Can Sex Reduce Stress?

The idea that sex can relieve stress for couples is pervasive in popular culture. For example, most of you have probably heard the classic song Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye.

Many of you have probably also seen television shows and movies that feature story lines about the wonders of 'make-up sex' following a couple's argument (which, according to Jerry Seinfeld, is the second best type of sex you can have after 'conjugal visit sex'). So is there any truth to this idea? Is sex really a stress-reliever?

According to a new study, yes--but only for couples who are in satisfying relationships to begin with.(1)

In this study, 75 heterosexual men and women who were living with a romantic partner completed a sex diary for 18 consecutive weekdays. Participants filled out their diary alone each night in which they reported on the amount of stress they had experienced in the past 24 hours (i.e., how many stressful events occurred and how stressful each one was) and indicated whether they had sexual intercourse that day.

The researchers found that experiencing a high level of stress increased the likelihood of having intercourse the following day. In addition, when sex followed a particularly high stress day, it reduced reports of stress on the following day; when a high stress day was not followed by sex, there was not as much of a decrease in stress the next day.

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To put it more simply, when couples had sex, they felt less stress afterward than they did before.

However, it is important to point out that this finding held only for couples who reported that their relationship was satisfying at the start of the study; for couples who were dissatisfied with their relationship, there was no stress-reducing effect of sex.

This research is limited in that it only examined heterosexual couples and only considered the potential stress relief associated with vaginal intercourse. Thus, it is not clear whether the same benefits would apply in same-sex couples or in couples who engage in other types of sexual activities.

However, these results suggest that sex does have the potential to heal us from stress, but only if we are involved in a good relationship.

Jessica Drummond discusses three ways to relieve stress so you feel more like having sex.

1. Ein-Dor, T., & Hirschberger, G. (2012). Sexual healing: Daily diary evidence that sex relieves stress for men and women in satisfying relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 29, 126-139. doi: 10.1177/0265407511431185

About The Author

Justin lehmiller
Dr. Justin J. Lehmiller
Dr. Justin J. Lehmiller is a social psychologist, relationship researcher, and sex columnist living and working in Boston, Massachusetts. He has published over 20 scholarly works, including articles in some of the leading scientific journals on sex and relationships. His research has been featured prominently in numerous media outlets, including Psychology Today, The Globe and Mail, Men’s Health, The Sunday Times, and the National Geographic Channel. Dr. Lehmiller writes a column entitled Lusting, Loving, and Leaving on the Science of Relationships website, as well as a sexuality and relationships blog at, follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
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