Sexual Healing: Does Having Sex Relieve Stress For Couples?

Makes me feel so fine, helps me relieve my mind, sexual healing baby, it’s good for me. – Marvin Gaye

A couple's feet sticking out from under the sheets while having sex

The idea that sex can relieve stress for couples is pervasive in popular culture. For example, most of you have probably heard the classic song Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye. Many of you have probably also seen television shows and movies that feature storylines about the wonders of “makeup sex” following a couple's argument (which, according to Jerry Seinfeld, is the second best type of sex you can have after “conjugal visit sex”). So is there any truth to this idea? Is sex really a stress-reliever? According to a new study, yes—but only for couples who are in satisfying relationships to begin with [1].

In this study, 75 heterosexual men and women who were living with a romantic partner completed a sex diary for 18 consecutive weekdays. Participants filled out their diary alone each night in which they reported on the amount of stress they had experienced in the past 24 hours (i.e., how many stressful events occurred and how stressful each one was) and indicated whether they had sexual intercourse that day.

The researchers found that experiencing a high level of stress increased the likelihood of having intercourse the following day. In addition, when sex followed a particularly high stress day, it reduced reports of stress on the following day; when a high stress day was not followed by sex, there was not as much of a decrease in stress the next day. To put it more simply, when couples had sex, they felt less stress afterward than they did before. However, it is important to point out that this finding held only for couples who reported that their relationship was satisfying at the start of the study; for couples who were dissatisfied with their relationship, there was no stress-reducing effect of sex.

This research is limited in that it only examined heterosexual couples and only considered the potential stress relief associated with vaginal intercourse. Thus, it is not clear whether the same benefits would apply in same-sex couples or in couples who engage in other types of sexual activities. However, these results suggest that sex does have the potential to heal us from stress, but only if we are involved in a good relationship.  

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[1] Ein-Dor, T., & Hirschberger, G. (2012). Sexual healing: Daily diary evidence that sex relieves stress for men and women in satisfying relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 29, 126-139. doi: 10.1177/0265407511431185

Image Source: iStockphoto.com

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