Our bodies are built to have sex, and our species was designed to have sex frequently. The more frequently we have sex the more unique offspring we produce who are likely to survive to adulthood, thereby passing on the necessary survival genes for continuing the viability of the species. For the last two hundred thousand years or so, this function has served its purpose well, continually improving the design of the human race to create its current top-of-the-food-chain superior form.
But a strange thing happened in the last forty or fifty years. As the human race has grown more affluent and self-directed, it has begun to consider children—or at least the production of sustainable quantities of them—unnecessary and inconvenient. Nearly half the world now has birth rates lower than the sustainable rate of 2.1 children per adult female. A combination of rising education and job participation among women, urbanization, affluence, contraception, secularism, and less formal cohabitation arrangements has led couples in general and women in particular to delay, reduce, and in some cases forego entirely the raising of children.
These forces, together with increasingly prevalent access to the internet and social media are creating progressively detached, busy, and stress-filled lives where the impetus for sex has diminished to historical lows. One recent survey shows the frequency of sex has declined 20% in the past decade to less than 5 times per month, and the trend is continuing. This is in marked contrast to studies conducted only a half century ago by the Kinsey Institute, where married women in their 30s reported having sex an average of 9.5 times per month.
What are the implications for this relatively recent loss of interest in sex? Beyond the scary prospect of the potential long-term extermination of the human race, there are obvious pair-bonding challenges, not to mention the loss of personal enjoyment that goes along with frequent sexual arousal and orgasm. But there are other more serious personal health implications associated with this generalized loss of libido. As with most other physical endowments that nature has bestowed upon us, there is considerable evidence demonstrating the pervasive rule ‘use it or lose it.’
In men, numerous studies have demonstrated that less frequent sex increases the incidence of prostate cancer. For men 40 and up, frequent erections increase the delivery of oxygen to penile tissues and help keep the penis healthy and functional. In other words, blood flow to the penis begets more of the same—one reason some physicians advocate the use of erection-enhancing drugs prior to sexual stimulation, even if you don’t have a partner. Sustaining blood flow to the penis is no longer viewed as just about sexual performance; it’s a requirement for healthy organ structure.
Orgasms release oxytocin, which helps promote better sleep, and endorphins, which stimulates the production of immune system cells that fight disease. When researchers tested the immunoglobulin A (IgA) levels of college students, they found that those who had sexual intercourse at least once or twice a week had IgA levels 30 percent higher than those who were abstinent. More frequent sex has even been shown to increase men’s lifespans: one British study found a 50% reduction in mortality for men who had the most regular orgasms.
Similarly beneficial health effects and disease resistance has been demonstrated for sexually active women. Higher sexual frequency has been shown to reduce the incidence of breast cancer, and sexual activity during menstruation has a protective effect against the development of endometriosis. Sexual intercourse also helps maintain vaginal elasticity and stave off vaginitis and vaginismus. Women who have more sex also produce higher levels of estrogen, which has also been shown to protect against heart disease, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s disease.
It should be pointed out that not all sex is created equal when it comes to the beneficial impact on health. Heterosexual intercourse without condoms has been found to deliver the most direct benefit. The introduction of semen into a women’s vagina stimulates the production of many positive mood-enhancing hormones that reduce depression and boost immune strength, including testosterone, estrogen, luteinizing hormone, prolactin, and prostaglandins. Even the makeup of semen has been analyzed to have different characteristics depending on the type of sexual activity. Semen samples obtained via sexual intercourse contain 70-120% more sperm, with sperm having a higher motility and more normal morphology, compared with semen samples obtained from masturbation. Sexual intercourse also generates a 25–45% increase in ejaculate volume, mainly through increased prostate secretion. Sorry guys (and gals)—masturbation just doesn’t have the same health advantages as good old fashioned intercourse. In fact, an increasing body of evidence shows that excessive pornography exposure and masturbation actively ‘rewires’ the brain leading to erectile dysfunction and difficulty ejaculating during real partner sex.
The good news is that most of these dysfunctions and disease risks can be easily reduced by clean, simple, and frequent sex—the way nature intended. We’ve been endowed with miraculous tools for procreation and pleasure: get busy using them if you want to live long, vigorous, and stimulating lives!
[Note: If you’d like to participate in an anonymous poll to see how your sex habits compare to others, click on the poll link at the top of this page. Feel free to add comments in the space below and weigh in with your own experience and insights.]
By Reid Jenner