Sexual expression and cognitive function: gender-divergent associations in older adults

Hayley Wright, Rebecca Jenks, David Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Prior research demonstrates a positive association between sexual activity and cognitive function in later life. However, the relationship between the type of sexual activity and cognitive function in older adulthood remains unclear. This study explored the associations between the frequency of engaging in different types of sexual activities (intercourse, masturbation, and kissing/petting/fondling) and cognitive function in older women and men. Using data from Wave 6 of the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA), 1915 women and 2195 men (age range 50–89 years; n = 4110) reporting any type of sexual activity over the past 12 months were included in the study. Multiple regression controlling for age, education, satisfaction with sex life, cohabiting, wealth, general health, physical activity, depression, and loneliness was used to explore the associations between the frequency of engagement in intercourse, masturbation, and kissing/petting/fondling, and two measures of cognitive function: word recall and number sequencing. For women, masturbation was linked to better word recall (p =.008), while for men, kissing/petting/fondling was associated with better number sequencing (p =.035). In women (p =.016) and men (p =.018), dissatisfaction with sex life was associated with better number sequencing. The results point to gendered links between sexual activity and cognitive function. These gender-related divergences may reflect differences in biological/neurological mechanisms, or in cognitive lifestyle factors that could influence cognitive reserve in later life. This novel study underscores the need to delineate the underlying mechanisms of the association between sex and cognition in men and women.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)941-951
Number of pages11
JournalArchives of Sexual Behavior
Volume49
Issue number3
Early online date27 Aug 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020

Keywords

  • Cognition
  • ELSA
  • Gender differences
  • Later life
  • Sexual activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)

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