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The Joys – And Drawbacks – Of Morning Sex

Alexandra Fine, Credentialed Sexologist, M. Psych | Written by Dame

  • On a shag rug by a roaring fire.
  • In a luxurious bedroom, surrounded by fragrant candles.
  • On a blanket by the sea, under a canopy of stars.
  • Entwined on the couch, with the city lights twinkling in the distance.

It makes no difference whether you’re reading a book or watching a movie.
Almost all romantic encounters seem to happen at night.

Maybe it’s because the lighting looks cool that way…
or because sex often follows a night on the town and ample amounts of alcohol…
or because it’s what romantic sex scenes in other books and movies are like.

Or maybe it’s simply because nighttime sex is reality for most couples, even if there are no canopies of stars, fragrant candles or twinkling lights.

It’s not really surprising. Nighttime sex is often the easiest when it comes to logistics. Work is done for the day, the kids are in bed, and there’s a convenient block of time before you absolutely have to go to sleep.

But what about morning sex?

Morning Sex Isn’t As Easy At It Sounds

Some couples, of course, have found ways to make time for an early morning quickie or a bedroom romp before breakfast. But it’s usually not easy. Morning routines usually get in the way.

There’s the rush to get the kids up, fed and ready for school. There’s the need to get showered and dressed before grabbing a quick cup of coffee before heading to work. And there’s the natural inclination for the mind to immediately slip into “daytime mode” and start planning the day’s to-do list.

Even if those complications don’t factor in, two other issues often do. First, couples’ body clocks often run on very different schedules; a morning person and a night person can find it difficult to agree on a regular dinner time, let alone a sex schedule. Second, there’s the natural human desire to get as much sleep as possible. Most of us have grown up hitting the snooze button instead of the “pleasure button.”

Those who’ve discovered a way to make morning sex part of their regular sexual diet, however, have found that it’s definitely worth the effort.

Let’s find out why.

“Sex Hormones” Have Their Own Schedule

When you open your eyes in the morning, you may not be at your best. But some of your hormones are. That’s important – because robust hormone levels can mean great sex.

Testosterone

Research has regularly shown that penis-havers’ testosterone levels peak in the morning. One study, in fact, shows that the body produces 25% less testosterone in the afternoon than in the morning. Since the levels have been shown to follow a circadian rhythm, they would normally drop even lower before bed when many couples are getting ready for sexual activity. And as penis owners grow older, the difference between morning and evening production of this key hormone becomes more pronounced.

That’s why morning is the best time for those with penises to have sex, since testosterone plays a crucial role in penis-havers’ sexual function; higher levels of the hormone increases both their sex drive and their performance. (If you’ve ever wondered what causes “morning wood,” now you know.)

In short – if they’re able to ignore the temptation to plunge right into work mode – those with penises should find that their body is ready for sex as soon as they wake up.

Estrogen

Estrogen and testosterone aren’t homologues. But when it comes to sexual desire and sexual function, vulva owners’ estrogen levels are almost important as testosterone is to their biological counterparts.

Variations in the body’s estrogen levels are primarily related to a vulva-haver’s ovulation cycle, but also tend to reach their peak in the morning hours. Those higher estrogen levels usually make vulva owners’ bodies “ready” for sex after they wake up, especially if they’re in the first two weeks of their cycle.

There are other reasons as well. Research has shown that there is often increased blood flow to the vagina during deep sleep (REM) cycles, in addition to vaginal swelling and lubrication. So even though vulva-havers don’t have “wood,” they still apparently experience the equivalent of “morning wood.” Their bodies are more ready for sex in the morning than they might be later in the day.

Morning Sex as a Stress Buster

The “sex hormones” testosterone and estrogen get most of the attention, but another hormone peaks in the morning hours as well: cortisol.

Cortisol is the so-called “stress hormone,” also known as the “fight-or-flight” hormone. It’s blamed for all sorts of issues, not just high stress levels but also high blood pressure, increased heart rate and increased amounts of glucose in the bloodstream. The body’s level of cortisol typically peaks in the morning, which is why you might feel more anxious early in the day.

What does that have to with morning sex? Stay with us for a moment. We’ll get there after a quick but important digression.

Many of the warm, positive feelings that people feel after orgasm are caused by the release of “feel-good” hormones and neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, prolactin, endorphins – and one other hormone, oxytocin. Oxytocin is often called the “cuddle hormone,” because it’s been found to foster positive emotions like empathy, bonding, trust and communication. If you’ve felt like spooning or cuddling after sex, you have increased levels of oxytocin to thank.

Now, back to cortisol. As it turns out, oxytocin also lowers the level of cortisol in the body. That makes morning the perfect time for the release of oxytocin that follows sex (or masturbation). The oxytocin reduces the high levels of cortisol naturally present when you wake up, letting you start the rest of the day with lower stress levels.

One final word about cortisol and oxytocin: immunity. Well, maybe we need more than one word to explain this one. High cortisol levels can compromise the body’s immune system, so when oxytocin lowers cortisol levels, it’s also helping to boost immunity. By the way, that’s not the only reason that morning sex helps the immune system. More frequent sex and sex early in the day have each been shown to boost the body’s levels of a key antibody, immunoglobulin A (IgA).

More Benefits of Morning Sex

Oxytocin and the rest of the feel-good hormones released during sex deserve more than the brief mentions we’ve given them so far. The release of those hormones boosts your mood and mental outlook, no matter what time of day it is. However, they seem to have their greatest impact in the morning, when you’re about to start work or a busy day.

