinking into the pleasure of erotic touch. Though there is more to life than the pursuit of pleasure, a little pleasure – sexual or otherwise – can go a long way to support overall happiness and quality of life.

Cognitive Function

Sex may be on the brain, and it may also be good for the brain. A study of 6,833 adults between the ages of 50 and 89 examined cognitive function using number sequencing (related to executive function) and word recall (related to memory). They found significant associations between sexual frequency and cognitive function for both men and women (in both number sequencing and word recall for the former, but only in recall for women). They suggest that the relationship between enhanced cognition and sex may be related to neurotransmissions that occur during sex, and specifically the role of dopamine and oxytocin release.[3] I can see the t-shirts now: Get laid. Get smarter. All jokes aside, this research is preliminary, but paves the way for future neuroimaging studies and underscores the value of sexual wellness resources for folks of all ages.

Stress Relief

Sex may be the ultimate stress reliever, as increased oxytocin levels right before orgasm can have a calming effect on the mind and body, and research shows a potential decrease in cortisol (often referred to as the “stress hormone”) in response to sex. One study found that having sex has the potential to relieve stress for those in happy relationships (but not necessarily for those in unhappy relationships)[4] and an online survey found that one of the benefits of working from home involves taking so-called “self-pleasure” breaks. According to 2,000 Brits, 14% are masturbating while on the clock and 33% say that it helps lower their stress levels. This is in line with American data, with 36% of adults (from a nationally representative sample of 3,878) citing stress relief as their motivation for masturbation.[5]

Cardiovascular Health

Sex may be good for your heart, and a healthy heart may also promote more frequent and satisfying sex. One study found that those who had recently had intercourse responded better and had lower blood pressure when put into stressful situations (e.g., public speaking).[6] Another study found that frequent sex is positively correlated with low blood pressure and resting heart rate in couples who live together. Of course, correlation doesn’t equal causation, and other lifestyle and health factors are essential to cardiovascular health, but why not add sex to your wellness routine? It’s worth a shot.

 Improved Mood

You may not need science to tell you that you simply feel better after a good romp in the hay, but the data speaks for itself. One study asked 152 participants to keep a diary tracking sex and well-being. Measures included both frequency and quality of sex along with mood and meaning of life. They found that sex was associated with greater well-being the following day, and when sexual pleasure and intimacy were higher, positive mood also increased the next day.[7]

Another case-control study compared two groups during the pandemic – one group of 2,608 sexually active participants and another group of 4,213 non-sexually active participants. Those who were sexually active showed significantly lower levels of anxiety and depression. Of course, this doesn’t mean that sex will universally ward off unwanted emotions, but it does support a positive correlation between sex and boosted mood.[8]

Pain Relief

Alongside increased levels of oxytocin, the release of endorphins during sexual activity has the potential to alleviate cramps, headaches, and other body pains. Oxytocin is believed to reduce pain thresholds by more than 50 percent, so it makes sense that 90% of menstruators who participated in the Menstrubation Study say they’d recommend masturbation to combat period pain.[9]

Even if you don’t have the energy for physical sex, you might consider fantasizing to alleviate pain. One study that involved dunking your hand in ice water found that allowing your mind to engage in intense sexual fantasies can improve mood, reduce tension, and decrease pain.[10] This confirms the pain-control theory, which suggests that imagery or thoughts that elicit a positive emotional response during a painful experience can reduce perceptions of pain.

Enhanced Beauty

I don’t want to overstate this relationship, as it’s theoretical, but if you’ve ever had a sex glow, you don’t need studies to confirm that sex can leave you looking and feeling beautiful. Sex may increase levels of DHEA, a hormone that is thought to promote shiny hair, glowing skin, and bright eyes.

Boosted Immunity

Sexual activity has been linked with an antibody that has the potential to ward off the common cold or flu. A study of university students found that those who had sex 1-2 times per week had higher levels of immunoglobulin A, which has the potential to fight off infection.[11] It may not be as solid as hand-washing and regular testing, but sex can still be a part of your overall wellness routine.

Better Relationships

A wealth of data shows that sex has the potential to enhance partnered relationships. From improved communication to deeper intimacy to overall satisfaction, study after study confirms that sex and relationship quality are inextricably linked. And research suggests that the benefits are not fleeting. The sexual afterglow has been shown to last 48 hours after sex and those who experience a strong afterglow also report higher levels of marital satisfaction over the long term.[12] If you’re looking to try something new with your partner, check out these 20 + sex tips and techniques to get started.

