Though we often talk about the health benefits of sex, you know there's a long way to go toward a sex-positive society when some people still believe that masturbation is bad for you, that there's no such thing as truly safe sex, that your vibrator will permanently desensitize your vagina, and that watching porn will always lead to addiction. The truth is, there are a ton of ways that sex and masturbation can boost your physical and mental well-being.
While nobody should ever feel pressured into sex, it's important to remember that you shouldn't feel guilty about doing it either: It's totally acceptable to explore your sexuality just because it feels good and you want to! But in case you need another reason to get it on (with another person or just by yourself), here are some ways that sexuality, arousal, and orgasm can actually improve your health:
1. Women who have sex more often have sharper memories. A recent study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that the more often women had sex, the better they performed on a word memorization task. The researchers think sex could stimulate cell growth in the hippocampus, the area of the brain that stores memories.
2. Sex is good for your blood pressure. Sexually active women between ages 57 and 85 are less likely to suffer from hypertension, according to a study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. Plus, according to a Trojan and the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada survey, sex only gets more exciting as you get older.
3. Sex can boost your confidence... Despite the stereotype that casual sex is degrading for young women, one study in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that college students who enjoyed casual sex felt greater self-confidence if they had it often. But if they didn't like it, doing it frequently wasn't beneficial—which just shows it's all about being honest about your desires.
4. ...And so can masturbation. Another study in Psychology of Women Quarterly found that women who masturbated often felt more positively about their bodies. Of all the great health benefits of sex, who knew that feeling yourself could help you with feeling yourself?
5. Sex and masturbation can improve your overall physical fitness. One study by Adam and Eve found that the more athletes masturbated or had sex, the greater strength, agility, and speed they exhibited. Plus, a meta-analysis published in Frontiers in Physiology found that sex right before a competition typically either has no effect or gives athletes a boost in fitness—contrary to a lot of popular thought about the effects of sex before the big game.
6. Perhaps unsurprisingly, sexual pleasure releases feel-good hormones, in case you couldn't tell. Orgasms trigger endorphins like dopamine and oxytocin, according to a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, but you don't even need to climax in order to experience these benefits: sexual arousal alone releases these hormones. These same chemicals can also alleviate cramps—yet another reason not to shy away from sex during your period.