In recent years, an American researcher based in Scotland, Stuart Brody, has been discovering some interesting things about the benefits of PVI (penile-vaginal intercourse) as compared with other types of sex. For example, PVI apparently helps to keep us fit and funtioning better, both psychologically and physically.
Here are findings from some of the actual studies:1
- Slimmer waists and hips are associated with more intercourse (compared with masturbation), for both men and women
- Blood pressure reactivity to stress is better for those who have recently had PVI than other sex
- Frequency of PVI is linked with healthier heart rate variability in cohabiting subjects (not in those living apart)
- PVI helps women sync up actual arousal with emotional arousal, as compared with masturbation
- PVI improves the emotional health of women
- In general, PVI is consistently associated with better physiological and psychological function.
As Brody says in the last study mentioned:
It has often been asserted that all sexual behaviours are equal. However, empirical research demonstrates that different sexual behaviours differ in many physiological and psychological domains. These differences are remarkably consistent in revealing an association between specifically penile-vaginal intercourse and indices of better physiological and psychological function. Other sexual behaviours (masturbation, partner masturbation, oral sex, anal sex, or any other sex that excludes penile-vaginal intercourse) are either unrelated or occasionally negatively related to indices of physiological and psychological function.
Recent research also indicates that vaginal orgasm differs physiologically and psychologically from clitoral orgasm, and that vaginal orgasm is related to better psychological health. [In the full article] several examples of other research findings are summarised. The consistency of the results with both physiology and evolutionary and psychoanalytic theories is discussed. The ethical practice of sex therapy, education and research requires the elimination of prevailing sexological prejudices.
In short, despite the bias of today’s media and most sexologists, all orgasms are apparently not created equal.
However, Brody’s research may still suffer somewhat from "prevailing sexological prejudices." None of his research has considered the results of PVI without orgasm, even though the results indirectly indicate the possible benefit of such a practice. For example, one possible explanation for the greater benefit of PVI is the greater intimacy of PVI. Another hypothesis, which current researchers would be most unlikely to test, is that the benefit is due to the exchange of some subtle current between lovers - as the Taoists claimed long ago.
The important point is that nothing in this research yet proves that it is the orgasm that benefits those who engage in PVI; it may be the greater closeness or companionship. Brody has argued that the prolactin that shoots up higher after orgasm with PVI (versus orgasm without PVI) must be the source of benefit. But there is little other evidence, if any, to suggest that a prolactin rise offers benefit. In other studies, the post-orgasm prolactin rise has been associated with sexual satiation. And, outside of the bedroom, high prolactin has been associated with mood swings and lower libido.
Certainly the hypothesis that it is the intimacy or companionship that benefits lovers is consistent with the benefits of intimacy and companionship observed by researchers studying oxytocin, "the cuddle hormone." Indeed, oxytocin has already been associated with benefits quite similar to those observed in connection with PVI.2 For example, oxytocin, which seems to be produced through touch and generous nurturing of another, has been linked with:
- reducing cravings for sweets
- lower blood pressure in women
- decreased stress, depression and anxiety
- faster healing and reduced pain
- easing addiction and withdrawal symptoms
- improved maternal behavior
- increased trust
- greater sexual receptivity and erections
To be fair, there is a possibility that the shared orgasm(s) also contribute to the PVI benefit Brody has observed. More research could settle the issue.
However, to test the source of the benefit properly, researchers would have to compare PVI with orgasm to PVI without. Alas, this research is not likely to be conducted anytime soon. Sexologists have arbitrarily defined sex without orgasm as irregular sexual behavior. They label it a "paraphilia," a term that also encompasses sexual fetishes and so forth.
In short, if there is a hidden benefit to sex without orgasm, modern researchers will be unable to test for it because of their own preconceptions, now cemented in their definitions. Their hands are tied. As Stuart Brody explained to me, it could be considered unethical to ask people to engage in the "paraphilia" of avoiding orgasm, even for the short period required to test the differences.
Since sexologists have defined sex with orgasm as the only healthy and normal sex, they also don't bother to address the apparent addictive cycle of orgasm with its highs and lows. (I guess the reasoning goes, "something can't both be healthy and addictive, therefore since we have declared it "healthy," it cannot be addictive, whatever the evidence to the contrary.") In short, their definitions of healthy and unhealthy sex may be blinding them to the reality of our primitive mating programming. Meanwhile there is growing evidence that orgasm is addictive.
Since researchers aren't considering whether orgasmic sex has a (potentially unhealthy) addictive cycle, they also aren't questioning whether the neurochemical changes in the orgasm cycle are having an adverse effect on the stability of intimate relationships. It is presumed that the neurochemical fluctuations connected with orgasm must be operating to our benefit. However, the widespread fragility of intimate relationships suggests that psychological projections born of fluctuations in our mating neurochemistry might well be driving couples apart or leading to stagnation and infidelity. Friendships and relationships with pets and children aren't so fragile. Sexologists have not explained this difference.
Sages who have written about Taoist lovemaking, sexual alchemy, and Karezza spent many years observing sexual behavior and reached quite different conclusions from today's sexologists. Can we say with confidence that these earlier observers were engaging in unnatural, unhealthy sex just because their ideas are out of fashion today?
By protecting the almighty orgasm from objective scrutiny, sexologists may be condemning us to ignorance about the potential for greater harmony, longevity and better health that lies in human relationships.
For now, we'll continue to gather, consider, and share the relevant crumbs of insight that fall from the table of today's narrowly-focused sex research.