Wednesday, March 12, 2014

“Let’s get Physical”: The Physiological Effects of Sex on the Human Heart

Heart Disease is the number one killer of Americans; accounting for more than 600,000 deaths in the U.S annually. It will be responsible for one in four deaths this year.  Therefore the quest for preventative activities to lower the risk of heart disease is of much interest in the medical field. Recently the effects of sexual arousal and intercourse on the cardiovascular system have become topics for further investigation. 
Although most studies up to date have been performed on men, it has been confirmed that men and women’s physiological responses to sexual activity are similar enough for results to be applicable to both sexes.  The results of numerous studies have suggestedthat sex is indeed the answer to a healthier heart! Having sex three or more times a week has been found to result in an average of a seven year increase in a person’s lifespan. Such astonishing evidence relating one’s sex life with their heart health from research conducted has engendered doctors to begin asking patients about their sex lives, sexual interest and activities to get clues about their cardiovascular condition and related risks. Not only does an active sex life indicate a healthy heart, but some researchers also think that erectile dysfunction may warn of a heart attack up to five years in advance!
So what are the physiological effects that sex have on the heart that make it so beneficial? Sex increases blood circulation to the heart! In fact, during sex aperson’s heartbeat rises from 70 to 150 beats per minute on average (varying from person to person based on their physical fitness). During foreplay, systolic and diastolic systemic arterial blood pressure and heart rate increase mildly. This is followed by even greater increases during sexual arousal, with the greatest increase occurring during the 10 to 15 seconds of orgasm. Finally there is a rapid return to baseline systemic blood pressure and heart rate after sex. These physiological effects are deemed comparable of mild to moderate physical activity in the range of 3 to 5 metabolic equivalent; where 1 MET is the equivalent of climbing 2 flights of stairs or walking briskly for a short duration of time). Sex is effective in lowering blood pressure and thusreducing the risk of heart attack. High blood pressure is actually the number one risk factor for congestive heart failure, a serious heart condition when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to supply the body’s needs. In fact according to Susan A. Hall, PhD at the department of epidemiology at the NewEngland Research Institute, “men who reported that they had sex once per month or less were at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease (45% higher risk) than men who had sex twice or more per week, indicating having sex on a regular basis creates a protective factor regarding heart health.”

Even without climaxing, just being aroused can trigger your brain to release hormones such as dehydro-epiandrosterone (DHEA), which improves circulatory function and boosts cardiac performance. A modest daily supply of DHEA has even been found effective to reduce blood glucose levels in a recent study in Japan. In women, an increase in the hormone estrogen during intercourse protects against heart disease also. Of course, it is important to practice safe sex, and it is found that having sex with an intimate partner has superior results. Regardless, the evidence is undeniable; sex promotes heart health! 
Posted by Kristen Whitehead (6)


  1. This was a very enjoyable and thought-provoking read! One question I have is that while sex can lower blood pressure, can it lower other things such as cholesterol levels? Specifically LDL?

    Posted by Jacob Geier

    1. Yes there is a lot of convincing research to suggest that sex may lower cholesterol levels. It is a source of stress relief, and cardio; both which are shown to reduce LDL.

  2. Interesting post! Do you know how the research team conduct their lifespan experiment? And is there a specific age group benefits the most by having sex? But I agree that practice safe sex if very important!

    Yim Hui

    1. The primary method used to conduct the lifespan experiment is logging data from patients on their sex life; how many times they engage in sexual activity, and their interests. This is then correlated with their heart health, life expectancy, and ultimately for older patients how long they live. There is no age group that benefits most. The health benefits from sex are due to the increase in heart rate, release of benefiting hormones, and an intimate connection with a partner that promotes mental health.