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Sex + Relationships

Sex Has Health Benefits, A Sexologist Says

When you hear self-care, your mind might default to face masks and bubble baths. But have you ever thought about sex as an act of self-care? If not, this is your time to start, babes, because you need to know about the health benefits of sex.

Having sex, for many women, is part of the college experience. In fact a 2017 study of over 2,000 college students nationwide conducted by CollegeStats found that women tend to sexually experiment more in college than they did before, resulting in 43% of their sexual experiences taking place in university.

While there are many risks to keep in mind that come with having sex in college (such as STDs, “sex guilt,” and awkward hookup horror stories), practicing sex in a safe way can actually benefit you mentally. Thanks to the obvious “glorious O,” sex can make both your body and your mind feel good (but only if you’re having safe and responsible sex, obvi!). 

I spoke to Dr. Carol Queen, a professional sexologist and CCO of Good Vibrations (a San Francisco-based sex shop), to learn more about the positive effects that sex has on the brain, and why you might want to incorporate sex into your regular self-care.

Yup, sex is actually good for your brain.

Here’s something they’ll never teach you in sex ed: Having sex has benefits far beyond an orgasm (although that’s a pretty good benefit). Sexual activity activates neurotransmitters (like dopamine and serotonin) in your brain, according to the Oregon Health and Science University, and can result in better self-esteem and other benefits, as Queen explains.

“In the case of partner sex, connection with another person — both skin-to-skin contact and many types of interpersonal connection — can be good for us,” Queen tells Her Campus. “Arousal and orgasm can bring a flood of neurochemicals into our system that can block pain and relax us, help us sleep, and engage our breathing and cardiovascular system. All of this is related to well-being in one way or another.”

Not to mention, sex technically counts as exercise. And while it won’t replace your spin class, sex burns about 3.6 calories a minute and gets your heart rate up in the same way a jog does. Just like that natural “high” you get after a great workout, having sex releases dopamine transmitters that can make you feel happy, euphoric, and empowered.

There’s some pretty sweet health benefits of masturbation, too.

Sexual self-care can be a solo act as well, and an important one at that. Your sexual journey doesn’t rely on the company of other people — so get ready to get busy with yourself!

According to a 2016 survey by TENGA, a company that creates male-centric pleasure products, 81% of women have masturbated in their lifetime (based on a sample of 1,200 Americans). The researchers also found that women typically masturbate around eight times a month, or twice a week.

Not only is masturbating common, but like partner sex, it can be beneficial to your mental health. That same survey found that stress relief was one of the most common uses of masturbation alongside reliving sexual tension, sexual pleasure, and sleep aid. Not to mention, 30% of women said that they derived more pleasure from masturbating than from a sexual partner. Now that’s how you love yourself!

So whether you engage in the “two finger menage-a-trois” or invest in a great vibrator, incorporating time to explore your body can be a great addition to your self-care routine. Consider carving out some alone time to dedicate to your sexual exploration, maybe before bed to wind down, and treat yourself to the pleasure you deserve.

How to incorporate sex into your self-care, in a healthy way

While having sex can empower you, it’s important to ensure you’re engaging in it safely and healthily. 

Remember to get tested for STDs regularly, especially before engaging with a new partner (and encourage your partner to do so as well). Consume ethical porn that gives back to the sex work industry, and and always use protection (whether it’s condoms, or birth control). Your student health center on campus may even be full of resources like free condoms — because safe sex is sexy, baby!

Queen also points out that a large part of engaging in safe sex is the need for consent. “Partner sex can be an extremely enjoyable and gratifying activity, but the principles of enthusiastic consent, clear communication, and respect for boundaries are important for keeping it that way,” Queen says. “Partner sex should be desired, not acceded to, or done because you're lonely and want a jolt of attention. Learn what you can about sex, which helps keep it safe and pleasurable.”

And what about masturbation? “Solo play is the safest form of sex and has many benefits,” Queen says. “But if you feel compulsive about it and are doing it instead of other things that add up to a well-rounded life — going to class or work, connecting with friends, and so forth — it might be time to learn skills that help you integrate it better with the other things you need to do.”

So, after doing your skincare and winding down for the night, grab your partner (whether they’re a person or a toy), and get to exploring. With benefits like stress relief and sexual pleasure, you’ll be glad you added sex to your self-care routine.

julianna is an associate editor at her campus and surrogate big sister on the internet. she mainly covers all things sex and relationships, wellness, and mental health, as well as dishing out astro content on her weekly "signs of the times." when she's not writing burning hot takes and spilling way too much about her personal life online, you can find julianna anywhere books, beers, and bands are.
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