American Tantra 2: touching, cuddling, smooching, and sexing helps you lose weight! [52]

By Dr. Keith Witt
April 8, 2012
iStock_000000472825XSmallA recent study revealed that a third of men have had fantasy sex with over one thousand women. Men are genetically wired to crave diversity of sexual partners, and most guys deal using autoerotic daydreams, often fueled by sexy media images. Men aren’t alone on the romantic fantasy highway. Over fifty percent of books sold in this country are romances bought by women about virile, present, loving men claiming and ravishing smart, radiant women. Remember the sixties? If you do, you’ll recall that men’s main sources of erotica were Penthouse and Playboy. Back before internet porn, “men’s magazines” weren’t about working out and having outdoor adventures, they were about pictures of (mostly) naked women and sex. I always loved the Penthouse Letters to the Editor section (it was my second favorite part). The letters read like soft-core porn, and each issue would usually have one offering that rang my erotic bell, or—more rarely—offered a new perspective. One woman wrote she lost weight by having sex five times a day. Largely clueless about the potential horrors of sexual compulsivity and sex addiction, I thought this strategy fantastic. Besides constant sex sounding just right to my twenty-eight-year-old male libido (many twenty-something guys think about sex every 52 seconds) I was also intrigued by her claim. Like most Americans, I’ve always been somewhat obsessed with weight loss, and wondered if frequent sex actually worked for weight control. Fast forward 33 years (33 years?—really?) to current research on diet, lifestyle, metabolism, stress management, sex, and weight. It looks like that woman might have been on to something. Weight is not just about calories and dieting—not even close. Weight is a function of genetic heritage, lifestyle, stress levels, exercise patterns, and what kinds of food we eat and when we eat them (yes, when we eat matters—just eating breakfast means you effectively consume around 150 to 300 fewer calories that day). Eating is also social (digestion is personal). People tend to bond with others around food, and often turn to food when lonely. The intersections of social engagement, stress and food are where sex comes in. We all know that regular exercise and frequent small healthy meals optimize healthy weight, but stress management and social satisfaction weigh in heavily. How we manage stress affects weight gain and loss, and loving human touch alleviates stress. Loving touch reduces the stress hormone cortisol—one of the main culprits in weight gain. Some monkeys groom others up to a sixth of their waking hours, and such friendly touch reduces participants’ cortisol levels. Interestingly, in the monkey studies, the groomers, givers of sensual attention, had the lowest cortisol. It was especially soothing to sooth others. Stress increases cortisol. When our brains believe we are threatened, our hypothalamus tells our pituitary to tell our adrenals (which are on top of the kidneys) to pump adrenaline (a “lets get jacked up and moving” hormone) and cortisol (a “let’s prepare sugar levels, blood pressure, and immune systems for battle” hormone) into our blood to get us ready to fight or flee. When we have too much or too constant stress—over days, weeks, or years, like extended battle, grinding poverty, political repression, abuse, or neglect—our cortisol levels first get high, then get flat, telling our bodies’ to turn muscle into fat. Chronic high cortisol also results in craving carbohydrates and eating more. Even worse, constant high stress elevates levels of an enzyme in cells called HSD, which keeps cortisol high inside the cells, even when the levels drop in the blood stream. HSD causes cells to hang on to the fat they’ve got and store more fat—especially in the belly and hips. This is why dieting rarely works—it’s stressful to limit food, stress increases cortisol and HSD, and our bodies hold on to fat and store more ASAP. Like the grooming monkeys, loving touch reduces cortisol, and helps us deal with stress. Sex is particularly great because making love typically gives our body the equivalent of twenty minutes of aerobic exercise (with exceptions to those who prefer super-quickies), and increases the bonding chemicals oxytocin and vasopressin—associated with that post-coital glow when we’re cuddling in warm aftermath. Also, most couples report feeling less stressed in their general life for up to twenty-four hours (or even longer) after making love. Feeling securely connected as a lover apparently has huge, long lasting stress reduction benefits. Men who believed there was plenty of affection in their marriages were 300% more likely to report themselves happy and satisfied. After working with couples for almost forty years, I can’t think of any other activity that lasts for (typically) fifteen to forty-five minutes that has such consistent and wide ranging healthy effects as love-making. Maybe it even helps us lose weight.

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