Saturday, February 6, 2010

Love Between the Sheets (It's Good for You!)

I just checked my inbox and saw this photo (above) of Shiva and Shakti in the Shiva Rea newsletter, Pulse. It's beautiful, and sensual, and reminded me that I rarely discuss an important part of the human experience: sexuality. Shiva and Shakti are the "Divine Couple" and in Tantric cosmology; "the whole universe is perceived as being created, penetrated and sustained by two fundamental forces... Shiva and Shakti."* Shiva is the masculine, and Shakti is the feminine, and together they create this divine force. Though in some countries and cultures, sex is considered risque, in others it is considered sacred and powerful. We connect to the deepest parts of ourselves and grow stronger in our relationship with our partner.

In this month that we celebrate romantic love (Valentine's Day), I thought it was high time to mention the benefits of a monogamous partnership and a healthy sex life. I refer to a monogamous partnership because in this type of relationship it is assumed that there is trust, vulnerability, and comfort.

There are many reasons to enjoy a healthy, active sex life, outside of the obvious reasons. Dr. Irwin Goldstein, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Sexual Medicine and director of sexual medicine at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego, CA was quoted as saying, "you can't help but say, 'Holy God! Sexual activity is a very important thing to do. Human beings were really meant to do this.'"

It has been proven that sex is a great stress release. Frequent romps have been associated with lower diastolic blood pressure (in people that live together). In addition, sex weekly (once or twice at a minimum) has been linked with higher levels of the antibody, immunoglobulin A, which helps prevent colds and infections. What better time to increase your BEDtime activities than now, the heart of cold and flu season?

Depending on what, ahem, you are doing, and how actively you are doing it, sex can burn over 150 calories every half hour. It's a wonderful method of working your heart and, long-term, having sex more than twice a week can reduce the risk of fatal heart attack by half (Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health). It increases blood flow (yes, even to our brains) which provides our organs with a healthy dose of oxygen.

Sex causes a hormone called oxytocin to surge, and endorphins to increase. This acts as an analgesic and relieves pain. So if you've got a headache or a little PMS cramping (or any pain, for that matter), give a wink-wink, nudge-nudge, know what I mean to your partner and indulge in a little sexual healing.

And the very oxytocin that is released during sex (it secretes whenever you engage in sexual activity) is also known to promote sleep, and we know how important sleep is to overall health. Dr. Desmond Ebanks, MD, founder and medical director of Alternity Healthcare in West Hartford, Connecticut says, "The profound relaxation that typically follows orgasm for women and ejaculation or orgasm for men may be one of the few times people actually allow themselves to completely relax. Many indicate that they sleep more deeply and restfully after satisfying lovemaking." A little post-coital snooze makes perfect sense (and it's why most men usually fall asleep after sex). In addition, regular sexual encounters will improve your sleep pattern on the whole.

Prostate protection is also part of a healthy sex life. Regular sexual activity eliminates harmful secretions release from the prostate gland, and this protects men from prostate cancer by keeping the prostate healthy. In a study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, frequent ejaculations (21 or more per month) were linked to lower prostate cancer risk in older men (as compared to between 4 - 7 monthly). For women, sexual activity helps regulate hormone levels which may lessen symptoms of menopause. In addition, the increase in estrogen levels and DHEA makes hair shiny and skin more supple, helping women to look a little bit younger.

On a psychological level, good sex with someone that you love and trust can help you boost your self esteem. Being open and vulnerable with someone, and experiencing that connection at both a physical and emotional level will cause your self-esteem to boost. (Adversely, casual sex can have a negative effect.) Along with improved self-esteem, the release of oxytocin helps bond us to the person with whom we are sharing our sexual experience. Both physically and emotionally, we are building intimacy. Patti Britton, PhD, a Los Angeles sexologist and president of the American Association of Sexuality Educators and Therapists says, "Oxytocin allows us to feel the urge to nurture and to bond."

While orgasms are important, behavioral endocrinologist Winnifred Cutler expressed, "Regular exposure to a loving partner has extraordinary effects on health and well-being."

Just last month ran a story about a yoga instructor and her husband who resolved to have sex every day for the entire month of December. While they did this to override some bad habits (his smoking, hers chocolate), they happily noticed many other benefits: they "slept better and had more energy," and "didn't get a cold or the flu all month as she usually does in the winter." They enjoyed it so much that they plan to continue their daily sex routine.

Often, I hear women joke about having to have sex with their husbands, as if it were a chore, and their husbands making jokes about not getting any. I don't know if it's because they think it's what society expects or if it's actually true for them. Either way, it's sad to hear because sex is a really amazing experience. It's a closeness that you and your partner share exclusively with each other. It's a place to be vulnerable and open, to take a big leap of trust. It's exhilarating and breathtaking, a series of private moments strung together between the two of you. Sex is one of life's greatest pleasures. I don't care how busy your schedule is, or how tired you are -- you'd really benefit by making sex a priority in your life. Take advantage of your loving, monogamous relationship. Have sex at least once a week (at least!) and enjoy the many benefits that come with some good, solid lovin'.


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