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sex and depression  is sex good for depression mental health benefits of sex sex and mental healthis sex good for mental health

Mental health benefits of sex

Published Jun 22, 2023 | Updated Feb 8, 2024

It would be amazing if sex was a ‘cure for all’. While classifying it as a treatment is far-fetched, sex does come with a lot of positive benefits for our overall health. Wondering how it can help your mental and physical health? Let’s take a look at the mental health benefits of sex.

Having sex when feeling down

Depression impacts your motivation and the feeling of pleasure while also decreasing your sex drive[1]. People also experience less energy than usual. A similar thing happens when someone is anxious when their energy is usually focused towards themselves, their thoughts and their feelings[2]. Therefore, sex is the last thing on their mind in that mental and physical state. And yet, sexual intercourse can make people feel connected to another person while also minimising some of the symptoms that are common in depression and anxiety[3].

Mood and anxiety mental conditions are believed to result from several components, such as stressful life events, genetic vulnerability, and partially from a disruption in the balance of activity in the emotional centres at the frontal parts of the brain [4]. This article takes you through the processes happening during sex on a neurological, physical, and mental level.

Is sex good for mental health? 

Sex is considered one of the most important aspects of quality of life[5]. It all starts with sexual arousal which describes being sexually excited. When you are aroused there is an increase in activity in the part of the brain that controls your emotions, called the limbic system[5]. During this arousal stage your blood pressure and blood flow increase, sensitive areas of your body such as the genitals and breasts become tender, and your heartbeat gets faster. Arousal acts like an ‘on’ switch for your body to prepare you for intercourse. So, is sex good for depression? During sex, a flow of body-made gas that relaxes the inner muscles of the blood vessels called nitric oxide is released[6]. In turn, the blood vessels widen, explaining why your skin may become flushed when aroused. In a well-known book on pharmacology named Neuropsychotherapeutics, there is a whole chapter reviewing multiple studies that provide evidence on the body-made gas nitric oxide minimising depression and anxiety symptoms[7]. Similarly, an Iranian animal study also showed that a deficiency in this kind of gas can trigger depression and anxiety[8].


Sex as a reward 

Ever orgasmed? Your brain becomes flooded with the reward chemical dopamine in your brain's reward pathways[9,10]. You may feel this intense pleasure which - based on an older study - looks just like a heroin rush to the brain, producing intense feelings of well-being[11]. Because sex feels so good, you usually want more of it; your reward chemical makes sure you desire more sexual activity, erection and ejaculation. It is like dopamine is keeping you in a constant reward loop. However, for the release of the reward chemical to happen you need to have enough of dopamine’s building block called tyrosine in your body. If you happen to be deficient in dopamine you should increase your dopamine intake with foods such as tofu, meat, and eggs as dopamine deficiency was linked to depression by some scientists[12]. You can always opt for a tyrosine supplement to make sure you can produce enough dopamine. brain feed developed the world's 1st natural 800mg capsule from fermented corn in 2018. Tyrosine is available with a 15% discount for new customers if you use the code ‘NEW15’ at checkout. 


Adrenaline makes us ‘feel alive’ during sex

Adrenaline boosts the state of pure excitement in your body and mind when preparing for a pleasant event. For example, adrenaline is released when you’re aroused before sex, and it continues being released during and after sex - for about 23 hours after it in small doses[13]. How do sex and depression connect? Adrenaline makes you feel the ‘heart pounding in your chest’ kind of exhilaration. On the contrary, low levels of adrenaline can often result in physical and mental symptoms such as anxiety and depression. 

