Sleep, sex and stress coexist like three personalities in a love triangle. As important as it is, sex is still in many ways a ‘shy’ topic to discuss in the open, more so in a traditional Eastern society. Sex education is a must. Yet, it is creeping in so sluggishly into schools. Parents generally agree that children should know more about healthy and responsible sex. Nonetheless, the scientific sweetness of sex is often clouded by the subconscious notion of dirt and mud – the myths and taboos that remain deeply seated in the deeper subconscious mind of many.
As for adults, the strong fences of myths and taboos may have been torn down by their growing primordial desire. Yet, their understanding about the sweet-sour characteristics of sex in human life remains limited and often clouded by the many overboard irresponsible wrong-doings that continue to stain the sanctity of safe and responsible sex. Sex, at its best, is a functional health-balancing physiological process.
The World Health Organisation defines health as not merely the absence of disease but also a complete state of physical, mental and social well-being. Sexual function enhances all these three aspects, provided it is properly understood and allowed to function in a safe and responsible way.
Seriously, the three ‘S’ of sleep, sex and stress are strongly connected and inseparable. People should know more about whatever they are doing and the effects that follow thereafter, so that they can best do what they could do.
Studies have shown that better sex leads to better sleep and vice-versa. The former 2 ‘S’ are perfect couple. But the third ‘S’ – stress tries to kill both. Ms. Sleep and Mr. Sex are like lovebirds. Mr. Stress is like the jealous disgruntled third person trying to destroy the other two. To understand their relationships better, we need to take a good look at the activity and biochemistry that revolve around these 3 ‘S’.
Lack of sleep and stress leads to release of the hormone called cortisol that decreases testosterone – an important hormone that plays a major role in arousing sexual interest in both men and women.
Sleep problems are more common in women of all ages. They are directly linked to sexual problems. A study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine showed that the longer women slept, the more they experienced genital arousal. They are also more interested in sex, the next day. It also showed that an extra hour of sleep can lead to a 14 percent increase in the chances of having a sexual encounter the following day.
Good sex is a result of a high degree of patience, understanding, compassion, interpersonal care and harmony. It is a result of two partners coming together, working closely towards the highest degree of mutual pleasure and benefits – both physically and mentally. Sleep and sex enhance one another. They are good for health. Furthermore, both good sleep and sex de-stress. Together, they keep stress at bay.
According to Dr. Chelsea Holland, a sex and relationship therapist at the Intimacy Institute in Boulder, Colorado, both orgasmic and non-orgasmic sex can have a strong impact of enhancing sleep and reducing stress. She noted that a close positive physical interaction releases the hormone called oxytocin. Orgasm further increase the secretion of this hormone that is known to calm and relax our body and mind. Oxytocin also help to relax the wall of blood vessels apart from lowering the level of stress hormone – cortisol. Both the blood vessel relaxation and the lowering of stress hormone result in reduction of the blood pressure.
For a healthier sex to take place, there is one important aspect that is often overlooked, that should be highlighted in this column. All men and women should know the importance of sexual foreplay in love-making. The ignorance of this scientific fact that leads to various sexual dysfunctions is often underestimated. As psychologist and sex therapist Stephanie Buehler, PsyD revealed, “The biggest complaint from women about men, is that their partner has poor lovemaking technique. They are not helping them to get aroused.”
Men and women need to realise that a woman’s body needs foreplay in order to feel sexual excitement. Sexual foreplay comprise a continuous emotional pampering, psychological teasing and physical titillating that collectively build up the sexual tension to a threshold that triggers a sudden burst and release of tension and emotion – a euphoric climax called orgasm that occurs with the release of oxytocin and prolactin. Both hormones are known to increase sleepiness, calmness and relaxation. They can enhance good sleep and de-stress the body and mind.
Orgasm may still be mystical and mysterious to many. Yet, it is fundamentally scientific and people should understand what it is. It certainly plays an important role in enhancing our physical and mental well-being as well as the interpersonal relationship between partners. Having said that, it is important to also clarify that orgasm is not a necessity for a healthy well-being. It is complementary. People should not feel inadequate for not having it.
Sexual pleasure is like a pressure-release-button that is there, for us to ‘decompress’ the tension that builds up. It helps to de-stress our stressful body and mind when the need arises. When triggered, the stress can be relieved and the body and mind restore back to a restful, calm and relax state; to sleep, heal and recuperate. In this sense, sex does have a health function beyond species preservation.
If sex is viewed from this scientific perspective, then, in the absence of a sexual partner, self-stimulation to relieve stress and tension; to calm down, relax, and have better sleep towards a healthier equilibrium would be seen as an appropriate healthy act. It is a built-in ‘pressure-release-valve’ for an individual to act independently of others, should the need arise.
Thus, the act of masturbation has a physiological function that shall not be viewed negatively and should not be accompanied by any sense of guilt that is psychologically detrimental.
My next column will be on ‘Sick-care or healthcare’.
Dr. Victor Ti, MD, MFAM (Malaysia), FRACGP (Australia), Dip P Dermatology (UK), Dip STDs/AIDS (Thailand), Dip. AARAM (USA), LCP of Aesthetic Med.(Malaysia) is an experienced expat specialist generalist (Family Physician) of BH Clinic, Phnom Penh. As a specialist generalist, he is skillful at diagnosing all general diseases and excluding the sinister ones. Apart from the general diseases, Dr. Victor is also known for his skill in skin diseases, sexually transmitted diseases, minor surgery and aesthetic medicine. He can be contacted via email [email protected]
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