Not exactly accurate

This FOX News article about the health benefits of sex is not exactly accurate. Though sexual activity has indeed been correlated with physical and emotional health, the bulleted list of the benefits of  "good sex in a healthy, stable monogamous relationship" are simply not at all what the research itself shows. The research studies that were vaguely referenced in the article were taken out of context and their results were exaggerated. This is what researchers call "going beyond the data."

For example, it isn’t that "good sex in a healthy, stable monogamous relationship" is what was correlated with a decrease risk in prostate cancer for men; rather the frequency of ejaculation when men were younger that was correlated with later risk of prostate cancer. In other words, it wasn’t whether the sex was "good" that mattered. The original research study didn’t even suggest that the sex had to occur in a "healthy, stable relationship" in order to be associated with a decreased prostate cancer risk. Men didn’t even need to have sex with a partner in order to get the benefit – it could have been ejaculations from masturbation. It was the ejaculation that mattered, not the sex, its quality, or the relationship.

The number of calories that "sex" can burn varies considerably from what type of sex one engages in – for example, sex that uses larger muscle groups (like the legs) is likely to burn more calories than the type of sex where you lie back and relax, barely moving. And I have not read any research study that suggests that only sex in a stable, healthy relationship results in caloric burn – if anything, I would hypothesize that the fiery, energetic sex that seems more common to newer relationships would be a high burner (but that’s just a hypothesis – we really don’t know).

In terms of the article’s mention of sex and longevity, we have no reason to believe that having sex (let alone "good sex in a healthy, stable monogamous relationship")  is the  key thing that makes men (or women) live longer. It might contribute to prolonging life, but then again so do a lot of things. The research that has currently been done in this area does NOT answer the question about whether sex prolongs life. Rather, it is likely that older people who are ill are less likely to be sexually active – at least, THAT is what research suggests. It is also the case that the relationship itself – if indeed it is healthy, nurturing and supportive – likely contributes more to longevity than intercourse sessions, but again we’d need research on this topic to really know.

This isn’t to say that sex isn’t good for you – in fact, it probably has the potential to be very, very good for us in terms of our physical health, emotional well-being and our capacity of pleasure. However, it’s still important to accurately reflect the research so that people trust sexual health scientists when it comes to news about sex.

If you have a question about something you have heard or read about sex or sexual health, email DrDebby@MySexProfessor.com

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.