Sex on the brain! Associations between sexual activity and cognitive function in older age

H. Wright, R. Jenks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Abstract

Background: the relationship between cognition and sexual activity in healthy older adults is under-researched. A limited amount of research in this area has shown that sexual activity is associated with better cognition in older men. The current study explores the possible mediating factors in this association in men and women, and attempts to provide an explanation in terms of physiological influences on cognitive function. Methods: using newly available data from Wave 6 of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, the current study explored associations between sexual activity and cognition in adults aged 50–89 (n = 6,833). Two different tests of cognitive function were analysed: number sequencing, which broadly relates to executive function, and word recall, which broadly relates to memory. Results: after adjusting for age, education, wealth, physical activity, depression, cohabiting, self-rated health, loneliness and quality of life, there were significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing and recall in men. However, in women there was a significant association between sexual activity and recall, but not number sequencing. Conclusions: possible mediators of these associations (e.g. neurotransmitters) are discussed. The cross-sectional nature of the analysis is limiting, but provides a promising avenue for future explorations and longitudinal studies. The findings have implications for the promotion of sexual counseling in healthcare settings, where maintaining a healthy sex life in older age could be instrumental in improving cognitive function and well-being.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-317
JournalAge and Ageing
Volume45
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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Bibliographical note

© The Author 2016. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Geriatrics Society.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution
Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/), which permits noncommercial
re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is
properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact journals.permissions@oup.com

Keywords

  • cognition
  • sexual activity
  • ageing
  • gender differences
  • English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA)
  • older people

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