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Exploring the Benefits of Sex on Overall Health and Human Performance

In recent years, there has been significant research into the benefits of sex and the multifaceted relationship between sex and overall health. Recent research by WHOOP reveals direct correlations between sex, sleep, and recovery – and how and why the timing of sex can make all of the difference. 

Physical Health Benefits of Sex

Studies indicate that there are a variety of potential physical health benefits of sex, which include the following:

  • Cardiovascular Health — Sexual activity can have several cardiovascular benefits, including improved heart health and circulation. Sex is a type of physical activity, and has been linked to increases in heart strength, lower stress levels, and reduced blood pressure — all of which are great for cardiovascular health.
  • Immune Health — In one study, researchers found that individuals who engaged in regular sexual activity had higher levels of the antibody immunoglobulin A (or IgA) than those who did not. IgA plays a key role in immune defense and fighting off infections and illnesses, so the researchers concluded that sex could potentially boost the immune system. 
  • Pain Relief — Sex has also been associated with the benefit of pain relief. Sexual activity releases endorphins, much like other forms of exercise. These endorphins can contribute to pain relief and feelings of wellbeing. Sex has been found to be helpful in managing chronic pain, as well as acute bouts of pain due to menstruation or childbirth.

Sex and Sleep Quality

Research on the relationship between sex and health has also looked at how sexual activity influences sleep quality specifically. Researchers have discovered a connection between sex and improved sleep quality, including:

  • Sleep Latency — Research indicates that sex can help make it easier to fall asleep at night. Dr. Lastella notes that, “Sleep latency is essentially how quickly you can fall asleep. Some of the data that we've collected through some surveys is essentially saying that when people are engaging in sex that includes an orgasm, they're reporting that their sleep latencies are shorter than usual.” 
  • Sleep Quality — Sex has also been associated with increases in perceived sleep quality, including satisfaction with sleep. In one survey, 75% of participants dealing with insomnia indicated that they experienced improved sleep quality after engaging in sexual activity before going to sleep. Other research has found that both men and women self-report improvements in sleep quality and perception of general well being alongside sexual activity.
  • Libido — Dr. Lastella also explained the relationship between sleep and libido, noting that sleep and libido tend to decline with age and that there is likely a strong relationship between a decline in libido and less sleep. “If you want to increase your libido, then get more sleep,” he stated. Lastella referred to a study in which female participants who got one more hour of sleep per night were more likely to engage in sexual activity the next day. 
  • Hormones — The hormonal changes that occur with sex can contribute to better sleep. Feelings of relaxation and other pleasant emotions are stimulated by the release of oxytocin, prolactin, and endorphins, while a decline in cortisol reduces feelings of worry and stress. 

Data from WHOOP members can lend further insight into the question of how and why sexual activity affects sleep quality. WHOOP data found gender-specific effects of sex on sleep duration. Men who have sex before their normal bed time (sleep onset) gain sleep by 2.58 minutes, while women who have sex before their normal bed time lose sleep by 1.2 minutes.

Both men and women who have sex after their normal bed time lose sleep. These results indicate that sex before normal bedtime can be beneficial for men as indicated by an increase in sleep duration. These benefits do not extend to women, who exhibited a loss in sleep duration. Sex after normal bed time was not found to be beneficial for either men or women and resulted in declines in sleep duration for both groups. 

Hormonal Balance and Stress Reduction

Certain key benefits of sexual activity can be traced back to the hormonal changes that occur during and after sex. Dr. Michele Lastella, a researcher in sleep, sexual activity, and athletic performance, appeared on the WHOOP Podcast to discuss the health benefits of sex.

According to Dr. Lastella, “Engaging in sexual activity, particularly when we orgasm, [causes our bodies to] release different hormones, such as oxytocin. Oxytocin tends to increase, prolactin also tends to increase — it’s essentially that sexual satisfaction hormone — and also you have a reduction in cortisol, which then can cause a reduction in stress.” 

Increases in the hormones oxytocin and prolactin can contribute to feelings of satisfaction, while decreases in the stress hormone cortisol help mitigate feelings of stress. Together, these hormonal changes can improve mood and aid in stress management. 

Physical Fitness and Endurance

As a type of exercise, sexual activity can benefit physical fitness because certain key physical health benefits of sex, including increases in heart strength and overall cardiovascular health, can be beneficial for endurance and performance. 

Both men and women who logged sex before their normal bed time (sleep onset) showed better recovery scores the next day, while men and women who logged sex after their normal bed time displayed worse recovery scores the following day.

Sex after normal bedtime was associated with a larger reduction in next-day recovery scores for men (by 4.04%) than women (by 2.84%), indicating that men were more affected by this activity than women.

Track ‘All’ Exercise with WHOOP

WHOOP allows you to track all forms of exercise and visualize trends in your health, performance, and recovery data all in one place. You can use the WHOOP Journal to record sex and see how key metrics such as your HRV, recovery, sleep, and strain change as a result. Rely on WHOOP for accurate, informative insights for all of your fitness and health tracking needs.