It's True: Orgasms Are Really Good For You
"I'll have what she's having."
We all remember the famous scene from "When Harry Met Sally," when Billy Crystal observes Meg Ryan's lip-biting, table-pounding, hair-pulling faux orgasm in the middle of a busy diner to prove men can't tell when women are faking it.
Beyond the sheer pleasure of orgasms, as Meg Ryan so aptly mimicked, they also give us an array of mental and physical health benefits.
When you climax, your body releases oxytocin, what's commonly called "the love hormone." Oxytocin has long been known to have an effect on social behavior.
"Even Alfred Kinsey showed that orgasms were good for stress reduction way back in the 1940s and 1950s," said Rhoda Lipscomb, Ph.D., a certified sex therapist based in Denver. "He found people with more fulfilling sex lives were less anxious, they were less violent and they were less hostile."
And science backs Kinsey's observations. Oxytocin and another hormone called cortisol, also known as the "stress hormone," mutually regulate one another, according to a PTSD-related study published in the Archives of Psychiatric Nursing.
That is to say, the release of oxytocin helps curb cortisol and contributes to anti-stress reactions in the body, such as reducing blood pressure, according to a German study from 2005.
Orgasms boost your immune system
Orgasms may not cure the common cold, but they can help boost your overall immune response.
According to a 2004 study, people who had sex three or more times per week showed significantly increased levels of salivary immunoglobulin A (IgA). IgA is an antibody produced in mucus and tears, thought to be the first line of immune defense from infection due to environmental factors.
"Frequent orgasm is a sign a guy's testosterone is normal, and we know good testosterone levels are an important part of a healthy immune system," said Jesse Mills, M.D., director of the Men's Clinic at UCLA.
They make you more sociable
If you're chatty after sex, it's likely due to our old friend oxytocin. A Concordia University study from 2013 indicated oxytocin could enhance participants' comfort with unfamiliar social situations, even immediately following distressing interactions.
Participants were given either an oxytocin nasal spray or a placebo, then treated to social rejection. Those who were more distressed at the interaction reported greater trust in others if they'd sniffed oxytocin, while the placebo group did not.
"Whenever people orgasm, they're kind of letting all their guards down," said Heather McPherson, a certified sex therapist and founder of Respark, a relationship and sex therapy counseling center with branches in Texas and Colorado. "You have to let go, and you have to really not worry about how you look or how you're going to sound or anything like that. So that can take a lot of trust in your partner."
Orgasms help you live longer
It turns out that frequently experiencing le petit mort—as the French call the orgasm, "the little death"—could help you avoid The Big One.
A 1997 study published in the British Medical Journal looked at the orgasmic frequency of a group of Welsh men between 1979 and 1983, then followed their lives for the next decade. They found that overall mortality risk was a whopping 50 percent lower for men in the group with the highest orgasmic frequency.
"This goes back to the testosterone theory," said Mills, author of the book "A Field Guide to Men's Health." "Men in their 70s with normal testosterone have a 20-year greater life expectancy than men with low-T, so [it] makes sense that high-T encourages more orgasms and better longevity."
Helps you sleep better
The old joke about one partner rolling over to sleep right after sex while the other one feels cuddle-snubbed has roots in reality. Not only does post-orgasm oxytocin help you sleep, but another hormone released during orgasm called vasopressin is also associated with sexual motivation and pair bonding.
One controversial paper from a 2011 University of Michigan study purported to explain the tendency to fall asleep first after sex reflects a trust in one's partner—or that the non-sleeping partner has a greater desire for affection and bonding, depending on who you ask.
Either way, sleeping soundly after sex is a real and natural thing for lots of people of different genders.
Makes you happier
Orgasms do bring happiness, but scientists say there are limits.
A meta-research project published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research looked at a trio of studies with more than 30,000 total participants. They found that, while it's true that overall happiness is associated with the frequency of sex, the effects top out at once a week. Having sex any more often than that wasn't associated with increased happiness.
But don't forget, added Lipscomb, author of the book "No More Hiding: Permission to Love Your Sexual Self," happiness and satisfaction with your sex life don't begin and end with orgasm alone.
"I think there's a lot of pressure to perform with sex and this goal-oriented approach to sex," Lipscomb said. "Yes, orgasm is wonderful, and there are many health benefits to it, but sex can be very pleasurable without orgasm. I think people forget that sex is a huge buffet of behaviors. Depending on the mood you're in, you can pick different things. It doesn't have to be this very narrow definition that so many people define as 'real sex.'"
Science has clearly drawn links between well-being and the frequency with which we have sex, and resulting orgasms can have a significant impact on our social interactions, relationships and lives.
So, what are you waiting for? Let's see those Meg Ryan impressions—only for real this time.*
(*Having Billy Crystal watch is optional.)