Sex and your mental health

At around 18 months into a global pandemic, the phrases ‘self care’ and ‘mental health’ have naturally worked their way into our everyday vernacular. After centuries of stigmatisation, taboo and shame, we’re finally living in a timeline where having open discussions about mental health is not just normal, but radically important. Thrown around now not just in therapy, but in discussions about work, the economy, politics, schools and the healthcare system, we are finally seeing the all-encompassing effect mental health has on our lives. What we don’t talk about as often as we should is the effect it can have on our sex lives, with a partner and/or riding solo.

Solo sex and mental health 

It’s 2021; we tell the world openly that we masturbate, and how we do it. There’s an endless list of reasons to engage in self love - feeling horny, adventurous, bored, or just going through your daily routine. The big O has long been a tool to destress, calm down and cheer us up, and there’s science to back it. Solo pleasure in the morning, too, can be considered a life hack to starting the day refreshed and relaxed. 

Especially during the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 when we’ve been cooped up working and studying from home, lots of us have found ourselves with a lot more time during the day to take a well earned break in the bedroom (or for those more adventurous, the home office). Unsurprisingly, during times of lockdown, rates of masturbation tend to go up, as more and more people turn to self pleasure as a form of self care. 

As it turns out, solo sex or masturbation has been proven to be good for your mental health. For one, it releases the pleasure and reward chemical, dopamine, making our brains feel all ‘warm and fuzzy’. It also stimulates the release of the endorphin oxytocin, which helps to lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. This is also helped by the release of prolactin, which aids in sleep. Just becoming aroused raises the body’s heart rate, making us feel tired, relaxed and ready to drift off afterwards. It can even burn calories and have a similar effect on mental health as the oldest mental health remedy in the book, physical exercise. 

Considering the effects of masturbation on both our mental and physical state, you can see why it has been shown to relieve some of the effects of mild anxiety and depression. 

Partnered sex and your mental health 

Having sex with someone we’re attracted to can be a powerful tool in improving our general mental health. When you google ‘treatments for anxiety and depression’, one of the first results is something called mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practise of being in touch with your body and surroundings by existing in the present moment. Having sex (this also includes masturbation) can be a powerful time to practise mindfulness, blocking out all thoughts except for your body, breath, touch and surroundings. Intimacy is well known as something that can make us feel calm, with the release of the ‘love’ hormone, oxytocin. So as you can imagine, when sex is coupled with intimacy, and intimacy is coupled with mindfulness, it can vastly improve your mental state. 

Times are hard, and everyone has different ways of getting through the day (and night). If you have found yourself turning to things like alcohol, caffeine, drugs or doom scrolling on social media, you’re far from alone, but consider pleasuring yourself or getting intimate with a sexual partner as a happy alternative. More often than not, having an orgasm is a healthier and more sustainable way to relieve stress, with almost no negative side effects (and less of an addiction risk than a lot of other stress relief methods).

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