Whether you engage in vaginal sex, oral sex, or masturbation, sexual activity (as long as it’s consensual) releases oxytocin and other hormones that can boost mood, promote feelings of love, and decrease stress. It can also help with sleep and reduce blood pressure.
Some people claim that having sex can make your period come sooner, but this isn’t true unless you are pregnant. What does happen is that during orgasm, your uterus contracts rhythmically.
Hormones are a special class of chemical messengers that send signals throughout the body to control specific biological processes. They’re essentially molecular command prompts, telling cells what to do and when to do it. Hormones manage key aspects of the female reproductive system, including labor and delivery and breastfeeding. They also regulate libido and sexual pleasure.
Oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus and transported to and secreted by the posterior pituitary gland, a pea-sized structure at the base of the brain. It’s known for its roles in maternal behavior, lactation, selective social bonding and orgasm. It’s even used as a drug for obstetric and gynecological reasons, such as to induce labor or to help during childbirth.
Sex bathes the brain in oxytocin, which enhances emotional intimacy and sexual arousal. This may explain why couples that have regular, physically and emotionally satisfying sex are happier than those who don’t. Oxytocin also promotes relaxation, helps you trust your partner and improves communication.
Sexual activity can also lead to natural contractions of the pelvic floor muscles, which strengthens them over time. This can protect against problems like urinary incontinence, prostatic hypertrophy (enlarged prostate), bladder cancer and erectile dysfunction. It can also improve lubrication during intercourse, helping to prevent dryness and irritation, which is particularly common in women as they enter menopause.
Estrogen is a steroid hormone that regulates many systems in the body. It supports the development of female secondary sexual characteristics, like breasts and pubic hair, during puberty and maintains the reproductive system throughout life. It also contributes to the health of the urinary tract, skin, and bones. In women, the ovaries produce the most estrogen, but fat cells and adrenal glands can also make small amounts. When it enters the bloodstream, estrogens bind to receptors in cells, where they affect gene expression by modulating the rate at which proteins are made.
As you may know, estrogens peak around ovulation and during sexual activity, which is why your libido increases at those times. But, you probably don’t know that estrogen also helps keep your vaginal walls thick and lubricated, which makes penetrative sex more comfortable. It also plays a role in your menstrual cycle and influences when you get your period each month.
The hormone also helps reduce your risk of atherosclerosis, which is when plaque builds up in your arteries. Estrogens also decrease the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood, which can help prevent heart disease.
Although it has several benefits, estrogen isn’t without its risks. For instance, too much can increase your risk for cancer and heart disease. People with preexisting health conditions or who begin hormone therapy after 50 can be more at risk for these side effects.
The hormone testosterone is often associated with masculinity, sex drive, muscle mass and strength. It’s also involved in the development of male sex organs before birth and secondary sex characteristics during puberty, like body hair growth, voice deepening and the development of penis and testes. The hormone helps with sperm production, fat storage, red blood cell production and even mood and emotions.
Testosterone is an androgen, which is a class of hormones that are similar to cholesterol in the body. It is produced by the gonads, or testicles in men and ovaries in women (though some of what they produce is converted from adrenal androgens). Testosterone is an essential part of male reproductive function, but it also affects muscle mass, bone strength and a healthy body image, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Testosterone levels decline slowly as a normal part of aging, which is sometimes referred to as male menopause or andropause. When levels drop too low, some men experience depression and low sex drive. If this is an issue, doctors can prescribe treatment with shots, gels or patches. Testosterone is important for sperm production, so men who have levels below the healthy range could be infertile. Certain cancer treatments and radiation therapy can also lower the level of this hormone, as well as steroid medications. Women who are taking estrogen or progesterone might have lower levels of testosterone as a side effect of those drugs.
Progesterone is the steroid hormone that prepares the uterus to accept, implant, and maintain a fertilized egg. It prevents muscle contractions in the uterus that would otherwise cause the body to reject an egg and ensures that if a woman becomes pregnant, she has enough progesterone to nurture the embryo until the placenta takes over. It is also responsible for a number of non-reproductive functions, including mood regulation and cognition (1).
After a rise in levels of the luteinizing hormone occurs, progesterone secretes from an area in the ovary called the corpus luteum. This prepares the uterus for pregnancy by stimulating glandular development and producing new blood vessels to supply the endometrium, which is the lining of the womb (2). If the egg isn’t fertilized, levels of progesterone decrease to allow the corpus luteum to break down and trigger a period (3).
When a woman is pregnant, the placenta begins to produce its own version of progesterone (4). This helps to promote the development of a healthy fetus by stimulating glandular activity and producing nutrients for the fetus, and it prevents the ovaries from producing additional eggs (5).
Progesterone also stimulates sex drive in both men and women by blocking aldosterone receptors and causing fluid loss and swelling (6). It is also responsible for easing postmenopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes and night sweats (7).