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Let’s talk about sex

Nurturing

Mental Health
Jannah Walshe

Our health is made up of many aspects, including physical health, mental health and sexual health. Each aspect on its own needs to be looked after and nourished, but they also all influence each other. When we are struggling in one area of health it affects other areas.
For example, feeling depressed can affect your drive to do exercise. Feeling physically unfit can affect your desire to be sexually active. Feeling sexually unfulfilled can impact on your mood. And so on. Everything has the potential to impact your overall health, and therefore every area is just as important as another. Allowing one area to fall in priority not only affects that area, it also affects all the others.
Being healthy is about feeling good physically, mentally, emotionally and sexually. Intimacy, sexuality, body confidence – even if they’re not talked about much – are all part of a good quality of life and our overall health. A better understanding of how and when sexuality complements other aspects of health can encourage a more holistic approach to minding our overall health.
One of the many ways in which good sex health can benefit our overall wellbeing is its stress-relieving capabilities. Being physically and emotionally close to your partner lowers stress levels. Physical intimacy triggers the release of all kinds of chemicals in the brain, including dopamine, endorphins and oxytocin.
Dopamine (the feel good hormone) plays a major role in reward-motivated behaviour, focuses attention and generally increases motivation. Endorphins are our body’s natural pain and stress fighters, and oxytocin (the bonding or ‘cuddle’ hormone) triggers feelings of compassion.
Also, after orgasm, the body releases the hormone prolactin, which can lead to drowsiness and a general feeling of relaxation. There is also some evidence that a lack of sex is associated with feelings of depression and low self-worth. Conversely, sex with a close partner can boost feelings of self-worth, connectedness and general wellbeing.
Regular sex with a partner does make a big difference to how you get along with them. Being intimate with your partner on a frequent basis allows you to emotionally connect with them on a deeper level, strengthening the relationship.
If all this weren’t enough, evidence has shown that sex can actually increases cognitive capacity – or brain power. Blood flow to the brain increases during sex, and it has been shown that all areas of the brain ‘light up’ during orgasm, giving it a great workout!
Speaking of workouts, sex is of course a fun way to exercise. Exercise not only makes you physically healthier, it is also known to improve mood, reduce and help you cope with stress and increases energy levels – the list goes on.
Importantly, sexual health requires active involvement; it’s not enough to hope that sexual health will happen on its own. Look to build your sexual health for better physical and emotional wellbeing. Sex might not be a necessity in life, but a good sex life goes a long way towards being healthy.

Jannah Walshe is a counsellor and psychotherapist based in Castlebar and Westport. A fully accredited member of The Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, she can be contacted via www.jannahwalshe.ie, or at info@jannahwalshe.ie or 085 1372528.

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