"Libido Meter" May Be First True Sexual-Arousal Gauge

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Endorphins provide natural relief from the pain of arthritis, injury, and even migraines. Endorphins also boost the immune system by dampening the harmful hormones that stress stimulates.

Serotonin contributes to the feeling of pleasure, satiety, and relaxation that people usually experience after good sex.

"Take all of that together, and its easy to see how pervasive sexual pleasure is to our well-being," said Jim Pfaus, a behavioral neuroscientist at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.

Reducing Heart Disease

Regular sex also means regular exercise. It has been suggested that the average person burns about 200 calories while having sex. In men, sex boosts the production of testosterone, which leads to stronger bones and muscles.

Scientists also say that sex improves cholesterol levels, increases circulation, and combats heart disease. According to a 2001 study at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, men who had sex three or more times per week reduced their risk of heart attack by half.

Self Esteem

There is a strong link between sex and a person's psychological well-being. Researchers know, for example, that sexual dysfunction can easily lead to depression.

"I know from my work with patients who have sexual dysfunction that a sexual problem can become all consuming," Bartlik said. "The person with a sexual problem often can think of nothing else."

That sort of obsession often affects a persons self-esteem and causes a general increase in life stress.

But people who are able to overcome sexual dysfunction may experience a rush of good feeling that can lift them out of depression. A study on men with erectile disorder and depression showed that sildenafil (in drugs like Viagra) improved not only their erections, but also their depression.

"A good sexual relationship can have a profoundly positive impact on a person's mental health," Bartlik said. "When people feel good about their sex life, they are more confident about themselves and have happier moods. They can even have higher levels of sex hormones."

Pfaus, the neuroscientist, said that sexual pleasure also helps give meaning and purpose to our lives.

"The thing to remember is that sex is probably at the top of the hierarchy of natural pleasures," he said. "It is the state of satisfaction created by enjoying it that buffers you from stress."

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