Health

Q: Does sex strengthen your immune system?

By Maya Khamala

Fact: not only do sex and orgasms feel reealllly amazing, but sexual release also happens to be incredibly good for your heath. That's not so surprising, is it?

The benefits of (good, nay great) sex extend to the farthest reaches of our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical wellbeing. From reducing stress, to improving sleep, to lowering your risk of cancer and heart attacks, the ways in which sex has been shown to boost overall health are countless.

It should go without saying, then, that a strong immune system is inextricably linked to pretty much every discernible benefit of sex: lower stress levels, ample great sleep, and overall good health—to name a few.

More sex means fewer sick days

“Sexually active people take fewer sick days,” according to sexual health expert Yvonne K. Fulbright, PhD. Researchers at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania found that college students who had sex once or twice a week had higher levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA), AKA the illness-busting antibodies that live in the mucous membranes of our lungs, sinuses and stomach. The sexy time group had 30% more IgA than the two groups who had less frequent sex.

Good news for the single and the celibate among us: if you’re not partnered up, masturbation has similar positive effects. Sex and orgasms in general hone your body's ability to generate those protective antibodies. One small study from the Department of Medical Psychology at the University Clinic of Essen, Germany found that the white blood cell count of 11 men rose after they orgasmed. White blood cells represent about 1% of all blood cells, and are integral to the functioning of a healthy immune system. Bonus: one study even shows that masturbation can improve migraines.

That said, there's more to nurturing a hearty immune system than sex or masturbation alone. While sex can certainly help, it’s not going to stand in for eating well, exercising, getting enough good sleep, and hey, getting vaccinated against contagious illnesses and viruses (i.e. Covid). Combine sex with a balanced lifestyle, and hey, you’ve got a winning combo.

Sure, more research is needed, but still

While the immune-boosting effects of sex are widely reported, the actual research is a bit less than straightforward. Interestingly, in the Pennsylvania study of college students cited above, the group that had sex more than twice a week didn’t enjoy the same benefit as those who did the dirty 1-2 times per week: apparently, doing it all the time may tire your system. The researchers suggested that those extra sexified couples may actually have been attempting to overcompensate for their relationship anxieties by getting it on more, which might in turn have triggered stress, thus inhibiting the immune system. That said, there isn’t abundant research out there on the subject (for shame), and more info would probably help clarify things further.

But while some have deemed this lack of ‘hard-hitting’ evidence an indication that sex does not help boost one’s immune system, pointing out that sex is exercise, and that any kind of physical activity can increase immunoglobulin levels, I say the proof is in the pudding. Anyone in a healthy sexual relationship (one which doesn’t actually bring more stress to their lives!) knows firsthand the benefits of sexual intimacy and orgasmic release on the functioning of their body’s defenses. Besides, since sex can improve the quality of your sleep, and since studies have linked better sleep to a lessened risk of getting sick, hmmm, maybe sex does have a direct effect on your immune system. To me, it’s all about how holistic an understanding you’re open to. While some scientists may deem anything less than a simple correlation between sex and immunity as indirect, the reality is that sleep, stress, immunity, and sex all factor into one another—endlessly.

Bottom line: sex is a healthy choice

Even if having sex doesn’t directly prevent you from catching a cold, says Eleanor Draeger, a specialist in genitourinary medicine and a spokesperson for the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, “it counts as exercise, and improves your cardiovascular health and reduces your blood pressure. Regular sex can also strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which could help with bladder control.” She adds, “orgasms are associated with a release of endorphins and serotonin and can, therefore, help to relieve pain, including menstrual cramps.” In other words, more evidence that a strong immune system and overall good health are the result of multiple overlapping factors, of which sex is most certainly one.

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