Orgasms, erections and oxytocin

Erections and orgasms, you (hopefully) have when you’re having sex and the act of sexual intercourse itself helps your body release the ‘love hormone’ known as oxytocin. It plays a major role in many human behaviours, including sexual arousal, trust, and romantic attachment[14]. It, therefore, regulates that ‘let’s be together forever’ feeling and plays an important part in pleasurable climaxes as well as how your body feels after you’ve reached climax. A Turkish study from 2021 also showed that you get a big dose of oxytocin during an orgasm and an erection[3]. Another interesting study from Rutgers University in the USA scanned females’ brains in the midst of an orgasm[15]. The results showed activation in the frontal and upper central parts of the brain, in the brainstem region, and in the reward brain system that connects the central part to the frontal part of the brain. The reward circuit in your brain lights up like fireworks and the centre of reasoning and behaviour temporarily shut down as you spiral into what can be described as sexual bliss. 

And that’s how sex and mental health come together. Sexual activity is obviously an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Remember to nourish it with yourself or your partner to maximise the benefits of leaving healthy.



[1] Symptoms - Clinical depression (2019). NHS.

[2] Overview - Generalised anxiety disorder in adults (2022). NHS.

[3] Kayaaltı, A., & Erbas, O. (2021). Oxytocin, Vasopressin and Sexual Activity. Journal of Experimental and Basic Medical Sciences,2(2), 93–99. 

[4] Martin, E. I., Ressler, K. J., Binder, E., & Nemeroff, C. B. (2009). The Neurobiology of Anxiety Disorders: Brain Imaging, Genetics, and Psychoneuroendocrinology. The Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 32(3), 549–575.

[5] Calabrò, R. S., Cacciola, A., Bruschetta, D., Milardi, D., Quattrini, F., Sciarrone, F., la Rosa, G., Bramanti, P., & Anastasi, G. (2019). Neuroanatomy and function of human sexual behavior: A neglected or unknown issue? Brain and Behavior, 9(12), e01389. 

[6] Musicki, B., Liu, T., Lagoda, G. A., Bivalacqua, T. J., Strong, T. D., & Burnett, A. L. (2009). Endothelial Nitric Oxide Synthase Regulation in Female Genital Tract Structures. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6, 247–253.

[7] Ghasemi, M. (2019). Nitric oxide: Antidepressant mechanisms and inflammation. In J. M. Witkin (Ed.), Advances in Pharmacology (pp. 121–152). Academic Press. 

[8] Taheri, P., Mohammadi, F., Nazeri, M., Zarei, M. R., Chamani, G., Esfahlani, M. A., Taheri, F., & Shabani, M. (2020). Nitric oxide role in anxiety-like behavior, memory and cognitive impairments in animal model of chronic migraine. Heliyon, 6(12), e05654. 

[9] Berke, J. D. (2018). What does dopamine mean? Nature Neuroscience, 21(6), 787–793. 

[10] Buhusi, C. (2003). Dopaminergic mechanisms of interval timing and attention. In W. H. Meck (Ed.), Functional and Neural Mechanisms of Interval Timing (pp. 317–338). CRC Press.

[11] Holstege, G., Georgiadis, J. R., Paans, A. M. J., Meiners, L. C., Van Der Graaf, F. H. C. E., & Reinders, A. A. T. S. (2003). Brain Activation during Human Male Ejaculation. The Journal of Neuroscience, 23(27), 9185–9193.

[12] Whitton, A. E., Reinen, J. M., Slifstein, M., Ang, Y.-S., McGrath, P. J., Iosifescu, D. V., Abi-Dargham, A., Pizzagalli, D. A., & Schneier, F. R. (2020). Baseline reward processing and ventrostriatal dopamine function are associated with pramipexole response in depression. Brain, 143(2), 701–710. 

[13] Hull, E. M., Muschamp, J. W., & Sato, S. (2004). Dopamine and serotonin: Influences on male sexual behavior. Physiology & Behavior, 83(2), 291–307.

[14] Meston, C. M., & Frohlich, P. F. (2000). The Neurobiology of Sexual Function. Archives of General Psychiatry, 57(11), 1012.

[15] Wise, N. J., Frangos, E., & Komisaruk, B. R. (2017). Brain Activity Unique to Orgasm in Women: An fMRI Analysis. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 14(11), 1380–1391.

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