Comforting Climax Orgasm offers health benefits

Orgasms leave us feeling flushed, euphoric and happily exhausted. And unlike so many other things that feel good, they may also actually be good for us.

Orgasms can actually deliver health benefits that long outlast the sexual afterglow, according to experts, who say the intense sexual experience might do everything from lower your blood pressure to reduce the risk of cancer in women. Orgasms are also a series of pleasurable muscular contractions, releasing pent-up tension and stimulating the brain's pleasure center.

"Orgasm releases endorphins, the mind's natural mood relaxers and enhancers," said sex expert Mark Gorkin. "More important, it helps you feel connected to someone beyond yourself. It's the moment of serenity, of letting go."

British researchers tossed around the idea of starting a public health campaign encouraging people to have more orgasms, along the lines of "five a day" ads for fruits and vegetables, but conceded five sexual climaxes a day might be a bit ambitious.

Ooh, Oxytocin

Part of the flood of neurological responses is a hormone called oxytocin. Released during orgasm, it builds intimacy and studies indicate it could do a lot more.

Orgasms could help ward off cancer in non-childbearing women, according to Dr. Timothy Murrell of the University of Adelaide, Australia, who speculates oxytocin helps cleanse the breast of carcinogenic cells. "Oxytocin levels have been shown to rise with orgasm in women and in men," he wrote in the journal Breast Cancer Research Treatment.

A group of Italian researchers has also found oxytocin "inhibits the proliferation of breast cancer cells in vitro" and suggests "it may be possible to inhibit breast cancer growth using oxytocin." They also found blood pressure levels drop when oxytocin acts on the system. Tell that to your doctor!

The hormone is present in both the brain and in the bloodstream, and also plays a key role in breast feeding and sexual behavior, according to Dr. Rebecca Turner of the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center. Stimulation of the breasts, in both men and women, causes the brain to send a signal for the pituitary gland to release oxytocin.

The happy, mellow feeling afterwards and the need for a nap can also be credited to oxytocin. The post-O glow is at once intense and relaxing, said Anna, an investment banker from France. "You're really aware of everywhere your bodies are touching and you feel like you don't ever want to move and then you fall asleep!"

The health effects of this mysterious hormone on men have not been as thoroughly investigated, possibly because oxytocin was originally studied in terms of breast feeding. But never fear, fellas: Orgasms seem to be plenty good for men's health, too.

A study of 918 men in the British Medical Journal found those with "high orgasmic frequency" had a 50 percent lower risk of death than their orgasm-deficient counterparts. So it's a matter of life or death ... kind of. This might not work as a way to coax your partner into bed, though.

The study controlled for various factors like income and profession, and concluded "sexual activity seems to have a protective effect on men's health."

Some doctors have speculated orgasms are good for the prostate: since the walnut-shaped organ is a conduit for sperm and seminal fluid, it makes sense that using the plumbing is good for the pipes. However, that theory is unsupported by hard evidence, according to urologist Dr. Ian Thompson of the University of Texas-San Antonio.

"Anybody who says they know the answer is wrong," he said. "There are no scientific data that would suggest orgasm is either good or bad for the prostate it's a tough thing to study," because it's often unclear whether an unhealthy prostate is causing fewer orgasms, or the other way around.