 A Good Night’s Sleep

I’ve saved the best for last because a good night’s sleep can be just as pleasurable as sex. And it can be both a benefit and a benefactor of sex. Sex can lead to high-quality sleep, which is associated with a host of health and relational benefits. When you’re well rested, you’re more likely to be open to human connection, whether it’s with a partner, a friend, or a co-worker. One study published in Nature Communications looked at people who had slept well versus those who were sleep-deprived and found that a good night’s sleep makes us more willing to get physically close to others.[13] Since physical affection is associated with a range of relational benefits from bonding to lower stress levels to attraction, the relationship between sleep and sex is likely bi-directional. Sleep is also positively correlated with empathy and emotional intelligence, which makes for more positive interactions with partners, family members, co-workers, and our communities.

On the flip side, a lack of sleep can be costly. Multiple studies connect sleep deprivation with aggression, and this can affect how we approach and engage in conflict. An Ohio State University study assessed couples during arguments and found that couples who had both slept less than 7 hours were more hostile than if even one partner slept 7+ hours. When one partner got enough sleep, the arguments were more likely to end positively, so the relationship can benefit from just one partner’s good sleep habits. In so much as sleep affects mood, stress levels, and anxiety, it can also increase the likelihood of conflict. Though you may sometimes opt for sleep over sex on account of sleep’s essential role in promoting overall well-being, because sex can lead to a good night’s sleep, you may sometimes want to consider a quickie to reap the indirect rewards of sex’s relationship with a good night’s sleep.


This is just the tip of the iceberg. The benefits of sex vary greatly from person to person and studies can’t possibly provide a complete picture of how individuals experience sex and its many payoffs. So, in whatever way you enjoy, prioritize, and explore sex, embrace the journey, and indulge in the rewards – however they come your way.

[1] Bernecker, K., & Becker, D. (2021). Beyond Self-Control: Mechanisms of Hedonic Goal Pursuit and Its Relevance for Well-Being. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 47(4), 627-642. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167220941998

[2] Muise, Amy & Schimmack, Ulrich & Impett, Emily. (2015). Sexual Frequency Predicts Greater Well-Being, But More is Not Always Better. Social Psychological and Personality Science. 7. 10.1177/1948550615616462.

[3] Wright H, Jenks RA. Sex on the brain! Associations between sexual activity and cognitive function in older age. Age Ageing. 2016 Mar;45(2):313-7. doi: 10.1093/ageing/afv197. Epub 2016 Jan 28. PMID: 26826237; PMCID: PMC4776624.

[4] Ein-Dor, Tsachi & Hirschberger, Gilad. (2012). Sexual healing: Daily diary evidence that sex relieves stress for men and women in satisfying relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 29. 126-139. 10.1177/0265407511431185.

[5] Herbenick, D., Fu, T. C., Wasata, R., & Coleman, E. (2023). Masturbation Prevalence, Frequency, Reasons, and Associations with Partnered Sex in the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Findings from a U.S. Nationally Representative Survey. Archives of sexual behavior, 52(3), 1317–1331. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-022-02505-2

[6] Brody S. Blood pressure reactivity to stress is better for people who recently had penile-vaginal intercourse than for people who had other or no sexual activity. Biol Psychol. 2006 Feb;71(2):214-22. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2005.03.005. Epub 2005 Jun 14. PMID: 15961213.

[7] Ein-Dor, Tsachi & Hirschberger, Gilad. (2012). Sexual healing: Daily diary evidence that sex relieves stress for men and women in satisfying relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 29. 126-139. 10.1177/0265407511431185.

[8] Mollaioli, D., Sansone, A., Ciocca, G., Limoncin, E., Colonnello, E., Di Lorenzo, G., & Jannini, E. A. (2021). Benefits of Sexual Activity on Psychological, Relational, and Sexual Health During the COVID-19 Breakout. The journal of sexual medicine, 18(1), 35–49. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2020.10.008

[9] Womanizer & Lunette. The Menstrubation Study accessed from https://menstrubation.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/WMZ_Menstrubation-Results_Report_UK.pdf

[10] “Sexual Fantasies Increase Pain Tolerance”, http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/press/1999/DEC99/991216.HTM

[11] Charnetski CJ, Brennan FX. Sexual frequency and salivary immunoglobulin A (IgA). Psychol Rep. 2004 Jun;94(3 Pt 1):839-44. doi: 10.2466/pr0.94.3.839-844. PMID: 15217036.

[12] Meltzer, A. L., Makhanova, A., Hicks, L. L., French, J. E., McNulty, J. K., & Bradbury, T. N. (2017). Quantifying the Sexual Afterglow: The Lingering Benefits of Sex and Their Implications for Pair-Bonded Relationships. Psychological Science, 28(5), 587-598. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797617691361

[13] Ben Simon, E., Walker, M.P. Sleep loss causes social withdrawal and loneliness. Nat Commun 9, 3146 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-05377-0



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