Sexual Wellness Resource Center
For Adults over 50.

Health Benefits of Sex: The Brain

By Michael Bates, M.D.

Yes, sex feels good. But it’s also good for your emotional, physical and psychological health.

Sex has a positive impact on physical and cognitive performance, relationships, and happiness into our senior years.It’s a central part of emotional, physical and psychological health. Today let’s talk about the brain and the chemicals it releases during sex that affect our health, mood and well being.

What are the brain chemicals released during sex? How do they affect us?

During sex and orgasm a shower of hormones and neurotransmitters are released in the brain: oxytocin, dopamine, endorphins, serotonin, and prolactin.

Levels of the hormone oxytocin increase with hugging and kissing, and greatly increase during sex. Oxytocin plays a role in developing empathy, trust, and relationship building.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with the brain’s pleasure centers.

 

Endorphins are hormones that trigger pleasure feelings in the brain and body, similar to morphine. They reduce the perception of pain and cause feelings of euphoria. They are sometimes called “nature’s painkillers” and “natural highs.”  

Studies have demonstrated the improvement of headache pain, chronic back pain, and arthritic pain after sexual activity. Endorphins also reduce stress, ward off anxiety and feelings of depression, boost self-esteem and improve sleep.

The neurotransmitter serotonin affects brain cells related to mood, sexual desire, and sleep. It is a contributor to feelings of well being and happiness. Serotonin also plays a role in memory and learning.

Finally, prolactin, the hormone named for its role in lactation (breastfeeding). Prolactin is released in response to sex and is critical for the regulation of the immune system. This leads to fewer episodes of colds and flu and perhaps even contributes to the body’s natural cancer resistance.

What is the take home message?  

What a collection of positive words and phrases: empathy, trust, relationship building, improved intimacy, pleasure, stress reduction, wards off anxiety and depression, boosts self esteem, improves sleep, improves mood, increases feelings of well being and happiness, improvement in memory and learning, decrease in the pain of headache, back ache, and arthritis; fewer colds and less flu.

Sex: What a wonderful way to increase the quality of life in these senior years.

Sex: Just what the doctor ordered.

This is the second article in our series on the health benefits of sex in later life. (You can read the first, about the heart, here.) Questions? Ask the Expert.

As per our Terms of Use, this article is for general educational and informational purposes only and is not meant to serve as a substitute for professional medical advice. Consult with your own physician or health care practitioner regarding the use of any information received here before using or relying on it. Your physician or health care practitioner should address any and all medical questions, concerns, and decisions regarding the possible treatment of any medical condition.

About the Author

Michael Bates, M.D.

Dr Bates practiced obstetrics and gynecology for 34 years in Wichita, Kansas, until his retirement in 2011.

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