For example, a recent study done by at Oregon State University’s College of Business examined the relationship between sexual behavior and job performance. It found that among married adults, participants’ job satisfaction and engagement with work increased when they’d had sex within the past 24 hours. Importantly, their improved job performance was observed “independent of the effects of marital satisfaction.” In other words, it was sex (and the resulting feel-good hormones) that put them in a better and more productive mood, not the quality of their home life.

A second survey (from a less “scientific” source – a mattress company) backs up those findings. Nearly 1000 people who were in a relationship and living with a partner were questioned; 53% of the penis-havers and 45% of the vulva-havers reported that they felt more productive on the days when they’d started their day by getting up close and very personal with their partner.

Sex also seems to improve cognitive performance. One 2010 study, for example, reported that regular and/or frequent sexual activity boosts the growth of cells in the part of the brain responsible for memory. The results aren’t specific to morning sex, but the research did show that abstaining from sex led to the disappearance of those new brain cells and the pathways they form. One natural conclusion: sex before work may help you deal with daytime tasks that require brainpower.

Two other studies also demonstrated a positive link between sex, memory and cognitive ability. The first, published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, showed that adults who had frequent sexual activity also had better memory performance. The second study, conducted at a British university, reached basically the same conclusion about sex and its effect on overall brain capacity and function.

The research we’ve mentioned looked primarily at the long-term benefits of regular sex, but there’s a day-to-day component to consider, too. When extra dopamine is released into the system after a morning orgasm, it apparently helps with critical thinking and decision making once you get to work.

And for those who believe that “it’s better to look good than it is to feel good,” there’s something for you in the morning sex goodie bag as well. The estrogen that’s released during sex play can help improve skin texture and tone, and the increase in blood flow triggered during sex provides more oxygen to the skin – giving you a healthier appearance when you get to the office. (If you haven’t guessed, that’s the reason many vulva-havers seem to “glow” after sex.)

An Early Morning Workout is Always Good

Fitness gurus and personal trainers certainly wouldn’t suggest substituting a morning tumble in the sack for a stop at the gym. Nevertheless, even the American Heart Association says that sex is equivalent to “mild to moderate” cardio exercise, meaning it’s not just a great way to start the day. It’s also good for heart health.

A number of studies have tried to measure the benefit of sexual activity as exercise. One found that healthy, younger penis-havers burn about 100 calories during sex, while the number is slightly lower for vulva-havers. Other researchers claim the number is even higher, around 250 calories for the first group and 200 calories for the second. Another study, though, says those numbers are somewhat high; it concluded that you burn about as many calories during sex as you do during a brisk walk. That’s still not too shabby; sex is more fun than walking.

If you’re serious about sex as exercise, stats compiled by the British company 24/7 Fitness can help you determine the best sex positions for calorie burning. Partners using the “squatting cowgirl” position supposedly burn about 75% more calories than those who use the standard missionary position, while doggy-style falls right in the middle. (Another fitness company that’s spent way too much time compiling statistics, Perfect Fit, says that oral sex can burn 100 calories per half hour.)

Morning Sex Can Be Better Sex

The human body needs sleep for many reasons, but one is particularly important for this discussion. A good night’s sleep allows the body to restore its energy levels, meaning you usually have the most energy to expend right after you wake up.

Needless to say, sex can be more energetic (and enjoyable) when you’re full of energy –and it’s probably going to be better than nighttime sex play, when you’ve just about exhausted the day’s energy store. Morning sex can also be more imaginative and creative, since both partners are working with a full tank.

Morning Sex is Worth the Effort

Even though morning is the best time for our bodies to have sex, our minds aren’t always on board.

We’ve been socialized to think that productive people are ready to attack the day as soon as their eyes pop open (even if they need a shower and cup of coffee to get up to speed). And we’ve “learned” that sex, on the other hand, is a nighttime activity. (Weekends or vacations may be the exceptions that prove the rule.)

So some mental recalibration may be necessary, if you’re tempted by all the potential benefits of morning sex. Here are some suggestions.

  • Plan ahead: You may want to get it on as soon as you wake up, but your partner may not be ready to go without warning. Discuss the possibility of morning sex with your significant other ahead of time. That way they won’t be surprised – or even worse, unresponsive – if you start to get frisky when “it’s time to get the kids ready for school.” If necessary, make plans with your partner to go to bed a little earlier the night before, or to set the alarm 30 minutes earlier than usual.
  • Allow time for foreplay or fantasy: Putting morning sex on the menu doesn’t guarantee that you’ll both be ready for action the moment you’ve woken up. Even if it’s only going to be a quickie, make sure to allot enough time to get aroused before the main event.
  • Be prepared: You may usually wake up with dreaded morning breath, or with your hair and face a mess. That can be a downer when you’re trying to get yourself and/or your partner in an amorous mood, so take steps ahead of time to deal with the problems. Shave at night; put your hair up before bed or keep a mirror and brush on your nightstand; keep some mints nearby. Oh, and you might want to invest in a coffeemaker with a timer, so you can save a few precious minutes that are better spent in bed than in the kitchen.
  • Be flexible: One of you may wake up with a headache, or a sore back, or simply not in the mood. There’s no harm in putting off sex for the next day; even a few minutes spent cuddling can release oxytocin and provide many of the benefits you’d get from morning sex.

If you’re unable to convince your partner to give morning sex a try, all is not lost. A solo masturbation session lets you enjoy most of the same benefits. So if you’re on different time schedules that make hooking up in the morning difficult – or if your partner just isn’t interested in “making hay” while the sun is shining – just get out the lube and your favorite vibrator from Dame Products. Even solo morning sex will ensure that the coming day will be a bright one.