Make love not war

I remember reading once that a 20-minute sex session burned as many calories as going eight rounds with Muhammad Ali. Post mastectomy, many of us might have felt that we just escaped the boxing ring, but a 20-minute love session definitely sounds more appealing.

The issue of sex as exercise has remained largely unexplored. However, exercise after a Mastectomy or breast surgery, is always encouraged by your surgeon, oncologist, physiotherapist and psychologist. So, why not kill two birds with one stone?

Sex is credited with having many other health benefits. They’re not all scientifically proven because it’s difficult for researchers to measure the effects of sex on different health outcomes in a standardised way. Most research is also of heterosexual sex. But claims include reductions in heart disease and diabetes and improvements in sleep, appearance and immunity.

Sex is also credited with reducing period cramps and chronic pain – although both would put many people off having it. Saying “not tonight, I’ve got a headache” may also not be a medically valid reason for refusing – more than one study shows that it may relieve headaches, although it’s less reliable than tablets.

Sex is associated with promoting wellbeing and you don’t even need a partner. A paper in 1986 found that older men and women who masturbated had reduced rates of depression.

Sex may also reduce stress. A small study looking at the relationship between sex in the two-week period before stressful events found that people who have had intercourse showed the smallest rise in blood pressure when dealing with these events.

Sexual activity has also been associated with longevity. A study in the BMJ conducted in South Wales that followed 918 men, aged between 49-59 for 10 years, found that those who had been having two or more orgasms a week had 50% lower mortality rates. The authors of the study cite other research suggesting that quality of sex is important in realising the health benefits.

Sex is an indicator of good health as well as contributing to it. But the research generally suggests more is not necessarily better and that quality is what matters.

It’s not always an easy topic to discuss with your healthcare provider, but if you have questions about sexual dysfunction such as vaginal dryness, loss of libido or painful intercourse please address it at your next visit. Your healthcare provider is more than ready to assist you with an answer or to refer you to a sexual health practitioner in the area.

Written by Prof Elna MacIntosh.