Sex When You're Old: Weekly Romp Boosts Brain Power of Over 50s

older couple
Older people who have more sex have better brain function than those who do not, study finds. Patrick/Flickr

Having lots of sex when you get older boosts brain power, scientists have discovered, with people who have regular sexual relations scoring better on verbal, visual and spatial perception tests.

A team of researchers from the universities of Oxford and Coventry, U.K., carried out a study on 28 men and 45 women aged between 50 and 83. The participants were asked about their sex lives, including how often, on average, they had had intercourse over the last 12 months. Answers included never, monthly and weekly.

They were also asked questions about their general health and lifestyle, and undertook a test that measured their brain function. This test assessed attention, memory, fluency, language and visual and special abilities. For example, for the verbal test they were asked to name as many animals possible in 60 seconds.

The study findings, published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological and Social Sciences , showed men and women who had sex on a weekly basis scored higher on the visual, spatial and verbal tests than those who had sex monthly or never. There was no difference in scores for attention, memory and language.

Previous research has shown that sexually active older adults scored higher on cognitive tests than those who were not. The latest study builds on this, providing details on the impact of frequency and which brain functions benefit most.

Why sex provides a cognitive boost is not yet known. "We can only speculate whether this is driven by social or physical elements," lead researcher Hayley Wright, from Coventry University, said in a statement. "But an area we would like to research further is the biological mechanisms that may influence this."

The team thinks the hormones dopamine and oxytocin could influence the relationship between sex and brain function. Previously, scientists have linked enhanced dopamine secretion to improved cognitive skills—and sexual activity is thought to increase dopamine secretion.

"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," Wright said.

"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."

The authors conclude: "Aside from the possible biological underpinnings, this aligns with literature showing neuroprotective properties of increased social, physical, and mental engagement in later life. At this time, we can only speculate that continued engagement in regular sexual activity may have a positive influence on cognitive function, but whether sexual activity contributes to cognitive function above and beyond social and physical factors is a question for future research. Nevertheless, the findings have important implications for the maintenance of intimate relationships in later life."