Associations between cognitive function and sexual activities in later life

Hayley Wright, David Lee, Rebecca Jenks

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Research has shown significant associations between sexual activity and cognitive function in later life. Wright and Jenks (2016) showed that sexually active older adults performed better on memory and number sequencing tasks than those who were not sexually active. In that study ‘sexual activity’ included petting/fondling, masturbation and sexual intercourse, so it remains unclear whether all sexual activities are associated with cognitive function to the same degree.

We do not yet know whether the social elements (i.e., intimacy, companionship, emotional closeness), or biological correlates (e.g. hormone changes, surges in oxytocin or dopamine) of sexual activity are associated with better cognitive function. The current study explores the predictive effects of petting, masturbation and intercourse, as well as overall satisfaction with sex life, on two measures of cognitive function in men and women over the age of 50 years, in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA).

Preliminary results show that masturbation and sexual satisfaction are significantly associated with better word recall in women, whereas sexual intercourse and sexual satisfaction are significantly associated with better number sequencing in men. Interestingly, none of the measures of sexual activity or satisfaction were significantly associated with either number sequencing in women, or word recall in men.

We discuss these results in relation to the social and biological correlates of specific sexual activities, and consider possible mechanisms through which sexuality may have differential effects on brain function. We also review the implications of our research in the context of sexual health provision for older adults.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2017
EventBritish Society of Gerontology 46th Annual Conference: Do Not Go Gentle - Gerontology and a Good Old Age - Centre for Innovative Ageing, Swansea University, Swansea, United Kingdom
Duration: 5 Jul 20177 Jul 2017


ConferenceBritish Society of Gerontology 46th Annual Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


Dive into the research topics of 'Associations between cognitive function and sexual activities in later life'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this