Feel good by contributing – help others to gain clarity on their sexual health. Note: TBD Health Inc. is not a non-profit.
By Xenia Ellenbogen
Feeling overwhelmed, anxious, sad, or stressed out? Good news—great sex can be an antidote. We’re pulling the curtain back on two stigmatized topics with a mutually beneficial relationship—mental health and good sex.
World Mental Health Day brings awareness to mental health issues, which are more common than you might think. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lives. Mental health struggles can be temporary or chronic. In response to the pandemic, many Americans reported increased symptoms of anxiety and depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance use.
Proper self-care, therapy, and sometimes medication can help support mental health. But good sex can also help cultivate good mental hygiene.
Surprising mental health benefits of good sex
The mental health benefits of good sex are far-reaching and include stress relief, alleviating depression and anxiety, and not to mention, a release of various feel-good chemicals. Psychologist, sex therapist, and founder of Modern Intimacy, Dr. Kate Balestrieri, said that good sex is a teacher and can help people connect more deeply with their minds, bodies, and spirituality. But how, exactly, does the relationship between good sex and mental health work?
Balestrieri explained, “We develop a relationship with our own pleasure that is affirming, and connects us to our own vitality, creativity, and a holistic and integrated experience of ourselves and our potential. If that good sex is with a partner, it can also facilitate trust, safety, fun, and connection, all of which engender a feedback loop with our mental health, that is positive and affirming.”
Good sex can also help improve confidence, enhance self-esteem, and cultivate a sense of empowerment, Balestrieri added. Jason Thomas Best, a queer and sex-positive therapist and owner of Best Therapies, explained that good sex could be deeply cathartic and healing for people.
The benefits of good sex also positively impact depression and anxiety. “Endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and vasopressin are released and can help in the reduction of stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms,” Balestrieri said.
With a partner you trust, good sex can also provide reassurance, security, and play, which can further mitigate symptoms of anxiety and depression, Balestrieri added.
There’s also the release from a challenging world. Best said, “When we have chronic stress because of a difficult job or a global pandemic that lasts for years, we can't truly run away…so our body doesn't get to end the cycle and release.” Best continued, “Having physical releases like hot sex gives our body a reason to ramp up, and then in the release, we can let our body rest more deeply for a time. We tend to feel more relaxed and connected after sex, which is a great antidote to depression as well.”
Besides potentially warding away stress, depression, and anxiety, good sex also has impressive benefits for everyday life. Best explained that when you communicate your authentic sexual needs, the process seeps into everyday life, where you can show up more genuinely.
“When we have good sex and have a positive relationship with our own sexuality, we are able to show up in the other domains of our lives with more confidence, assertiveness, understanding of ourselves, compassion, emotional regulation, and empathy for others,” Balestrieri said.
What, exactly, is “good sex”?
Spoiler alert: how pop culture, including movies, tv shows, or celebrities, define “good sex” can be completely antithetical to what a hot time spent in the sheets can entail. So, who gets to define what good sex is, looks like, or feels like? The answer: you do.
Comparing the sex you have to the kind you see represented elsewhere can set you up for despair because it’s an unrealistic gauge. “Way too often, I hear folks incredibly anxious because they aren't having the kind of sex their friends talk about, or that they see in porn, or that they read about in a magazine article. Sometimes that could indicate that there does need to be a change…but only if it's what you authentically want for yourself,” said Best.
Accidentally caught the sexual performance bug? Best suggested, “If the sex you're having with your partner ticks all of the boxes you think you're ‘supposed’ to have, but you still feel unfulfilled, it's a good sign that you've fallen into performing sex rather than letting you and your partners’ desires lead you into a good sexual experience.
If there’s no societal barometer to compare what good sex is, how do you know you’re having it? The key is more emotional than we are conditioned to think. Cis-heteronormative conditioning sets people up to use markers such as orgasm or erection to indicate a “successful” experience.
But in reality, Best explained, the cue is when you’ve had the emotional experience you’ve needed and feel fulfilled.
Good sex is also ever-changing to accommodate shifting desires. “Good sex is a completely subjective experience, and what is good in one moment may not be good in the next. Good sex is the opposite of a performance. It is a constructed experience of cultivating pleasure. It is embodied, dimensional, and when experienced with a partner, each partner’s pleasure is equally prioritized,” said Balestrieri.
Good sex can be alone, with a partner, with partners, with toys, with any gender or sexual orientation, kinky, vanilla, and can occur in a beige bedroom or in a dungeon. You don’t need to be partnered to have hot sex. Exploring on your own, AKA masturbation or solo sex, can be a great way to explore your wants, needs, and how you like to be touched. You also receive some of the same releases in feel-good chemicals.
Good sex is also safer sex, Balestrieri added. It’s vital to discuss barrier methods, consent, and aftercare beforehand. “Good sex can only happen on a foundation of enthusiastic and continuous consent. Using guilt, pressure, or coerciveness to facilitate sex with a partner does not create an intimate space for pleasure,” said Balestrieri.
The feel-good chemicals, communication, and trust associated with good sex can bolster mental health. But it’s essential to remember that good sex is sex that’s good for you and your partners, and no one gets to define that but you.
This article provides information about sexual health, healthcare and/or related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes. The views expressed herein are not sponsored by and do not represent the opinions of TBD Health Inc.