SWM 117 – Why do I want sex when I’m sick?

Well, it’s winter here, which means cold and flu season.  So, of course, the last couple of weeks, it’s been rolling through our family of 7.  Christina and I were the last to get it, and it seemed I got it worse than her.  She complained about being sick but still working out multiple times daily (playing Supernatural on the VR – in case any others are fans).  For me, I was barely making it through my desk job and not making it some days.

But at night, we’d crawl into bed, and I was still interested in sex, I think more than usual even – her, not at all.  That made me wonder – what is it about being sick that makes me want sex more?

Unfortunately, my head was too fuzzy to research or write an article; here we are, a week later, and I’m ready to tackle it.  So, let’s dig into being sick and sex and why some may want sex when they’re sick, and even more so when they’re sick.

Let me be clear, though, because we’re talking about sex and illness – I am not a doctor.  Do not take this as medical advice.  Use your own research, convictions and head to make your own life decisions because you are the one they will impact the most.

Sex boosts immunity

So, the first reason I’m going to discuss is that sex boosts immunity.  This one gets a bit complicated because it affects immunity in a few ways.

One of the ways that sex boosts immunity is by boosting IgA (Immunoglobulin A) levels.  I understand that this doesn’t help you once you’re sick but rather helps prevent you from getting sick.  Because of this, many seem to look at the topic of having sex while you’re sick and say, “Well, it doesn’t help you if you’re already ill. It only helps prevent sickness. Once you’re sick, you should avoid sex.” But that only relates to one facet of how your immune system relates to sex.

And someone asked me on social media how often you should have sex in order to help boost your immune system.  I don’t have a solid answer except that there is research to show that a few times a month is better than none, a couple of times a week is better than less frequently, and a few times a week is even better.

However, it boosts immunity in other ways.  

Having sex also boosts cytokines and lymphocytes.  Cytokines are proteins that help control the growth and activity of the immune system cells and blood cells.  Lymphocytes are white blood cells that are part of your immune system and work to produce antibodies that attack bacteria, viruses, and toxins.  I believe they’re also called natural killer cells – but someone, please correct me if I’m wrong.  

Also, when you get sick, your immune system sends macrophages (another type of white blood cell), which attack cellular debris, foreign substances, microbes, cancer cells and anything else it deems dangerous (specifically those lacking particular proteins).

As these macrophages do their work, they release those cytokines that we talked about before.  One of the cytokines that they release is called interleukin-1, which decreases sexual appetite in females.  In men, however, it increases it dramatically.  So, the increased desire for sex might be a byproduct of the immune system ramping up, and sex helps to bolster the immune system, creating a sort of immune system boosting engine that supports itself.

Now, why this only works for men and not women, I don’t know – maybe it’s because man-colds are so much worse, and we needed something to balance it out.  You’ll have to take that up with God someday.

Sex can help alleviate symptoms and make you feel better

For men in particular, it seems that orgasm stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which releases adrenaline, which acts like a decongestant because it constricts blood vessels.

On a side note – pharmaceutical decongestants which contain anti-histamines tend to work against males’ ability to maintain erections, so if you’re struggling with ED and are on allergy meds – that may be a cause.

For women, the ingestion of semen (be it orally, vaginally or anally – probably transdermally as well, but it would be less effective), can theoretically reduce inflammation and help you sleep because sperm contains antioxidants and melatonin.  It’s also been shown that semen helps improve mood in women, which is always a bonus when you’re feeling sick.

Also, sex, for both genders, can help release serotonin, dopamine and endorphins, which can make you feel a lot better and help numb the aches and pains, even if they don’t directly address the illness itself.   Working up a sweat from sex (which means you have to do some of the work, not just lie there) also helps release endorphins, which can help you feel better.

Sex can make us feel loved and cared for

Sex also releases oxytocin and vasopressin.  Oxytocin helps us feel loved and cared for emotionally.  Vasopressin helps us feel physically safe and cared for.  Both can be very comforting when you’re feeling awful and not up to caring for yourself or just wish someone else would swoop in and care for you.

Being sick tends to cause us to be more mindful of our bodies, which can increase arousal

One of the methods people use to try to increase arousal and sex drives is to practice mindfulness – that is, just being more aware of your body, how it feels, how it responds and your relationship with it.  Well, being sick often brings that right to the forefront.  If you’re ill, you may experience aches and pains or sensitive skin, muscles, joints, or anything else.  This makes you very aware of your body, and some have suggested that this forced mindfulness may have a side effect of boosting arousal.

Boredom might also be a cause

Lastly, it might just be that you’re bored.  When you’re sick, you may not have the energy to do much besides lay in bed or sit on the couch.  It can get dull, and when you’re brain is looking for things to do, it might think. “well… sex is fun, I think I could manage enough energy for that.”

Should you have sex when you’re sick?

This is where I start getting into that dangerous medical advice territory.  So, these are my non-medical-professional opinions – not advice.

Now, a lot of doctors will advise against having sex when you’re sick because there’s a risk of transmitting whatever illness you, or your spouse, has. Now, to me, if someone in my family gets sick, whether it’s a cold, a flu, covid or whatever – I’m either already exposed to it, or I’m going to be.  We’re not locking them in a basement or quarantining them in different rooms.  We just don’t do that. You can agree or disagree with that however you like, but that’s our choice.

So, I assume I’m exposed, and it’s up to my immune system to fight it off at the gates or once it gets past the defences.  So, worrying about being exposed to whatever my wife has isn’t a concern for me – we sleep in the same bed, breathing the same air for hours at a time every night.  We’re in this together.

I think if both spouses are up to having sex, then go for it.  Generally, our bodies are pretty good at letting us know what is and isn’t a good idea.  If you start having sex and feel like you’re going to throw up – I’d stop.  If you feel like you’re going to pass out – I’d stop.  In short – don’t be stupid and use your brain.

As for whether or not you should have sex when your spouse is sick – most of us took vows to love, hold and cherish in sickness and in health.  Well, here’s the sickness part.  It’s a way to make them feel loved and cared for and may make them feel physically better.  It might even help them get over their sickness sooner.  

So, if they’re sick and they want sex – why not?  And wives, if you’re complaining about your husband’s man-cold knocking him out for too long, but you haven’t tried sex yet – well, I don’t think you have a right to complain. Either let him get over it at his own pace or help him. That is if he’s interested in sex.  If not, well, then he might be pretty sick.  

Of course, any wives who want to have sex when they’re sick – husbands, it’s only fair to offer the same treatment.

Anyways, that’s what I learned about wanting sex when you’re sick.  I hope it helps answer some questions if you also ever wondered why you or your spouse wanted sex when sick.

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