This article was originally published in December 2014 and has been updated.
When doing research for a recent show segment, I discovered a fact that may make our male counterparts jealous: according to some experts women are capable of having (at least) 11 different types of orgasms. Regardless of which one you master, there are many health benefits of orgasms outside of the realm of pleasure. In fact, the almighty ‘O’ can improve everything from appetite to hormone levels. Read on for more:
1. They can curb your appetite
One benefit of orgasms is that they stimulate the release of oxytocin, which is also known as the love hormone.
To give you an idea of how potent this little hormone is, one study found that mice that had been bred without the oxytocin gene displayed a significantly enhanced intake of carbohydrate solutions. The release of oxytocin may also shift our motivational behaviour from a desire to eat to a desire to reproduce. Oxytocin also counteracts anxiety and depression by lowering cortisol concentrations, which is well known for its role in boosting belly fat and cravings for carbs.
2. You may boost testosterone levels
Although it’s commonly said that you need testosterone to have a libido, it also works the other way around. Sexual function is a lot like lean muscle — if we don’t use it, we lose it, along with the hormonal benefits that come with it.
The jury’s out on whether orgasms themselves cause a spike in testosterone, though many studies have shown increased testosterone in women after sex, with some pointing to an association between testosterone, orgasming, sexual desire, and relationship commitment in women. When present in the proper balance, these hormones add fire to sexual desire, give us more sex appeal, improve mood and memory and can even (again) prevent abdominal fat. You don’t need to have a partner to tap into these benefits. Research shows that men and women who have orgasms that are masturbation-induced also experience small increases in testosterone.
Some pre-coital cuddling, however, is also very important. Scientists at Simon Fraser University measured the level of testosterone in women before and after sex, cuddling and exercise. Although the women’s testosterone was higher both before and after sexual intercourse, cuddling gave the biggest testosterone boost of all.
3. Orgasms help us sleep better
Oxytocin’s ability to reduce our cortisol levels may create an overall feeling of relaxation and even sleepiness for some. Vasopressin, another chemical associated with sleep, is also released during orgasm. Because of oxytocin’s location in the paraventricular nucleus of your hypothalamus, an area of the brain that is essential in regulating sleep and arousal, it may play a role in influencing sleepiness.
If you’re frustrated that your partner goes into snooze mode immediately after the act, you may want to rethink what it means and just join them instead. According to a recent study at the University of Michigan and Albright College in Pennsylvania, the tendency to fall asleep first after sex is also associated with greater partner desire for bonding and affection.
4. Enjoy an enhanced sense of smell
An orgasm also releases a hormone called prolactin, which causes stem cells in the brain to develop new neurons in the brain’s olfactory bulb (or smell centre). In women, prolactin is known to surge after sex, during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
While research shows that the magnitude of prolactin-increase following intercourse is 400 percent greater than that following masturbation, you can still reap the benefits on your own. Remember, the greater the prolactin surge, the more satiating the orgasm.
To go back on the sleep topic for a moment, it’s also interesting to note that prolactin levels are naturally higher during sleep — another reason getting busy can help you turn the lights out at night.
5. They can beat inflammation and improve your social life
Most of us know that a healthy sex life can help beat stress. There are even more great benefits of oxytocin such as lowering blood pressure and even improving digestion — which often goes to the wayside during times of stress. It’s true, they’ve found oxytocin receptors in the gut, showing this powerful hormone can even calm gastrointestinal inflammation in mice, which causes abdominal discomfort.
A study from Concordia also shows that oxytocin makes you feel more social, enhances your trust and improves your bond with others.
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet, The Supercharged Hormone Diet and The Carb Sensitivity Program. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.