The legendary rockers of the American band KISS may not have been so far off when they belted out, “Baby, I know what your problem is…the first step of the cure is a kiss!” in their hit single, “Calling Dr. Love.” They couldn’t have known it at the time, but current relationship scientists may now agree with Gene Simmons’ medical claims. There might be a little something special to that kiss.
It doesn’t have to be a kiss, of course. Recently, researchers explored couples’ physical intimacy and its association with physical symptoms (e.g., aches, sickness, insomnia) over a period of approximately one month.1 This way, they could measure within-person changes, or how any given individual’s reports of intimacy and symptoms fluctuated as time passed. For example, how much do Gene’s physical complaints change as the month goes by, depending on the loving he gets? In this study, both members of 82 healthy couples completed diary records every night about their level of physical intimacy and the physical symptoms they experienced for a period of 35 days. Diary records are typically short surveys that participants complete after regular intervals of time or after specific events occur.
The researchers then used a special type of data analysis to see if engaging in more physical intimacy with one’s significant other on one day would result in fewer physical symptoms on the following days. Indeed, this turned out to be the case. If our lyrical Lothario Gene Simmons and his eager partner are more physically intimate than usual one day, he would be less likely to suffer bodily complaints that day and the following day. This could be because physical intimacy has been shown to lower blood pressure and cortisol levels while simultaneously boosting helpful body chemicals such as oxytocin and serotonin. Who knows? With reports pegging him at around 4,600 sexual conquests, Gene probably doesn’t even need medical insurance.
The researchers also found that a change in physical symptoms didn’t affect future physical intimacy. In addition, they also learned that less physical intimacy did not lead to more physical ailments in the future. (Nope, can’t use “Sleep with me, or I’ll get sick” as a pick-up line; science says it’s a no-no.) In other words, if Gene’s physical symptoms changed over time, this difference would be due to getting more sexy action, not a lack of it. Our guess is he isn’t familiar with this concept of “lack” anyway, so don’t worry too much about him.
Thus, if you’re looking for a little relief from the little aches and pains of daily life, the cure isn’t necessarily in your medicine cabinet. Healing can be as easy as indulging in some physical affection, though it’s up to you to choose who plays your doctor. Perhaps the proper bedside manner is even more important than we previously thought.
Forget the old standby of “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.” Paging Dr. Love, anyone?
1Stadler, G., Snyder, K.A., Horn, A.B., Shrout, P.E., & Bolger, N.P. (2012). Close relationships and health in daily life: A review and empirical data on intimacy and somatic symptoms. Psychosomatic Medicine, 74(4), 398-409. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0b013e31825473b8
Dr. Helen Lee Lin – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Helen’s past research has focused on potential problems in relationships, such as keeping secrets from a significant other. She is also interested in communication as well as the use and consumption of media in relationships, and is planning to work in applied contexts for her future projects.