Does Being Intimate Affect Your Immunity?

You try to keep yourself from coming down with the flu or a cold by eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and trying to exercise as often as possible. Chances are, having sex isn't on your list of ways to stay healthy. But maybe it should be. Experts say that having sex can actually be beneficial to your health. It may strengthen your immune system, they explain, protect your heart, and contribute to a sense of overall wellbeing.

"That component of feeling connected to another person really benefits mental health," the Domar Center for Mind/Body Health's executive director Alice Domar, Ph. D., told CNN.

"A good sexual relationship (not necessarily wildly passionate sex) is very good for the immune system," says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage.  "Healthy sex reestablishes the connection between you, and a good connection with a partner has been shown to improve health and the immune system."

The exercise and deep breathing that occur during sex have been shown to boost immune response, she says. And, Tessina adds, "Sex also reduces and relieves stress, which is beneficial to the immune system."

The act of having sex causes the release not just of the feel-good endorphins but of oxytocin, sometimes called the "cuddle" hormone. Individuals who have sex once or twice per week have higher levels of an antibody that protects against colds and other illnesses, according to an article published by CNN.

The idea that sex may help battle the common cold was reinforced by a study at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania, explains sexuality counselor Ian Kerner, Ph.D. "The study found that college students who had sex once or twice per week had higher levels of immunoglobulin A, an antibody that boosts the immune system," Kerner explains.

Keeping colds at bay is just one positive benefit of having sex. Having a robust sex life may also help you have a healthier heart, Kerner explains. "Having sex may help the heart because orgasm triggers the release of the hormone DHEA," he says. "And this helps with circulation and arterial dilation."

One study, Kerner explains, shows that guys who reported having three or more orgasms in a week had 50 percent fewer heart attacks and strokes as compared to men who had orgasms less frequently.

Still need more reasons to invite your partner to bed? Consider this: having sex on a regular basis may actually add years to your life, Kerner says. "Research shows that men who had sex less than once per month were twice as likely to die in the next 10 years as those who had sex once per week," Kerner says. And, he adds, the longevity boost wasn't limited to guys. Women who say they're happy with their sex lives tend to live seven or eight years longer than women who report being indifferent to sex, Kerner explains.