Autoimmune Disease. If you tried to tell me this years ago, I would have laughed in your face. I battled decades of chronic illness, widespread pain, injury after injury, insomnia, migraines, hair loss, rashes, acne, painful bloating, anxiety, OCD, and the daily game called “Will I be constipated or have diarrhea today!?” If someone told me to just have more sex and I’d feel oodles and oodles better, I probably would have fantasized about taking a dump on their face. It would have been the dumbest thing ever suggested to me.
Just recalling my early days as a new mom ten years ago, trying to balance full-time work in venture capital, commuting in and out of DC everyday, continuing to fight the good fight with Celiac Disease; healing my gut, learning to eat the right things and avoid the bad things, taking mountains of prescriptions and enduring the side effects of those, on top of a new diagnosis of Fibromyalgia and all of the aforementioned symptoms I carried with me like a giant sandbag everyday? The thought of trying to fit in “more sex” would be overwhelming, and in fact, that was a huge damper on my former marriage. The thoughts!
Oh my gawd, the thoughts that’d infiltrate my brain like a fear-mongering steamroller!
Let’s start with (a) what position would be comfortable enough for me to enjoy sex today? What’s hurting and not hurting? How can I physically do this?, or (b) I am so bloated I can barely breathe without pain, how am I supposed to do this?, or (c ) I don’t have the energy to even feel sexy feelings because I’ve slept a total of 9 hours in three days, or this one (d) I’ve barely escaped sh***ing my pants six times today and I’m covered in baby vomit… I don’t want sex, I want a shower.
Yep. If you’ve got an autoimmune disease, that’s probably all very familiar to you. But hear me out now. Years and years later, after a lot of fine-tuning, I have learned that sex is a fun (and doable) supplemental component to healing, and if you’re doing it legally, it’s free, there are no lines, and you don’t have to leave home. Before I really get to the mental part of this, I’ll lay out, as simply as possible, the ways that sex can actually help to break through some of the tougher challenges that come with autoimmune disease:
Seriously, it’s been discovered that people who have sex a few times a week have 30% higher levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA). This antibody helps to fight off infections, and for those of us with autoimmune diseases and disorders, that’s gold!
It enhances the immune system! Seriously, it’s been discovered that people who have sex a few times a week have 30% higher levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA). This antibody helps to fight off infections, and for those of us with autoimmune diseases and disorders, that’s gold! Think of all the anti-inflammatories and supplements we AI’ers take to enhance gut health and the immune system. I think having an orgasm is way more fun.
Having sex naturally reduces chronic pain. Because it has been very well-documented, we know that sex releases a flurry of feel-good hormones. Oxytocin, known as the “cuddle hormone”, elevates feelings of ecstasy, happiness and pleasure which can naturally counter three things; your awareness of pain, the strength or intensity of physical pain, or the duration of the pain by shortening and interrupting its signals. Dopamine is also released during sexual activity, and spikes at orgasm tapping into the reward center of the brain. This can often give you an out of body type of experience, pausing all awareness of pain. The more this is practiced, the easier it is to find a central awareness within your body to help manage chronic or acute pain day-to-day. Sort of like eating. If you don’t eat, you feel hungry. The more you eat, the less you feel hungry. Wink wink. Also, the chemical prolactin usually follows suit after sex to help you calm down and balance the nervous system. It can help decrease pain by providing that sense of relaxation, which is counter to the heightened signals that leave you feeling tense, thus increasing pain levels.
Orgasm Improves sleep quality.
Just as it helps to reduce pain signals, those hormones also increase your chances of having a better night’s sleep. Oxytocin and Dopamine do their thing, and as prolactin begins to calm the nervous system, you are better able to relax and fall asleep. And because our bodies physically reconstruct themselves between 10pm and 2am, that first part of the night is critical to cellular repair and the restoration of tissues along each system of the body. Thus, the improvement of the function in our organs, digestive systems, skeletal and muscular systems… thus an improvement in chronic pain.
