For Once, Something Fun is Good For You, Too

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It improves the immune system, lowers blood pressure, reduces the risk of a heart attack, relieves pain, improves sleep and eases stress.

That’s quite a collection of benefits for one activity. Better still, it’s something people look forward to and enjoy (so you know it can’t be exercise).

It’s sex.

Now a new study has found another benefit to add to the list. Regular sexual pleasure helps keep your brain in good shape and preserves memory.

The link between sexual activity and cognition is not well researched.

A rodent study in 2010 compared a single act of sexual intercourse over a two-week period to daily intercourse over the same period. Those mating every day experienced a growth of neurons in the hippocampus, a key area for memory.

In humans, an Italian study of older men found those who remained sexually active had better overall cognition.

That’s it. There’s not a lot else in the medical literature.

First Study to Explore Sex Effects on Cognition in Seniors

This dearth of studies encouraged two researchers from Coventry University in the UK to look more deeply into this relationship.

To do this, they analyzed data gathered from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), an ongoing UK survey of health and lifestyle information that began in 2002.

The sample included 3,060 men and 3,773 women aged 50 to 89 who were asked about their sexual activity in the previous 12 months. They had to answer “yes” or “no” as to whether they took part in intercourse, masturbation, fondling or petting.

The participants also took two types of cognitive test: word recall and number sequencing.

In the word recall (memory) test, ten words are spoken to the subject. He or she is then asked to recall them immediately and then again after five minutes have passed.

In the number sequencing test, a list of numbers is given and the participant has to fill in the blank e.g. 37, 26, 17, _, 5, 2. This tests a type of thinking skill called executive function.

In carrying out the analysis the researchers took a number of confounding factors into account that could influence the result, such as age, education, wealth, physical activity etc.

Sexually Active People Have Better Memories

The outcome was that men who answered “yes” scored 23% and 3% higher on the word and number tests respectively compared to those who answered “no.” For women the scores were 14% and 2% higher.

In men, these findings remained even after confounding factors were accounted for. But in women the finding held up only for the memory test.

The researchers believe this gender difference could be explained by hormone differences and their effects on brain development that go back before birth. These can affect us throughout life.

Since the question regarding sexual activity was wide ranging, the researchers could not be sure whether a biological or social effect was being measured.

Sex hormones and neurotransmitters are known to influence some cognitive functions. Then again the better memory could be a social phenomenon due to heightened levels of companionship or intimacy. Or it could be a combination of both.

Co-author Dr Hayley Wright said, “It is possible that we will find different results with different types of sexual activity – but we can’t comment on this from our initial analysis. We are however, currently exploring this in our follow-up study, so watch this space.”

By the way, if you’re a male and experiencing problems “down there” – including prostate problems or low testosterone – you may want to consider our excellent book Maximum Manhood. It deals with all aspects of this subject and has some useful, practical advice.

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