This just in: Sex relieves stress

Unless you're having the wrong kind of sex, in which case, no stress relief for you.

Published January 27, 2006 12:40PM (EST)

Brace yourself for some startling news: Having sex is, like, relaxing. Participants in a recent study were less stressed out by public speaking or a math test if they'd just done the deed than if they hadn't. I know, I know: Next they'll be telling us the sky is blue.

Here's the surprising thing, though. BBC News reported Thursday that "only penetrative intercourse did the trick -- other forms of sex had no impact on stress levels at all." And when they say "penetrative intercourse" does the trick, apparently they mean only the hetero kind -- the study's director says it makes sense "in evolutionary terms for standard heterosexual sexual intercourse to be associated with a wide range of positive effects on behavior."

Still, we're not quite convinced. Maybe the 24 women and 22 men who participated in the study are just really into heterosexual penetrative intercourse. Also, the BBC story seems to contradict itself. First it says nonpenetrative forms of sex had "no impact" on participant stress levels, but then it suggests that participants who masturbated were less stressed out than those who had no sexual contact at all:

"Volunteers who had had penetrative intercourse were found to be the least stressed, and their blood pressure returned to normal faster than those who had engaged in other forms of sexual activity such as masturbation.

"Those who abstained from any form of sexual activity at all had the highest blood pressure response to stress."

Doesn't that sound like some sexual activity, even if not the super-duper hetero penetrative kind, gave participants some benefit? Maybe the BBC will get back to us with the final word on the subject. Until then, we won't rule out the Kama Sutra's more creative sections when prepping for our many public-speaking engagements.

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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