As a society, we’ve only very recently begun to talk about sex in the context of holistic health. We can see the hard work of forward-thinking sex educators really paying off when you look at the way, for example, companies selling sex-related products are talking to us nowadays: Woman-founded sex toy company Dame’s website refers to its vibrators as “essential wellness tools,” buzzy health care brands hims and hers sell sexual dysfunction medication alongside shampoos and skin care products, and if you didn’t know better, it might take you a second looking at FORIA’s nature-forward homepage before you’d realize you’re looking at the company that popularized CBD lube.
Looking more specifically into our own lives, a new survey suggests the movement to recontextualize our understanding of sexuality and emphasize the importance of sexual wellness really is starting to sink in among individuals. Lovehoney, another sex toy company, surveyed 3,000 adults about their intimate lives, how they feel about sex, and why they have it. When asked about the benefits having sex brought to their lives, these were the most popular answers people reported:
- Strengthens their relationship with their partner (49% of people reported this)
- Puts them in a good mood (45%)
- Helps with stress (43%)
- Helps with sleep (33%)
- Helps improve mental health (25%)
- Gives them more confidence (20%)
You’ll notice five out of these six things are totally wellness-oriented benefits. That’s some pretty strong evidence that people are finally able to see sex as something that’s about more than just lustful urges, procreation, and even physical pleasure (even though pleasure is great!).
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Sexuality as a form of self-care.
Of course, the idea that sex is very good for your health is far from new. Research has long shown having sex tends to reduce negative emotions and improve people’s moods both that day and the following one, and it can even keep your blood pressure from rising in response to stress. Physical touch and orgasms flood your brain with feel-good chemicals like endorphins, oxytocin, and dopamine, all of which tend to soothe the mind and reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and psychological distress.
“In my practice, self-care and stress management are not luxuries, and regularly releasing hormones like oxytocin is a great way to help manage a hectic schedule, as this bonding hormone buffers against stress hormones like cortisol,” functional naturopathic medical doctor Jolene Brighten writes at health news. “You’ve probably experienced that anti-anxiety boost after sex, and researchers find oxytocin can reduce social anxiety.”
And about that third of people who listed better sleep as one of their favorite gains from a good romp in the sack: That’s not just in their heads. According to Brighten, orgasms really do improve your sleep quality: “If you find yourself or your partner drifting off into a pleasant slumber right after sex, you can thank your orgasms. Oxytocin reduces cortisol levels, calming your mind so you can sleep better. Orgasms also release vasopressin, which accompanies the release of your neuroprotective hormone melatonin.”
Sexuality as a tool for self-knowledge.
But beyond neurochemically giving us more access to more positive emotions and rest, sex also serves us in more spiritual ways: Our sexuality is a way for us to dialogue with our own bodies, guiding us toward a deeper sense of self-knowledge and self-worship. Sexual expression helps us learn to prioritize listening to our own emotions, bodily sensations, and spiritual needs. It’s a way to be present, fully, in ourselves.
Clinical sexologist and sex therapist Cyndi Darnell teaches her clients to view their sensuality as a form of self-care, especially for women and queer folks in this particular sociopolitical moment in time, when their bodies and identities tend to be under attack.
“Finding our own body and voice—a sense of conscious, sensual embodiment—is an act of empowerment and resilience,” Darnell writes at health news. “Reorienting back to the body is a useful, proven way to move through trauma caused by being caged. … It sends a message that we are allowed to take up space as vital, sensual living beings. In an era when our value is continually being reduced or rendered invisible, self-care and prioritizing pleasure is a powerful way of reclaiming our sensual birthright in spite of adversity.”
We can only hope this modern, holistic view of sexuality continues to spread like wildfire as we continue to have more open conversations about the intimate parts of our lives.
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