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05 July 2017

Study links active sex life to improved brain function

 

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We’ve all been there: you want to have sex but you also feel like you probably ought to do some sudokus to improve your cognitive function instead. It’s quite the dilemma.

But feel conflicted no more, because a new study has concluded that sex makes you smarter.

Specifically, in older people, regular sexual activity is linked to keeping your brain sharp.

“Sexual relationships in later life are… not just important for sex per se, [they are] impacting on other factors, in this case cognitive function,” said lead researcher Dr Hayley Wright from Coventry University’s centre for research in psychology, behaviour and achievement.

Researchers from the Universities of Oxford and Coventry asked 73 participants – 28 men and 45 women – aged between 50 and 83 about their sexual activity.

37 said they had sex weekly, 26 monthly and 10 never.

Brain function of the participants was then assessed, and the researchers found that those who had sex the most often scored on average two percentage points higher in some tasks than those who had sex monthly and four points higher than those who never had sex.

The study, published in the The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological and Social Sciences, concluded that having regular sex had the biggest impact on verbal fluency tests – for example, naming as many words or animals beginning with the letter F as possible in one minute.

The most sexually active people also did better in visual tests too, such as copying from a complex pictorial design or drawing a clock face from memory, although this was too a lesser extent than the verbal fluency tests.

There was no real difference when it came to the participants’ performance in memory, language and attentiveness tests though.

The study authors are not certain why the link between sexual activity and brainpower exists, but they suggest that sex is linked to the secretion of neurohormones such as dopamine or oxytocin that transmit signals in the brain. More research needs to be done though.

The findings emerge as new figures from Match, who are launching a dating site for the older generation called Ourtime, reveal that 24 per cent of over 50s say they’d sleep with a new partner within one month of dating, compared to just 18 percent of 18-24-year-olds.

“We can only speculate whether this is driven by social or physical elements – but an area we would like to research further is the biological mechanisms that may influence this,” said Dr Wright.

“Every time we do another piece of research we are getting a little bit closer to understanding why this association exists at all, what the underlying mechanisms are, and whether there is a  ‘cause and effect’ relationship between sexual activity and cognitive function in older people.

“People don’t like to think that older people have sex – but we need to challenge this conception at a societal level and look at what impact sexual activity can have on those aged 50 and over, beyond the known effects on sexual health and general wellbeing.”

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