Good sexual health is about a whole lot more than practicing safe sex or being able to get hard. Sexual health is about how you see yourself as a sexual being, your ability to embrace and enjoy your sexuality, and your sense of truly owning your sexual actions and choices.
Healthy Sex, Healthy Body, Healthy Mind
Being sexually healthy delivers big-time pleasure. And satisfying, healthy sex is also vital to your overall health and well-being. By releasing oxytocin, endorphins, and a gush of other feel-good chemicals in the brain, sex — especially orgasm — can boost mood, induce sleep, chill you out, and even lessen pain. A study published in the journal Cephalagia, for instance, found that sex during migraine or cluster headache led to partial or complete relief of pain for some patients in a headache clinic. (1)
The Heart Health Benefits of Having Sex Often
Healthy sex can also be great for your cardiovascular health: A study published in January 2015 in the?American Journal of Cardiology?found that men who had more frequent sex had lower risk of heart attack, independent of erectile dysfunction. (2) And while a study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior in September 2016 did find that lots of sexual action (one or more times a week) can up the risk of stroke and heart attack for older men (ages 57 to 85), female partners in the same age bracket who reported having frequent and satisfying sex were less likely to develop hypertension, a risk factor for heart attack and stroke. (3)
Even More Benefits of Sex: Frequent Orgasm Helps Support Your Pelvic Floor
Similar to Kegel exercises but a whole lot more satisfying, the rhythmic contractions of orgasm act like a workout for women’s pelvic floor.
Comprising muscles, tendons, and tough membranes, the pelvic floor is essentially a sling that supports your abdominal organs. It’s anchored to various points on your pelvic bones and has small gaps that permit your urethra, rectum, and vagina to pass through.
A healthy pelvic floor is able to contract and relax effectively, closing off these tubes and allowing them to open when needed. Going for the O won’t keep all this in shipshape on its own. But frequent orgasms can contribute to better tone. And that can help lower the risk of pelvic floor dysfunction issues, which can range from low back pain to organ prolapse to urinary and fecal incontinence, according to a review of research published in the Journal of Women’s Health. (4)
Intimacy, Sex, and Your Sense of Self
Equally important to the physical benefits of sexual intimacy and gratification is the psychological and emotional payoff.
“Healthy, satisfying sex helps forge a strong emotional bond in a relationship. And the benefits of that closeness carry way beyond the bedroom,” says Deborah Fox, a certified sex therapist based in Washington, DC. “Knowing that you are desired and accepted helps you feel confident and adds to your overall sense of well-being. It is not just a matter of connecting with another body but of connecting with another person’s body and soul.”
Healthy, satisfying sex isn’t always about orgasm, either. “People overlook the pleasure-giving aspect of sex. There’s satisfaction that comes from languorous sessions where you can just touch and explore. Having that kind of variability and changing up the routine is an important part of satisfying sex,” says Fox.
Explore More and Experiment With Healthy Sex
As long as sexual choices are consensual for both partners and don’t involve abuse, exploring new territory can also be exciting and liberating. A meta-analysis published in the International Journal of Clinical and Healthy Psychology found that people with more open attitudes about sexual pleasure are able to explore their sexuality without guilt. (5) And freedom from guilt, says the study, makes for more satisfying sex. Ridding yourself of excessive guilt and shame in general is also a bonus, since excessive feelings of guilt are associated with depression, anxiety and stress. (6)
Self-Stimulation and Masturbation Provide Important Feedback
And while we’re on the topic of guilt and shame, ditch the very idea of it when it comes to pleasuring yourself. Self-propelled orgasm as partner sex. Knowing what rings your bell will help you guide your partners to do the same. “Turning down the light, taking 30 minutes to connect with yourself and make yourself feel good also affirms you’re worthy of such a gift. It’s sensuous feedback that gives you energy, feels great, and makes you feel better emotionally,” says Walker J. Thornton, the author of Inviting Desire:?A Guide for Women Who Want to Enhance Their Sex Life.
What Your Sex Drive — or Lack of It — Says About Your Health
Yes, healthy sex is good for your mind and body. But what if you don’t have the drive to get it on in the first place?
“You have the right to decide whether you want to have sex or not, but you owe it to yourself to explore the reasons why you feel that way, since there are so many benefits to having a healthy sex life,” says Lori Buckley, PsyD, an AASECT-certified sex therapist and the author of 21 Decisions for Great Sex and a Happy Relationship.
A woman's sex drive can ebb and flow as she goes through life. Normal hormonal changes during menopause and before and after childbirth can suck the wind out of desire, as can the exhaustion that comes with raising kids — especially when they’re young and don’t sleep through the night. For some men, normal aging-related declines in testosterone can also affect their desire to have sex.
When Sex Therapy Makes Sense
If your sex drive has slowed or has always idled near neutral, don’t simply write it off as the way you’re wired, the toll of getting older or an inevitable outcome of sleeping with the same person for years on end. A good sex therapist can problem-solve with you, helping you explore a range of emotional and psychological issues that may be standing between you and a vibrant sex life.
Rule Out Health Problems That Can Sabotage Sex
Step number one, however, will be ruling out any health issues that may be dulling your desire.
“A sex therapist will generally ask questions about your sexual and health history. Your answers can tell us a lot,” says Buckley. For instance, if you can achieve orgasm while masturbating but can’t get excited with a partner, your issue may not be physical in nature.?
On the other hand, if you have zero desire, can’t get an erection, or can’t ever seem to come, your therapist may recommend a checkup and perhaps some bloodwork with a doctor. Common medical culprits include anxiety and depression in both men and women, as well as nonsexual diseases like arthritis, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and neurological diseases. In men, unusually low testosterone levels, known as hypogonadism, can be caused by chromosomal abnormalities, thyroid disease, obesity and HIV.?(7)
Consider Side-Effects When Trouble Shooting Sexual Issues
And don’t overlook your meds: Certain drugs can make sex more difficult or less satisfying. And painful or frustrating sex not surprisingly takes a bite out of desire!
