This week you have asked us about a video that is moving around TikTok that indicates that when a woman does not have sex for a long time, in theory, her immune system weakens. However, there is no scientific evidence to confirm this hypothesis, neither in women nor in men.
In the words of Guillermo Lopez Lluch, professor of Cellular Biology at the Pablo de Olavide University, an expert in metabolism and cursed who has lent us his superpowers, “the video has little scientific basis”: “Rather it is a compendium of statements that take some truths, but little more”.
One of the arguments he points out to make this statement is that “a sexually active life increases immunoglobulin by 30%”, that is, antibodies, a type of protein that binds to pathogens and neutralizes them, preventing them from infecting the cells, that reproduce and ultimately, that make us sick. This data comes from a study published in the scientific journal Psychological Reports in 2004 based on a mere survey of a fairly small sample of participants, only 112 university students.
The researchers asked about the frequency of their sexual encounters, dividing responses into four categories: none, infrequent (less than once a week), frequent (once or twice a week), and very frequent (three or more times a week).
Once the classification was made, the authors took saliva samples and analyzed the presence of IgA, one of the main antibodies of the organism and our first line of defense against infections. “Individuals in the frequent group showed significantly higher levels of IgA than the other three groups, which were comparable,” the researchers note.
However, in the words of Lopez, “it is a correlation study that leads nowhere and can have many other implications, such as stress.” In addition, the results he arrives at are not sufficient reason to affirm that the lack of sex weakens the immune system, neither in men nor in women: antibody levels do not necessarily indicate how well or badly the immune system is capable of carrying out perform its basic functions.
As Jesus Gil-Pulido, a doctor in immunology and cursed who has lent us his superpowers, explains to Maldita.es “sometimes, having more is not synonymous with better“: “There are many cells involved in defense processes: innate defenses ( such as neutrophils or monocytes), which are the first to act; and acquired (such as B cells that produce antibodies and T cells). Having ‘more’ of something, in this case antibodies, does not tell us much, because we would have to put what that change means in context”. In other words, “looking at a single ‘little piece’ of the immune system is not going to help us much to understand how its function is being affected”, he adds.
Another of the arguments used by the video is that “not having sex increases stress and anxiety levels.” As Gil-Pulido explained in Maldita.es , it is true that stress is one of the factors that can negatively modify the function of antibodies. “The latter is a great enemy of our defences, especially if it is maintained chronically,” says the expert. The reason is that it causes an increase in cortisol in our blood, which suppresses the immune system.
Now, despite the fact that the benefits of sex on health are often talked about, there is no scientific evidence to support that this happens the other way around, that is, that the lack of sexual relations is harmful. Whether or not it affects the level of stress or how it does so is subjective and will depend on many other factors, not just the frequency of sexual encounters.
In short, and as Isabel Cortegano, from the Department of Cellular Biology of the Faculty of Medicine of the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM), indicated in Maldita.es , “the recommendations to keep our immune system in good condition are the same that we have to keep in mind for overall good health.” According to the Spanish Society of Immunology (SEI), these consist of regular moderate exercise, following a balanced diet, having all the recommended vaccinations, getting adequate sleep, avoiding tobacco and alcohol, and avoiding prolonged stressful situations.