Healthy hormones find balance through regular sex and masturbation. This could be the topic of a separate article altogether! The tango between estrogen (from a woman) and testosterone (from a man) produces an exchange, so to speak. Naturally, this helps to balance out dominant hormones in each partner. Also, if a woman goes a long period of time without having sex, her body begins to naturally reduce her sex hormones. This is a “use it or lose it” mechanism of the body, unfortunately, but it has its evolutionary purposes. So if you’re not having sex, then at least masturbate! Lastly, as you get older some hormones begin to dip on their own. For women, the more sex you have and/or the more you masturbate, the higher levels of estrogen you will maintain – thus staving off menopause and/or fighting symptoms of perimenopause, regulating your menstrual cycle, and improving hair and skin health! For both genders, having more sex increases DHEA, which improves athletic performance, and calms the body’s stress hormones helping to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which ultimately keeps the body from veering too far into the red zone of chronic high levels of cortisol. And because I’m keeping this as short as possible, and most of you already understand this… chronically high levels of cortisol is a hormonal nightmare. Lastly, for the dudes. The obvious thing here is that you don’t want to lose your testosterone, and this is another one that is a “use it or lose it” hormone in the body. So the more you have sex and/or masturbate (I say do both y’all. Just do both), the higher your levels of testosterone will be. Chronic stress can also reduce testosterone, as well be aging, lack of exercise, and an absence of resistance training. And the more testosterone you lose, the less you’ll even want to have sex, much less have the stamina for it. So yeah. Use it or lose it people!
When your body wants to fight against every attempt you make to improve the quality of your life, your health goals can feel like a non-stop argument with a toddler. So to suggest “just have more sex!” is probably laughable.
If you are in the throws of autoimmune disease, trying to find your way through the thick jungle of symptoms, medications and constant setbacks, then I do understand the frustration and feeling of helplessness. I’ve been there. Mentally and emotionally speaking, it can feel like a constant losing battle. When your body wants to fight against every attempt you make to improve the quality of your life, your health goals can feel like a non-stop argument with a toddler. So to suggest “just have more sex!” is probably laughable.
But here’s the thing. You have to start somewhere. You have to believe that your life can and will be better than this, that you are more than this disease, you are beyond the chronic pain and fatigue, and that yes- you do have control. That’s a scary thing. To actually know you have the control. You’ve got to think to yourself and ask: How is my sex life now? Am I willing to accept that it will just always be this way? Am I okay with letting my sexuality take a back seat forever and not experiencing joy, ecstasy, passion and pleasure? Am I willing to allow my pain, fatigue and chronic symptoms control my life so much that I give up on one of the most amazing gifts I have as a human being?
I recall back in 2005 when I was finally diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, and nothing seemed to help with the pain. And nothing seemed to even trigger the pain, it was just constant and all the time. I was a new mother who also commuted 2 hours a day in and out of D.C. for my job at a venture capital firm, trying to keep my milk supply up by pumping every few hours, and trying to keep my energy up so I could actually spend time with my baby before and after work. Experiencing chronic pain during this time was beyond frustrating.
I had nothing else to lose, so I began lifting weights and going on long walks. I had to talk myself into this everyday, and fight all of the excuses, and look past the pain that tried to convince me to stay home and lay on the floor.
Simply holding the bottles up to my breasts while pumping in the office caused my elbows, neck and back to stiffen so bad I cried the whole time. After a year of trying every narcotic, every arthritis medication, and even antidepressants that showed “promise” in treating chronic pain (which only led me to feel suicidal and turning me into a person I didn’t even know anymore), I decided to stop taking everything. I began to feel like me again, but the thought of working out and going to physical therapy was so stressful. Everything HURT! But I had nothing else to lose, so I began lifting weights and going on long walks. I had to talk myself into this everyday, and fight all of the excuses, and look past the pain that tried to convince me to stay home and lay on the floor. After a couple of weeks, exercise no longer hurt. I was sleeping better, thus having more energy in the day and the same way exercise produces natural endorphins, I began to feel my sexual energy return as well. Then the more I used that, the more and more vibrant and healthy I felt. And so, just the same way pain and autoimmune disease can snowball downhill getting larger and stronger… so can you. You can take that snowball from the bottom of the hill all the way to the top, and it will fight you and it will resist you, but the more you fight back, the stronger YOU get.
Sex is a gift.
It’s one of the many tools that your body came with, so don’t let it just sit out and get rusty. Use it! Put it to work and soon enough all those sex hormones will begin to increase and you’ll find yourself feeling better in many ways, as I listed above.