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What are some of the benefits of having sex?

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Amy asks:

I hear a lot about the negative side of sex and bad things that could happen from having sex. What are some of the benefits of having sex? What are some of the positive outcomes that would/could result in having sex with my boyfriend?

Heather Corinna replies:

Fantastic question!

It's so important for people to remember that usually when we're looking to engage in activities of any kind where there are some risks of negative or unwanted outcomes, it's usually because we also want to take risks of discovering or getting some positive or wanted outcomes. If we want to audition for a part in a play, we're risking rejection or disappointment, as well as what we might see as a waste of our time in preparing a lot for something which we may not get, but we take those risks because we also want to risk getting that plum part, having the opportunity to perform and having our talent, preparation and risk visibly appreciated by an audience.

If partnered sex put us only at potentially negative risks, and not also at potential risks of positive things, it's not likely most people would even consider choosing to seek it out or engage in it. What would be the point?

So, what are some of those wanted outcomes or risks of positive results?

On a physical level, our sexual response cycles and sex with a partner (or all by ourselves, through masturbation) can be pleasurable: when we seek out any kind of sex, one of the primary things we want is to experience and share pleasure. It can wake up our bodies with a lot of energy, make us feel revitalized, energized. We can experience arousal, orgasm, and any or all the parts of the sexual response cycle. It can leave us feeling physically and mentally relaxed and rejuvenated. We also are celebrating our bodies with sex, so it can leave us feeling great about them and can deliver a nice body image boost. While any kind of partnered sex certainly isn't the equivalent of an aerobics class or a long jog, sex does also have some actual physical health benefits, such as giving your heart a mini-workout, and some studies have also found that on top of reducing risks of heart disease, for men, orgasm and ejaculation (alone or with a partner) aids prostate health, and for women (also alone or with a partner) it may help prevent endometriosis. Too, for many women, orgasm can alleviate menstrual cramps.

Emotionally or psychologically, sex and orgasm are big mood-enhancers. The chemical/hormonal changes our bodies go through during the sexual response cycle will often leave us in a better mood than when we started, feeling emotionally and psychologically relaxed and satisfied. Good sex in healthy situations is known to reduce stress, which is great for both your mental and physical health. As well, we get to discover things about ourselves we may not have known before, explore parts of ourselves we might not get to in other parts of our lives, and find acceptance for our sexual selves with others, as well as new levels of self-acceptance. Sex and expressing our sexuality can raise our consciousness: sometimes it can earnestly be a spiritual or metaphysical experience. It allows us to take our creativity and imagination out for a spin and give those things a good stretch and time to play (it can also inspire those things, giving us extra creativity to take away from sex and use or express in other areas of our lives). Sex with a partner is, in and of itself, a creative endeavor: we are creating something which did not exist before, which is completely unique to the people involved in it: what sex you and your boyfriend have isn't the sex you and someone else later may have, or he and someone else before have had. As well, when our sex life is such that it's something we embrace, shedding off shame or embarrassment about sexuality that a lot of people can have and carry around is certainly a positive.

Interpersonally, it can bring us closer to our partners, increasing trust, our understanding of each other and the depth of our relationship. When we have sex with each other, we allow ourselves to be more vulnerable than we tend to in other situations, as does our partner, and when we go there, and also discover in doing so that it's safe to be vulnerable together, that increases our trust.

When we have sex together, we disclose things to each other about what we like and dislike, what we fantasize about, what our unique sexuality and experience of sexual response is like -- things which most people tend to keep pretty private -- so we not only glean new understanding about our partner and ourselves, we can deepen our intimacy by sharing these private things. Because good sex tends to both require and develop good communication -- by telling one another what we like and dislike, want and need; asking the same of them, voicing and negotiating limits and boundaries, even talking about risk management like safer sex and birth control -- sex can be one way we can enhance our communication skills with a partner. As well, while our friends and family can know a lot about how we are as a couple, how a couple is sexually is usually a special, private secret: a part of your relationship which, for the most part, is only experienced by you and your partner.

In a lot of ways, sex between people is also a kind of adult play: being playful together brings joy into our relationships. Much like sex is a celebration of your body and your sexuality, it's also the celebration of a good relationship: sex is often a mirror of the kind of relationship you have with someone, that reflects all the best things you and your partner have going together, what you enjoy and appreciate most about one another.

With all of these things, I'm talking about any kind of sexual or sensual activity, from making out to shared massage to oral sex to intercourse to a serious snuggle session. It's not so much what activity a person does sexually which creates opportunities for these positives, but what people having sex (or even just one person engaging in masturbation) bring to what they're doing.

Suffice it to say, you can open the door more widely to the possibility of these positive outcomes when you both do what you can to reduce the risks of unwanted or negative outcomes. Making sure you have what you need to prevent unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections not only reduces those unwanted outcomes, but knowing your risks are reduced allows you both to better enjoy yourselves and to feel more safe and relaxed before, during and after sex. (Worry, stress and anxiety tends to limit how aroused you can even become in the first place.) Talking out any insecurities, anxieties or concerns about sex together either of you might have in advance not only brings you closer in and of itself, those are things you then either don't have to worry about, or which you'll worry less about, during sex together. Making sure you have and nurture a healthy relationship overall makes it way more likely you'll have a healthy and happy sexual relationship, too. Having realistic expectations for sex is also a big help: sex won't always be mind-blowing, it sometimes will be more comical than romantic, it won't always be satisfying for both partners every time, and it might push buttons for a partner which were unexpected (pleasant or not so pleasant) or even give each other or oneself a glimpse of places which aren't so emotionally comfortable or familiar. It often is also something that in a lot of ways, takes practice, which deepens or improves over time, so hitting a home run the first time you both go to bat probably won't happen. When your expectations leave room for things like that and more, your sexual experiences are more likely to be positives.

Here are a few more links to help round this out for you:

written 26 Mar 2008 . updated 17 Jan 2014

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