Never underestimate the power of good sex to keep you physically and mentally vibrant. Who knew, for instance, that having sex regularly strengthens the immune system, enhances sleep, reduces stress levels, and possibly even forestalls the onslaught of wrinkles? A Scottish study found that people in their mid-40s who had sex every other day looked roughly seven to 12 years younger, on average, than those who didn’t enjoy sex as often. Also, people who have sex once or twice a week show increased levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA), an antigen found in saliva and mucosal linings that helps combat colds and flu, according to researchers at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania.
Of course, as Gina Ogden, PhD, author of The Return of Desire points out, sex is more than intercourse with orgasm as the goal, and sexuality isn’t something you can measure through surveys. “If you see sexuality as connected to our whole lives,” she says, “you see that sexual experience touches our hearts and souls and can change our lives.”
To boost your chances of having a healthy sex life, make sure you take good care of the largest sex organ in the body—your brain, says Daniel Amen, MD, a clinical neuroscientist. The brain responds quickly to fluctuations in estrogen and testosterone, and “low testosterone levels are disaster for people’s sexuality,” he says. So if you find yourself consistently unable to muster up any sexual excitement, get your hormone levels checked.
Untreated depression can put a damper on your love life, too. The chronic “poor me’s” can make you feel decidedly unsexy, so you come across as negative, unresponsive, and uninterested in your partner sexually, Amen adds. He suggests a simple solution to jump-start your brain-to-libido connection, unless, of course, you suffer from clinical depression: “Focus on what you love about your life.” Hanging out with the one you love—outside the bedroom—can take performance pressure off both of you and allow you quality time to play, laugh, and just be together.
Another free, albeit not-so-easy antidote to sexual challenges may be to talk about them. Despite the progress we’ve made in recent years, talking about sex and sharing our sexual experiences is still quite awkward, a social taboo that women and men must overcome before they can feel fully alive sexually. My husband put it another way: “We turn 15 and take driver’s education to learn how to drive. We’re not expected to master driving just by sitting in the passenger’s seat. But with sex, we’re expected to just suddenly know how to do it and never talk about it. What a setup for failure.”