Fear Of Flying? New Study Says A Little Nookie Nookie Is The Cure

Open Jaw

Could it be that the secret to getting over a crippling fear of flying is as simple as a night of good sex? According to a new study, that just might be the case.


It’s no secret that many people are trepidous about stepping onboard an aircraft despite the tremendous odds that they will safely step off again at the end of their flight. There are many therapies available to help with fear of flying, but a new Science Daily study, that actually has nothing to do with sex or flying, says the philosophy is about memory consolidation. And, veteran airline pilot-turned licensed therapist Tom Bunn is a proponent of the sexy cure, thanks to both anecdotal evidence and science. 

“I had a male client who said he had a fear of flying for 7 years,” says Bunn, who founded the  SOARprogram to help people with a fear of flying. “Every time he flew he was totally miserable, except for one time when, before he came back from a business trip, he hooked up with someone. He said they didn’t get any sleep.They made love all night long and he dragged himself out of bed onto the airplane and had a perfectly anxiety-free flight.”

Why is that? The passenger might have been too physically exhausted from the previous night’s activities (and the next day’s incessant smiling and strutting through the airport) to worry about being afraid of flying. But the answer might also have to do with science, specifically that new study Bunn says explains why certain people are totally freaked out by the fear of flying. He also thinks the study also explains how to cure that ailment — a cure that might just involve some sexy time.

The study, by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and published in  Science Daily, explores why people who have experienced chronic stress throughout their lives are more susceptible to post-traumatic stress after a particular incident. It all has to do with memory consolidation — the process by which our brains process and record traumatic events.


“When something happens to you, if you don’t consolidate the memory, you don’t remember it,” Bunn says. “When some people get on a plane and have a turbulent flight, they forget about it [afterwards]. And it’s not that they try to forget about it. They just don’t consolidate that memory.”

But the new research suggests that those who suffer from anxiety are expert consolidators. According to the MIT study, animals that underwent chronic stress prior to a traumatic experience consolidated bad experiences quicker and more thoroughly than non-stressed animals. Researchers say that’s because anxious brains become much more sensitive to serotonin, a chemical that helps etch memories onto the brain. The researchers says those quickly and vividly-implanted memories often lead to flashbacks, nightmares, and panic — key symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

Bunn says that’s absolutely true in airplane passengers. “Anybody who’s got anxiety in their lives when they get on a plane is more likely to produce post-traumatic stress,” he says. “A bad flight that another person might forget about, they don’t forget about; it becomes carved in stone.“And when, a week later, they think about getting on an airplane, they go right into a panic attack.”


Bunn says your body can do that by producing another chemical: oxytocin, a hormone that plays a big role in sex and reproduction by bonding us to other humans. It also shuts down the part of the brain, the amygdala, where serotonin does its dirty work to help consolidate fearful memories. And, oxytocin is produced right before and right after you’ve had sex.


Bunn believes oxytocin’s fear-suppressing ability was the key factor in his client’s post-coital, anxiety-free flight. “He was still producing oxytocin because of his intense, all-night experience,” Bunn theorizes. “Maybe he was still picking up her scent. But whatever it was, he produced oxytocin through the whole flight. He was fine.”

Not that Bunn’s prescription for curing flight-related PTSD involves simply getting some action (then again, it certainly doesn’t hurt). He says linking sexual memories, even ones that aren’t so powerful, to thoughts of flying can have tremendous effect. If you suffer from debilitating fears of flying, and/or freak out during turbulence, it might be worth a try. Plus, when compared to other fear-reducing techniques like talk therapy or hypnosis, thinking of a night of good sex is a heck of a lot more fun.


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