Last updated January 27, 2024
It’s time we break free from taboo and dive into an open conversation about sexual wellness. We are bombarded daily about ways to achieve or restore mental and physical health. But what role does sexual wellness play in overall well-being? We asked leading sex researchers and therapists to spill all the magical effects that sexual wellness has on your health.
Unfortunately societal, cultural and religious attitudes have prevented us from having an open discussion about the health benefits of sexual pleasure.
“Why should it be inappropriate for a doctor to recommend having an orgasm to try and treat headaches before recommending a powerful medication with a lot of side effects and cost,” says Dr. Carolin Klein, Registered Psychologist and Director of the West Coast Centre for Sex Therapy in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“We need to get to a place where doctors can ask about arousal and orgasms and intimacy just as much as they might ask about diet, sleep and exercise,” she adds.
Sexual Health vs. Sexual Wellness
The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently redefined its definition of sexual health. It states, “Sexual health is a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being related to sexuality. It is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity.”
Having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences is not new. But WHO’s Dr. Lianne Gonsalves reinforces the message saying safer sex can also promote intimacy, pleasure, consent and well-being.
However, sexual well-being—or rather sexual wellness—has a different meaning.
According to Dr. Klein, “Sexual wellness is when we are content emotionally, physically and cognitively with our sexuality and our sexual decisions. If we are in the moment, and look back on our choices with positive emotions, then that’s a great indicator of sexual wellness.”
Conversely Dr. Klein explains if we have negative emotions tied to our sexuality and experiences then anxiety, shame, sadness, guilt and disgust become barriers to experiencing sexual wellness.
Let’s Talk About Sexual Wellness
Many sex researchers, clinical psychologists and scientists say due to conservative attitudes there is a serious lack of funding researching and conducting scientific studies in sexual behavior and health.
“I view sexual stimulation as useful for general health. Yet, it is seriously understudied for this purpose due solely to conservative values that stigmatize the use of sexual behaviours to intervene in health challenges such as insomnia, chronic pain and similar difficulties,” says Dr. Nicole Prause, a U.S.-based neuroscientist, psychotherapist and founder of Liberos LLC, an independent research institute.
Dr. Prause has conducted various studies on orgasm physiology and sexual motivation. She says sexual stimulation can also be used in some cases for those having difficulty falling asleep, stress reduction and loneliness.
A healthy and intact sexual system is important for experiencing many known and potential benefits. That said, Dr. Prause cautions against those who claim it may be a cure all for problems and diagnoses that may be solved medically.
Dr. Klein has found through research and practice that, “Sexual arousal and orgasm lead to significant changes in the body, including releasing endorphins and natural opiods. This can result in pain relief for various conditions like migraine headaches, menstrual cramps and chronic pain.”
Six Sexual Health Benefits
There have been studies, claims and observations on various physical and mental health benefits to good sexual health and wellness. Please note some of these claims have not yet been proven in scientific studies and trials.
- Stress reduction. Sexual activity can release oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine which can create a feeling of pleasure, well-being and improved mental health
- Hormone Balancing/Cancer Reduction. Regular sexual activity in women can help regulate menstrual cycles. While in men, regular ejaculation can possibly reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
- Improved Physical Health. Sexual activity increases the heart rate, can burn calories and improve cardiovascular health (along with other factors of diet/sleep/other exercise). It can reduce severity of headaches and other body pains.
- Stress Reduction and Improved Mental Health. Sexual activity triggers the release of oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin—neurotransmitters responsible for feelings of pleasure and bonding. These chemicals play a vital role in reducing stress, anxiety and instill a feeling of well-being.
- Improved Sleep. Sexual intercourse can help in relaxation and emotional well-being as endorphins and oxytocin are released and contribute to falling into a deeper sleep.
- More intimate and Deeper Relationship. Regular sexual activity can usually contribute to an emotionally closer relationship with your partner.
The Growing Sexual Wellness Market
Sexual wellness is not only good for your own personal health, it’s also good for the bottom line.
In 2022, it is estimated the global sexual wellness market was worth USD $57.5 billion dollars and would increase to USD $110 billion by 2030 according to a Zion Market Research study. The study attributes this growth to a variety of factors. These include government programs promoting sexual education in schools, larger population, increasing investments in sexual products and relaxed laws around sexual toys.
Role of Spas and Wellness Retreats in Sexual Health
Most spas and wellness retreats have been reticent to open up their facilities or even talk about sexual health and wellness due to conservative and religious attitudes and values. Fortunately, this is slowly changing.
“It is ironic that spas have all of these fantastic products for skincare—for the face, for the hands and feet. Somehow they’re missing the parts of the body with the most nerve endings, the most potential for pleasure and real potential for great health benefits,” says Dr. Klein.
Two Canadian women based in Vernon, British Columbia, created Intimate Wellbeing, a company which sells a range of lubricants, sex toys and products online. Recently. they’ve convinced spas to feature lubricants and other products for women in their retail section. Intimate Wellbeing also provides training for spa staff and can bring in specialists in how to talk to clients about sexual wellness.
Ten Spa, an award-winning Winnipeg, Manitoba-based spa, features Intimate Wellbeing’s Okanagan Joy lubricant, a popular and welcomed addition by their clientele. Ten Spa is planning a spring sexual wellness retreat in conjunction with Intimate Wellbeing.
World renowned SHA Wellness Clinic in Spain opened its first Sexual Health Unit focusing on hormone and sexual optimization and emotional balance. The unit provides a range of services. Cinthya Molina, head of the new unit, says, “Sexual wellness is a manifestation of our general state of health. Everything is interconnected: cardiovascular health, the presence of chronic low-grade inflammation and orthomolecular and metabolic balance. At SHA, we work to optimize overall health, and thus, sexual function.”
Sexual Wellness Benefits Us All
Good sexual wellness is something to be strived for over the course of a lifetime. Not only for those in relationships but individuals and society as a whole can also benefit from good sexual health.
The American Sexual Health Association states, “Sexual wellness is the ability to embrace and enjoy our sexuality throughout our lives. It is an important part of our physical and emotional health.”
Halifax-based sexologist and sex/intimacy coach Serena Haines believes the benefits aren’t just physiological. “Being authentic and accepting of your right to pleasure and that you have agency over that pleasure.”
Diet, sleep and exercise are all necessary. But let’s include the benefits of sexual wellness, too, as part of overall well-being.
Haines pulls no punches on why it’s important. “Sex and sexuality is what we are made of. It’s our life energy and we all deserve to feel that energy, shame-free and full of love.”
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