Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute recently completed a study that examines the relationship between sexual activity and a woman’s immune system.
The preliminary findings could be good news for couples struggling to conceive.
Jevne Taylor is half of one such couple. She spends a lot of afternoons with her son and nephew, playing outside at her Monroe County home. She’d like to add a second child of her own to this picture, but recently she decided to put those plans on hold.
“I think I went through a day of crying just when I realized my son might not have another sibling,” Taylor says.
After having her son more than three years ago, Taylor figured she’d have no problem getting pregnant again.
But the second time around has proven much more difficult.
“We tried for about a year before we went to the fertility specialist,” she says. “We’ve tried for a few months since then and then once I decided to go off the Clomid so we’ve just recently decided to stop trying.”
Taylor is one of more than 6.5 million women indicated by the CDC who are struggling to conceive.
She went to a fertility specialist to try and figure out why, but came away feeling discouraged.
“I was told that the stress of trying so hard and it’s not happening and one of the specific days and you only ovulate specific days and I think we were traveling and on vacation that specific day and it just wasn’t working out,” she says. “The doctor said when you’re under a lot of stress and pressure it’s just so much more difficult to conceive.”
But now, a recently released study by the Kinsey Institute has some encouraging results for women like Taylor who are trying to get pregnant.
The study tracked changes in the immune systems of women who are both sexually active and sexually abstinent.
The researchers took blood and saliva samples from the participants and then infected them with bacteria to see how well the immune system fought off the bugs.
And researchers observed greater changes in women who were sexually active.
“And so the kind of common wisdom that’s given to couples that are trying to conceive is make sure that you have sex during the fertile window.” says Tierney Lorenz, the lead author of the study. “And as anyone who’s trying to conceive knows, that can be an incredibly tricky window to find. And so our findings suggest that the sex that a couple has even outside of that fertile window may still improve their chances of conceiving because it’s a cue to the immune system to start engaging in the kinds of responses that ultimately will protect their conception and their fetus.”
The study looked at 32 healthy women – a small sample size. The medical community would like to see the research done on a larger scale to see if the findings can be generalized to other women.
But the preliminary findings will likely spark medical research in a whole host of areas.
“There’s been a lot of research recently that suggests the immune system plays a really important role in heart disease, in chronic pain and even in mental health conditions like depression,” Lorenz says. “Potentially this research could lead to additional inroads into managing those kind of chronic health conditions. Essentially sex may become another behavior that doctors monitor and make recommendations about just like sleep or diet or physical activity.”