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Sex helps chronically stressed moms fend off metabolic disease: study

Stressed-out moms are getting new orders from the love doctor.

A new study revealed that sex can help mothers of young children stave off the damaging effects of stress, particularly metabolic disorders. In moms of kids with autism spectrum disorder, the findings showed that those who regularly engaged in sexual activity showed higher levels of healthy metabolic hormones than sexually inactive moms.

Long-term stress is hard on the body, raising the risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, stroke and obesity. Meanwhile, research has shown that any amount of added physical activity can help prevent such diseases.

“Considering the deleterious consequences chronic stress can have on metabolic health, it’s crucial to explore protective factors. As a relationship researcher, I am particularly interested in how various aspects of our relational experiences might serve such a protective role,” said study author Yoobin Park, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, San Francisco.

She continued, “Sexual activity emerged as a promising candidate due to its stress-relieving effects and its positive impact on processes such as sleep, which can suffer due to stress and in turn cause metabolic problems. To our knowledge, no previous work has examined whether sexual activity can buffer the biological effects of stress, so this research was exploratory in nature, aiming to fill that gap.”

Researchers asked 183 women aged 20 to 50, with at least one child between the ages of 2 and 16, to partake in regular Perceived Stress Scale assessments over two years. During each assessment period, participants would be asked to do 7-day diary questionnaires and clinic visits to collect health data, including blood samples to key metabolic indicators, including insulin, insulin resistance, leptin and ghrelin.

“In a nutshell, our findings suggest that the stress-related detriments in metabolic health were significantly reduced among those who were sexually active,” study author Yoobin Park told PsyPost. Getty Images/iStockphoto

The final two assessments were most consequential to the research as they were the only ones to focus on questions about sex, asking moms each day if they’d engaged in sexual activity the night before, while also measuring for related variables such as overall relationship satisfaction and levels of physical activity everyday life. Those who reported having sex at least once during the week-long assessment period were considered sexually active. Once the data had been collected, a total of 101 women had shown they were either consistently sexually active or consistently inactive.

Mothers who cared for at least one child with ASD were lumped into the “high-stress” group, with all other moms assigned “low-stress.”

Overall, highly stressed moms were more likely to show higher levels of insulin and insulin resistance and lower levels of ghrelin compared to low-stress mothers — except when sexual activity was a factor. Compared to the low-stress group, sexually inactive high-stress moms fared far worse than those who had more sex. In contrast, all sexually active moms demonstrated similar metabolic profiles regardless of stress group.

“In a nutshell, our findings suggest that the stress-related detriments in metabolic health were significantly reduced among those who were sexually active,” said Park, who told PsyPost that these benefits help up despite participants’ exercise levels and relationship satisfaction. “So overall, although we need more research to understand the precise mechanisms by which sexual activity protects against the stress-related detriments in metabolic health, our findings suggest that the benefits of being sexually active go beyond just being generally active or being in a happy relationship.”

Researchers hope their findings can contribute to a wider understanding of the health benefits of sex. Said Park, “We need more research in this area to gain deeper insights into the mechanisms underlying the benefits of sex and to understand the generalizability of its protective effects.”

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