Experts say reaching orgasm can be effective stress reliever

By Indiana Daily Student

(U-WIRE) BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – People who are feeling stressed about finding the perfect Valentine’s Day gift, planning the perfect evening or finding the perfect date could benefit from knowing that reaching orgasm, through intercourse with a partner or solo masturbation, might provide the perfect way to relax.

Debby Herbenick, the sex educator at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, said people can feel less stress after orgasm, the climax of sexual excitement, for physiological, emotional and social reasons. But the reasons for this relief aren’t entirely clear.

“Sometimes you hear, ‘Oh, you release endorphins when you’re sexual,’ but we don’t know to what extent that’s true,” she said.

Endorphins are hormones produced in the brain that are released in response to pain and function as a reliever. They are also released during moments of acute stress, acting as a mood lifter. Studies have suggested prolonged exercise also may contribute to increased endorphin levels, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Although chemical tests regarding orgasm and endorphin release are inconsistent, scientists have proven that the body constantly produces another hormone called oxytocin. According a report published in Psychiatry: Interpersonal & Biological Processes in the summer of 1999, studies have shown if a person is relaxed, levels of oxytocin elevate, which suggests a direct correlation between low stress levels and the hormone.

Herbenick added that, based on animal research, some people believe oxytocin might have a calming effect. This same hormone is released during both male and female orgasm.

Beyond oxytocin, there are other physiological reasons a person feels relaxed after orgasm, said Anne Reese,the director of Health & Wellness Education at the Indiana University Health Center.

“Some people find orgasm very relaxing,” Reese said. “You have a build-up of muscle tension, and then you have an orgasm, and then a release of muscle tension. And then minds are hopefully relaxed.”

Herbenick said having a sexual partner can help individuals with this process of stress relief.

– By Nicole Hindes

“If it’s someone they really care about, they may feel a positive bonding type experience of an emotional reaction,” Herbenick said. “If you want someone to touch you, it’s nice to feel that someone cares about you.”

However, with the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy weighing on a person’s mind, unsafe sex can actually cause more stress.

“If you’re doing it in a way that’s risky for you, of course it’s going to create more stress,” Herbenick said.

To lessen these worries, Reese said it is very important for those who are sexually active to discuss things like STD protection and birth control.

“If you’re with a partner and those things aren’t discussed, those things can cause worry and regret afterwards instead of relaxation,” she said.

But for people who are comfortable with each other sexually, the success of triggering or achieving an orgasm can boost self-confidence and lower stress levels, Herbenick said.

“In a culture like ours that is so orgasm-focused, I think that a lot of people feel like they have less stress after an orgasm because they feel like they’ve accomplished something,” Herbenick said. “They feel like they did what they were supposed to do.”

On the other hand, the frustration of not being able to reach orgasm can add to stress levels for some. Herbenick recommended that those who want to have more orgasms try masturbation.

“Really, masturbation is a fantastic way to learn about our bodies and to learn how to have an orgasm,” she said. “People who are having orgasms alone often feel like it is a fun, exciting thing they just did.”

Herbenick said she thinks students could benefit from a better understanding of how their bodies work.

“They could really enhance their sexual experience; they could really have, you know, a better time with orgasm,” she said.

“When you suddenly figure out: ‘Oh, that’s how my body works. That’s where I like to be touched. That’s how long it takes for me to get off. That’s what it feels like. That’s how wet or dry it is. That’s how big or little it is.’ That’s not so stressful anymore.”