Why a healthy sex life could be the antidote for work stress

  • One in five UK adults confess to feeling regularly stressed about work
  • But research shows sex is one of the best ways to recover from office pressures
  • And women benefit from it even more than men, according to the new findings

It can be a struggle to rouse your libido after a stressful day at work. But having sex is one of the best ways to recover from the pressures of the office, researchers have found. It also helps improve levels of job satisfaction. And women benefit from it even more than men, according to findings published in the Journal of Sex Research. One adult in five in the UK confesses to regularly feeling stressed about work, and numerous studies have found that pressure can crush a healthy sex drive. Psychologists at Portland State University in the US quizzed 1,100 men and women in full-time employment on how often they had had sex with their partner in the previous month. They were also asked to rate their levels of work-related stress, job satisfaction and general happiness. The findings revealed that, among those reporting high work-related worry, more frequent sex led to better job and life satisfaction scores, with women benefiting more from the effect. The researchers said: ‘We would encourage employees to dedicate uninterrupted leisure time to sexual activity to promote stress reduction, well-being and positive work outcomes.’

How Sex Relieves Stress and Anxiety

Sexual activity and orgasm can relax your body and release many hormones supporting overall health and wellness. Similarly, sex can boost dopamine, one a neurotransmitter sometimes called the “feel-good chemical” because it reinforces feelings of pleasure.

Increased Oxytocin

Oxytocin is known as the “love hormone” because it is released during physical touch, as in affectionate touching and sex between adult partners, as well as during pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding.

The physical closeness of sex, along with orgasm, delivers oxytocin. This hormone can relieve pain, among other positive effects—including stress relief and improved trust and mood.2

Increased Endorphins

Endorphins are neurotransmitters, not hormones, but they are also released during sexual activity (as well as other physical activity, such as running and in response to pain). Like oxytocin, they can relieve stress and improve mood.3

Reduced Cortisol

Just as it can boost hormones with positive effects, sex seems to decrease levels of adrenaline and cortisol, known as “stress hormones.”3 The body produces these stimulating hormones in response to stress, and elevated levels can lead to a “fight or flight” response. While this can be necessary and helpful in a temporary emergency, having too much cortisol all the time is not healthy for your brain or body.

Sexual activity seems to be one way to release stress by reducing cortisol. One study examined women’s heart rate and cortisol levels as a measure of stress response and found that they exhibited less stress response after “positive physical contact” with a partner. Emotional support alone didn’t have the same effect.4

These findings suggest that having sex can lead to less of a stress response during challenging situations, which is a good thing.

6 Health Benefits of Sex

In addition to flooding your body with hormones that can help you feel less worried, anxious, and stressed, sex also has several other important health benefits. Some other stress management components of sex include:

Sex As a Mood Booster

Sex can be a positive distraction, taking your mind off stressful thoughts. This, in turn, can improve mood both in the moment and beyond. For example, a study of married couples found that having sex was associated with a positive mood at work the following day.

However, it also showed that work-family strain and conflict reduced the likelihood of sex.5 This may be something to be aware of if you are experiencing frequent work-life conflict.

Because sex can boost mood, you might wonder if it might also help combat symptoms of depression. The relationship between sex and depression is complex since depression symptoms and treatments can play a part in decreasing libido.

While more research is needed, a 2021 study did find that people who had an active sex life during the COVID-19 pandemic had significantly lower scores on measures of anxiety and depression.6

Sex for Better Brain Function

In addition to helping your body and mood, sex may help keep your mind sharp. Research has found that adults aged 50 and over who had sex more frequently performed better on memory tests.7

Sex for a Stronger Relationship

Sex also strengthens feelings of intimacy with a partner, reducing stress and improving overall mood People with a supportive social outlet, including a strong intimate partnership, tend to manage stress better, live longer, and enjoy increased overall health.

Sex As a Workout

Depending on your level of enthusiasm, you can burn a lot of calories during sex and gain the stress management benefits of exercise. Research into the energy expenditure of sexual activity suggests it is moderate in intensity and burns about 150 to 200 calories per hour. That’s comparable to walking, swimming laps, and downhill skiing,10

Sex for Better Sleep

Research shows that sexual activity promotes better sleep—specifically, having sex may help you fall asleep faster, and the quality of your sleep may be better too. Once again, hormones may play a role. Increased oxytocin and prolactin (which can surge after orgasm) and decreased cortisol are all associated with both sexual activity and improved sleep.11

The sleep-promoting benefits of sex are another way that sexual activity contributes to stress relief. Chronic stress can interfere with sleep, and sex can help counteract those effects.

Sex for Cardiovascular Health

Another benefit of sex is that it may help improve your heart health. Research has found that men who have sex twice a week have a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease.12

Is it safe to have sex if you have heart concerns? According to the American Heart Association, as long as you exercise without heart problems in the range of three to five metabolic equivalents (METs), you should be safe to have sex.13 METs are a measurement used to estimate the energy expenditure required for an activity.

If you have existing cardiovascular problems, always talk to your doctor first before engaging in sexual activity or strenuous physical activity.

How Often Should You Have Sex?

How often do you need to have sex to reap these health rewards? Weekly? Daily? The right frequency of sex varies for each person, but once a week is often cited as the ideal.