More Evidence That Sex Could Be Good For Your Brain

Research on both humans and animals increasingly suggests that being sexually active just might benefit the brain. Here's an overview of the evidence that has accumulated so far:

  • A 2010 study on male rats discovered a link between sexual activity and neuron growth [1]. Specifically, rats that were allowed to have sex daily over a two-week period demonstrated more neuron growth than rats that were only allowed to have sex once during that time.
  • A 2013 study—which also focused on male rats—found that daily sexual activity was linked not only to generation of more new neurons, but also to enhanced cognitive function [2].
  • A 2016 study examined how the sexual practices of almost 7,000 adults aged 50-89 related to their performance on a number sequencing task (which measures executive functions such as problem-solving) and a word recall task (which measures memory ability) [3]. Both men and women who had engaged in any kind of sex over the past year had higher scores on the word recall test. In addition, for men only, being sexually active was linked to better performance on the number sequencing task.
  • A 2017 study explored how sexual activity was linked to performance on a common memory task among 78 heterosexual women aged 18-29 [4]. Researchers looked to see whether their frequency of sexual intercourse was associated with memory while controlling for several other factors, including grade point average, menstrual cycle phase, oral contraceptive use, and relationship length. What they found was that women who had more frequent sexual intercourse evidenced better recall of abstract words.
  • A 2018 study involving over 6,000 adults aged 50+ looked at how sexual frequency was linked to performance on two episodic memory tasks administered two years apart [5]. Those who had more frequent sex had better performance on the memory test. Interestingly, more emotional closeness during sex was linked to better memory performance as well. That said, memory performance declined for everyone over the course of the study and sexual activity did not prevent this decline. In other words, sex was linked to a higher baseline level of memory performance, but it didn't necessarily ward off cognitive decline in older age. 

In sum, even if sex doesn't necessarily prevent memory loss later in life, this overall pattern of results would still seem to suggest that sex may be beneficial for our brains.

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[1] Leuner, B., Glasper, E. R., & Gould, E. (2010). Sexual experience promotes adult neurogenesis in the hippocampus despite an initial elevation in stress hormones. PLoS One5(7), e11597.

[2] Glasper, E. R., & Gould, E. (2013). Sexual experience restores age‐related decline in adult neurogenesis and hippocampal function. Hippocampus23(4), 303-312.

[3] Wright, H., & Jenks, R. A. (2016). Sex on the brain! Associations between sexual activity and cognitive function in older age. Age and ageing45(2), 313-317.

[4] Maunder, L., Schoemaker, D., & Pruessner, J. C. (2017). Frequency of Penile–Vaginal Intercourse is Associated with Verbal Recognition Performance in Adult Women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 46(2), 441-453.

[5] Allen, M. S. (2018). Sexual Activity and Cognitive Decline in Older Adults. Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Image Source: 123RF/Aleksandr Solovev

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