Sex: Good or Bad for Health? Cause of death?

I realize I’ve never written about this topic, but I came across this paper and it intrigued me. Although most patients will not talk about sex to us, the topic may come up if you seem open to talk about it.

Even for people who hate exercising, sexual activity is considered to be one of the more enjoyable types of “exercise” available. Considering that the actual time spent on sex is often short (2-7 minutes), the benefits are far more long lasting. Although the actual energy expenditure and oxygen uptake during sex is low and resembles a relaxed walk for few blocks, the health benefits are still significant.

This paper, written by a Brazilian cardiologist, concludes that for most sedentary people, sexual activity may be the most cardiovascular activity they practice.


Here are some interesting stats. An average man or woman in a stable relationship may be together for 40 years. If they copulate twice a week on average, that makes approximately 4000 sexual occasions. (40yrs x 52 wks x 2 encounters a week). It is possible that for the majority of sedentary people, sex is the most frequent, pleasant and intense activity performed during their life.

Is there a downside to sex? One comprehensive autopsy study from Germany found that 1 in every 500 natural deaths occurs during sexual activity (Is there a better way to go?!) It is fascinating that 93% of those who passed away during sexual activity were men. Even more fascinating is the fact that the risk of death was far greater in those engaged in extramarital sex….perhaps due to the increased thrill & anxiety.


Putting the small cardiovascular risk aside, the benefits of sexual activity in a healthy relationship cannot be overstated. For instance, a study showed that blood pressure reactivity to stress was significantly lower for both men and women after sexual activity.

One RCT showed that those provided with an 8-week intensive exercise program reported of improvements in their sex life. Why is this RCT worth mentioning? We all know how difficult it can be to motivate our patients to adhere to a regular exercise program; perhaps the knowledge that a secondary benefit of exercising is improved sexual performance is more motivating than losing weight or preventing diabetes & heart disease.


Reference: de Araújo CG. Sexual activity: an exercise to prevent cardiovascular morbidity and mortality? Expert Rev Cardiovasc Ther. 2009 Sep;7(9):1033-6.

sex heart
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