Some Thoughts About Sex and Mental Health

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I recently participated in an event that included a talk about sex.  The speaker was a physician whose office is around the corner from mine, Dr. Gloria Oberbeck.  The audience was a group of women ranging in age from about 30 to about 75.  And boy did we have a lot of questions for the good doctor!

Sex is something that is all around us almost all the time, but paradoxically is something we almost never talk about in any kind of meaningful way.  Where are we to turn when we have questions like:

Why does sex hurt?

What can I do if I don’t have a partner, but still want to be a sexual person?

Why does my interest in sex wax and wane?

All are orgasms created equal?

These questions (and many more!) were asked during the talk and I took some notes.  Here are a few things I learned:

  • The vast majority of us like sex and chocolate.  The way they work on our brains is pretty similar.  And most of us don’t get enough of either one.
  • It’s a myth that men want sex more than women.
  • Regular sex helps us be more resilient to the stressors in our lives. As in: more sex = better able to cope with our annoying boss
  • Orgasms achieved by…um…machines might be fun, but they don’t result in the same overall health benefits as orgasms achieved through skin to skin contact.
  • Studies have shown us that most people want more sex than they are having
  • When sex isn’t possible (because of lack of partner, physical limitations, etc), skin to skin contact with another person can be the next best thing.  Holding hands, hugging, etc all have powerful effects on our bodies.

It was a fun, and very informative talk.  I’m already looking forward to Part 2!

More Sex = More Happiness?

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The equation might not be quite as simple as more sex equaling more happiness, but according to Dr. Tim Wadsworth, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado, sex does play a part in how happy we are.  He and his team looked at sociological data and surveys and found that those folks who thought they were having more sex than their friends and neighbors reported a higher level of happiness than those who thought they were sexually active less frequently.  This can be a bit confusing of course, because most of us don’t know for sure how often other couples are having sex.

Dr. Wadsworth explained that we learn about other people’s sex lives (or at least we think we do) through a variety of sources other than direct report.  For example, watching movies, TV, and reading magazine articles about frequency of sex can all work together to give us a sense of how often those around us are sexually active.

Years ago I had a supervisor who told me that he could judge the health of couple’s relationship simply by learning a few specifics about their sex life (frequency, satisfaction of both partners, etc).  I’m not sure I’d go that far, as there can be circumstances that make sexual activity difficult or impossible (illness, injury, distance, etc) in otherwise happy couples.  But, I don’t deny that sexual activity is an important part of overall health and happiness.

For more information about the health benefits of sex, I checked out WebMD and found this great article.  Among the benefits of sex: Decreased stress and blood pressure, and improved immune function.  Of course particularly active sex might count as physical activity and exercise, with the resulting cardiovascular benefits.  For the full list of health benefits (including improved self esteem) check out WebMD’s article.

To read more about Dr. Wadsworth’s study about sex and happiness, click here.