GOT some public speaking to do? Here is a tip to keep stress at bay: have sex beforehand. But make sure it's penetrative sex - the magic vanishes if you pursue other forms of sexual gratification.
Stuart Brody, a psychologist at the University of Paisley, UK, compared the impact of different sexual activities on blood pressure when a person later experiences acute stress. For a fortnight, 24 women and 22 men kept diaries of how often they engaged in penile-vaginal intercourse (PVI), masturbation or partnered sexual activity excluding intercourse. After, the volunteers underwent a stress test involving public speaking and mental arithmetic out loud.
Volunteers who'd had PVI but none of the other kinds of sex were least stressed, and their blood pressure returned to normal faster than those who'd only masturbated or had non-coital sex. Those who abstained had the highest blood-pressure response to stress (Biological Psychology, vol 71, p 214).
Brody also made psychological measurements of neuroticism and anxiety in the volunteers, as well as work stress and partnership satisfaction. Even taking these factors into account, differences in sexual behaviour provided the best explanation for the range of stress responses. "The effects are not attributable simply to the short-term relief afforded by orgasm, but rather, endure for at least a week," says Brody. He speculates that release of the "pair-bonding" hormone oxytocin between partners might account for the calming effect.