Sex Advice

Is Sex Good for You Even if You Don’t Orgasm? Here’s What Sexperts Say

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Despite what pop-culture depictions might showcase, sex can encompass so much more than the penetration-to-orgasm pipeline. For starters, there’s a whole repertoire of sexy “outerplay” acts, which describe a non-penetrative route to pleasure that can be just as effective (if not more so!). And while orgasm is a worthy destination of any pleasure practice—however it is that you get there—a lack of orgasm doesn’t negate the enjoyable, health-supportive value of other parts of a sexual journey. In fact, if you fall within the estimated 5 percent of people with a vulva who can’t orgasm, or the 11 to 41 percent of vulva-owners who have trouble orgasming, it's important to know this: Sex is good for you with or without orgasm.

Though orgasm (through solo or partnered sex) certainly presents its fair share of health perks, the release of good-for-you chemicals driving many of these benefits doesn’t just flip on at climax. “We can infer from studies done about touch, in general, that many of the same positive neurotransmitters are released in the context of welcome sensual touch and non-orgasmic sex, likely at a lower level but still enough to experience benefit,” says gynecologist Lyndsey Harper, MD, founder and CEO of sexual-wellness platform Rosy.

“Many positive neurotransmitters are released in the context of welcome sensual touch and non-orgasmic sex.” —Lyndsey Harper, MD, gynecologist

In fact, during a small 2011 study tracking brain activity in people with vulvas while they self-stimulated, researchers found that the parts of the brain responsible for those feel-good chemicals were activated well before orgasm. “All along the way, the brain was releasing some of these substances, including oxytocin, dopamine, and pain-relieving peptides such as our internal opioids,” says neuroscientist and sex therapist Nan Wise, PhD, a researcher on the study and author of Why Good Sex Matters.

As an important caveat, though, if you’re preoccupied by the fact that you can’t or won’t reach orgasm while engaged in sex acts, it’s less likely you’ll experience the above neurochemical benefits. “Focusing on trying to have an orgasm or being upset for not being able to reach climax might actually make you more tense,” says Dr. Wise. So, if you feel that orgasm is, in fact, a non-negotiable in your sex equation, and you’re struggling to experience it, it’s worth exploring new techniques, communication strategies, or supportive products to fast-track your way there.

Otherwise, simply acknowledging that sex is good for you, health-wise, with or without an orgasm, can prime you for a more satisfying sexual experience. Below, sexperts outline the specific benefits you can reap from any form of sex, even when its ending isn’t orgasmic.

3 reasons why sex is good for you, even without an orgasm, according to sexperts

1. It can relieve stress and anxiety

Orgasm aside, sensual or sexual touch offers real mental-health benefits, mainly through prompting the release of the mood-enhancing neurotransmitters noted above. Oxytocin, in particular, has even been called the “cuddle hormone” for the ways in which snuggling up can instigate its release, which delivers a calming, stress-melting effect. Not to mention, studies on social touch suggest that many of the elements of non-orgasmic sex can have other stress- and anxiety-relieving effects in the context of safety, consent, and mutual desirability, says Dr. Harper.

That benefit will be all the greater if you’re mindfully focused on the pleasurable sensations at hand while you’re having sex, adds Dr. Wise. “This increases your chances of eliciting a balanced nervous system by stimulating the parasympathetic state—which is calming and restorative,” she says. In that state, the brain also slows the release of stress hormones like cortisol, she adds, leaving you more at ease and relaxed, which can help you fall asleep more smoothly, too.

2. It may boost your heart health

This happens by way of a few pathways, none of which require orgasm. For one, as sex can help you downshift into that calm parasympathetic state noted above, it can also increase your heart-rate variability—aka the metric tracking how well your heart rate adapts to your nervous system and environment—which is a measure of a healthy heart, says Dr. Wise. In other words? The more often you have positive, consensual sex (orgasm or not), the more you’re training your heart to slow its pace in response to a relaxing, non-threatening environment.

And from there, the more positive emotions you feel around sex and intimacy, the more likely it is you’ll also be able to experience cardiac coherence, which is when your heart rate adopts an even pattern synced with your breath, supporting your physical and emotional well-being, adds Dr. Wise. “Having a good connection with yourself if you’re masturbating, or with a partner if you’re having partnered sex, is really the key to dropping into a nice state of cardiac coherence [orgasm notwithstanding],” she says.

3. It can strengthen your pelvic floor

It’s worth noting that any kind of sex can be a physical exercise, and depending on the type of positions in which you’re pretzeling your body, you could actually strengthen any number of muscles in the process. (Isometric hold, anyone?)

But even if you’re sticking to missionary or lying on your back for a solo sex session, your pelvic floor will stand to benefit. Because genital touch increases blood flow to the muscles, nerves, and tendons in the pelvic floor and leads to muscle contractions, sex or masturbation (even without orgasm) can help strengthen those muscles, pelvic-floor physical therapist Amanda Olsen, DPT, previously told Well+Good. And happily, the association works the other way around, too: A stronger pelvic floor will lead to even better, longer-lasting sex.

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