Staying sexually active after age 50 – and into the golden years – might be good for the brain, scientists say.
In a study of almost 7,000 adults between the ages of 50 and 89, researchers from Coventry University in the United Kingdom found that sexually active men and women had improved cognitive function compared to those who did not have regular sex.
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The participants performed two tests. One was a number sequencing task. The other was a memory test involving word recall.
The scientists took a number of factors into account, including education levels, financial wealth, physical activity, depression, and loneliness.
Study subjects were considered sexually active if they had engaged in intercourse, masturbation, petting, or fondling during the previous twelve months. The average age of sexually-active participants was 64 years. Sexually-inactive participants were a bit older, with an average age of 73.
Overall, sexually-active men and women performed better on the tasks than their sexually-inactive counterparts.
For the men, sexual activity was significantly associated with better performance on the number sequencing and word recall tests. But for the women, the association was significant for the recall task only.
Why were the results different for men and women? “Gender differences in cognitive function may be underpinned by sex differences in brain development and structure,” the authors wrote. It’s possible that the physiological aspects of sex, such as hormones, might affect men’s and women’s brains differently and, in turn, influence their cognitive function.
More research is needed, however. The scientists noted that their study is a “starting point” and might spur healthcare providers to talk with their older patients about sexual health.
Age and Ageing
Wright, Hayley and Rebecca A. Jenks
“Sex on the brain! Associations between sexual activity and cognitive function in older age”
(Full-text. First published online: January 28, 2016)