Can too much sex lead to bad stress?

Dear Alice,

I have two questions to ask you. First, can too much sex lead to bad stress? I've heard and thought about how having too much sex can lead to bad stress. I came to this conclusion: when you're having sex, the heart is pumping rapidly and emotions are high. When you reach climax, your heart is pounding at an extreme rate of pressure. This comes to my mind: too much pressure can lead to stress because it raises the blood pressure. Tell me, is this true or is it logical of what I am saying??? Cause I heard this from my science teacher a long time ago and I have been thinking about it and trying to put myself in that position. Second question, can sex also be a source of toning the body, increase of weight, and more muscle mass????


Dear Reader,

The more we learn about the brain-body connection, the more complex our understanding of things like “bad stress” become. During the sexual response cycle, people engaging in this activity may experience things such as faster heart rates and breathing rates. It may also increase blood pressure. This may also resemble the physiological response that people have to stress, where they may experience increased heart rate, increased respiratory rates, increases in adrenaline, and changes in other bodily functions, among others. Additionally, some people may find sexual activity stressful for a number of reasons! That being said, they're two separate responses and they affect the body in different ways. You also asked about whether or not it can tone muscle, increase muscle mass, and help you increase weight. While sex hasn't been known to be a physical activity that holds these benefits, sex can be thought of as a (usually) mild-to-moderate aerobic activity that can offer stress relief and a bit of exercise

However, while there may be similar responses, the reactions that occur during the sexual response cycle don't affect the body in the same way as chronic stress. The body also doesn't differentiate between "good" stress or "bad" stress. It responds when it perceives a threat, and when it's in a state of constantly perceiving a threat, the body stays in a constant state of "fight or flight." Those physiological changes may then contribute to long-term health conditions. While it's true that prolonged high blood pressure and heart rate may cause damage to the body, the cause and extent of these changes play a key role in determining the extent to which they may be harmful. The concept of stress also happens to be very nuanced—the answer to Can stress kill? may provide some additional helpful context. 

Stress during and related to sex can be minimized by maintaining ongoing communication with your partners and by practicing safer sex to reduce your risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you do start to feel unwell during sex, end the session and follow up with a health care professional. If you are unsure about what level of physical activity during sex is safe for you, ask your medical provider about healthy, safe ways to engage in physical intimacy that are best for you.

There is still uncertainty in the scientific community about at what point exactly something becomes harmful stress. We do know, however, that the natural physiological processes associated with sex aren't considered harmful for most people. While there may be aspects of sex to be mindful of, particularly depending on your health, these don't need to be barriers to enjoyable and fulfilling sexual experiences.   

Last updated Oct 28, 2022
Originally published Sep 03, 1999

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