Having an Orgasm Can Improve Your Mental Health, a Brain Researcher Says

Are orgasms healthy? The science says, "Oh, yes!" Researchers have discovered how having an orgasm can release a set of hormones that benefit your body, mind...and your spirits.

A little sexual activity doesn’t just feel good…it is good. Physical pleasure can benefit your health, forge a stronger relationship and even supplement your workout (yep, sex burns calories). But also, as therapist Erin Rayburn, LMFT, LPC-MHSP, NCC, says, enjoying some sexual sensation involves your hormones in a way that can serve your mental health.

“Sex hormones released in the body … like oxytocin and endorphins—activate pleasure centers within the brain and also increase a sense of connectivity and intimacy,” Rayburn, the founder of Evergreen Therapy, tells The Healthy @Reader’s Digest. “Research has shown that this is beneficial for staving off anxiety and depression.”

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How an orgasm affects the brain

Rutgers University houses one of the most prominent research centers for the study of sexual pleasure and orgasms. Through clinical trials, their work examines the complexities of orgasm and how this interplays with the brain. Barry R. Komisaruk, PhD, a psychologist and Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Rutgers, spearheaded many studies looking at sexology, pleasure and sex therapy. In particular, he studies how genital stimulation can gain access to the brain through the spinal cord as well as the vagus nerve, which facilitates communication between the genitalia and the brain.

In one of his studies, published by The Journal of Sexual Medicine, Komisaruk studied the orgasms of 10 different women through an fMRI scanner. He found that when the body is aroused, blood flow will increase in the genitalia area to ignite nerve activity. That causes the orgasm to stimulate multiple brain regions, including sensory, motor, reward, frontal cortex and brainstem.

One review published in European Psychiatry also examined stimulation of the vagal nerve and how it can work as a long-term treatment for chronic or recurrent depression. That’s because, as Rayburn pointed out, when the vagal nerve is stimulated, it releases oxytocin, noradrenaline and serotonin—all organic chemicals that help regulate mood and behavior. This can help to lower stress and depression symptoms.

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Does orgasm frequency matter for reaping these benefits?

Research has yet to determine whether the frequency of orgasms—that is, how often you have one—matters for mental health. In his work, Komisaruk has found that just one orgasm unlocks those pleasure hormones and even boosts cognitive function.

However, as one 2020 psychology study pointed out, some authorities suggest that excessive masturbation can have the opposite effect, creating negative psychological, physical, social and moral effects. In any case, more research needs to be done in order to determine what a standard definition of “excessive masturbation” would be, and how it really would affect an individual over the long term.

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All in all, having an orgasm can boost your mood and positively benefit your mental health. Plus, the type of orgasm is not specified—so whether it’s through masturbation or partnered sex, you might still enjoy not just the act itself…but also those brain-boosting benefits that set in afterward.

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Kiersten Hickman
Kiersten Hickman is a journalist and content strategist with a main focus on nutrition, health, and wellness coverage. She holds an MA in Journalism from DePaul University and a Nutrition Science certificate from Stanford Medicine. Her work has been featured in publications including Taste of Home, Reader's Digest, Bustle, Buzzfeed, INSIDER, MSN, Eat This, Not That!, and more.