For example, some blood pressure medications can make it difficult for men to achieve and sustain an erection. And antidepressant medications — especially widely used serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) — can also take a toll, by diminishing and delaying orgasm, decreasing libido, contributing to difficulty sustaining an erection, and inability to achieve erection. (8)
You can talk to your doctor about switching to a medication that might not have the same effect. For example, not all antidepressants have the same effect on sex.?Even if switching medications isn’t an option, that doesn’t mean you have to choose between satisfying sex and your health. “You can still enjoy sex. You may just need more or different kinds of stimulation to get aroused,” says Buckley.?
Natural Remedies for a Lagging Libido or Dull Drive
All this said, there are many fun, nonmedical ways to revive your desire and drive and improve your sex life.?Some of the most basic physical activities, like exercise, sleep, and yoga, are proven?ways to boost your energy levels and help you feel better, especially sexually.
Holistic treatments like acupuncture, as well as tools like lube, vibrators, herbs, and even a calendar, can help you uncover hidden sexual energy and awaken new avenues for stimulation.
Take Sex to the Next Level
Once you’ve looked at the physical, emotional, and mental health aspects of your sex life, you may want to improve, enhance, or expand certain parts of it.?There’s often room for improvement, right?
It’s true:?Orgasms can improve, erogenous zones may be discovered, and, for women, new paths to and types of orgasm are possible.
Looking to have better orgasms, more satisfying sex, or just broaden your sexual horizons? There are plenty of ways to help yourself find more pleasure. ??
Don't Forget About Birth Control
Avoiding STDs: Safe Sex and Healthy Sex
Of course, to have satisfying sex, you’ve got to maintain a healthy sex profile. If you are not in a long-term, monogamous relationship, that means practicing safe sex and getting tested regularly for sexually transmitted diseases, several of which are on the rise. In fact, 2016 saw 2 million new cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis?— the highest number of sexually transmitted diseases ever reported in a single year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hot Reads and Sexual Health Resources
Stay current, clued-in, and conversant about sexual health with some of the best blogs and books ever written on the subject. Check out the titles, websites, and newsletters from these authoritative writers.
- Great Sex: A Man’s Guide to the Secret Principles of Total-Body Sex, by Michael Castleman , GreatSexGuidance.com??
- Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life,?by Emily Nagoski, PhD, TheDirtyNormal.com?
- Guide to Getting It On: Unzipped?by Paul Joannides PsyD and Daerick Gr?ss Sr., Guide2Getting.com
- Love That Works — a Guide to Enduring Intimacy, by Wendy Strgar,? GoodCleanLove.com
- The Sexual Spark: 20 Essential Exercises to Reignite the Passion, by Michael Krychman, MD, and Alyssa Dweck, MD,?drdweck.com/sexual-spark-book
- Inviting Desire: A Guide for Women Who Want to Enhance Their Sex Life,?by Walker Thornton, WalkerThornton.com
- 21 Decisions for Great Sex and A Happy Relationship,?by Lori Buckley, PsyD,?DrLoriBuckley.com
- Better Sex Through Mindfulness: How Women Can Cultivate Desire,?by Lori A. Brotto, PhD,?LoriBrotto.com
- Great Sex, Naturally,?by Laurie Steelsmith and Alex Steelsmith,?DrSteelSmith.com
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- Hambach?A,?Evers?S,?Summ?O, et al. The Impact of Sexual Activity on Idiopathic Headaches: An Observational Study.?Cephalalgia.?February 2013.
- Hall SA, Shackelton?R,?Rosen?RC,?Araujo?AB. Sexual Activity, Erectile Dysfunction, and Incident Cardiovascular Events. American Journal of Cardiology. January 2010.
- Liu?H, Waite LJ,?Shen?S, et al. Is Sex Good for Your Health? A National Study on Partnered Sexuality and Cardiovascular Risk Among Older Men and Women. Journal of Health and Social Behavior. September 2016.
- Reider?B. Role of Pelvic Floor Muscles in Female Orgasmic Response. Journal of Womens Health, Issues and Care. September 2016.
- Sánchez-Fuentes MDM, Santos-Iglesias?P, Sierra JC. A Systematic Review of Sexual Satisfaction.?International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology. January 2014.
- Belden?AC, Barch?DM, Oakberg?TJ, et al. Anterior Insula Volume and Guilt: Neurobehavioral Markers of Recurrence After Early Childhood Major Depressive Disorder.?JAMA Psychology. January 2015.
- Kumar?P,?Kumar?N,?Singh?Thakur?D,?Patidar?A. Male Hypogonadism: Symptoms and Treatment. Journal of Advance Pharmaceutical Technology & Research. July–September 2010.
- Higgins A, Nash M, Lynch AM. Antidepressant-Associated Sexual Dysfunction: Impact, Effects, and Treatment. Drug, Healthcare and Patient Safety. September 2010.
- All About Sex.?Psychology Today.
- What Are Kegel?Exercises? National Association for Continence.
- Low Sex Drive in Women. Mayo Clinic.
- STDs at Record High, Indicating Urgent Need for Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. September 2017.
- Thornton W.?Inviting Desire: A Guide for Women Who Want to Enhance Their Sex Life. 2016.
- Buckley L.?21 Decisions for Great Sex and a Happy Relationship. 2013.
- Wilcox WB, Sturgeon S. Too Much Netflix, Not Enough Chill: Why Young Americans Are Having Less Sex.?Politico.com. February 8, 2018