For some species of insects, sexual activity significantly shortens life. Sexual activity often equals reproduction, which can actually be protective against some conditions (for example, breast cancer).
So, is there a consensus about the impact of sexual activity on human lifespan? We will explore some research to provide insight on the topic.
Sexually Transmitted DiseasesRisky sex and the diseases associated with it are a contributor to premature mortality in many areas of the world. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), although not solely sexually transmitted, remains among the world’s top ten causes of death. Human papilloma virus (HPV), another sexually transmitted microorganism, is associated with cervical, vaginal, anal, and head and neck cancers. However, modern medicine and contraception are widely available in developed areas of the world.
Sex and Heart DiseaseIn most developed countries, cardiovascular disease leads the list in mortality causes. While regular exercise is known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and aid in rehabilitation, some heart disease patients are afraid to engage in sexual activity. Is the fear justified?
In a study reported in 2015, researchers at Ulm University analyzed sexual activity during the 12 months prior to a heart attack among 536 patients.2 Compared to having sex less than once per week, subjects who had sex more frequently had a 56% lower rate of subsequent cardiovascular events, including fatal and nonfatal heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular death, per 1,000 patient-years after adjustment for age, smoking status, physical activity and other factors.
To help answer the question concerning whether sexual activity might trigger heart attack, the researchers found that only three patients reported engaging in sex within an hour before their heart attack, none within one to two hours, and 1.5% within 3 to 6 hours. Seventy-eight percent reported engaging in their last sexual activity at least 24 hours prior to the event.
A study that involved 1,274 men and 605 women with a history of heart attack found that mortality during the first year following the event was 2.1% for those who reported engaging in sexual activity within one month after their heart attack, compared to 4.1% among those who were inactive, leading the researchers to conclude that mortality was not significantly increased in those who were sexually active soon after their event.3
Note: As discussed in the Life Extension protocol about Erectile Dysfunction, the underlying physiology of erectile function is tied very closely to cardiovascular health.4 Cardiovascular disease accounts for up to 80% of erectile dysfunction cases. Atherosclerosis, the most common vascular disease, impedes blood flow to the penis. Cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure contribute to endothelial dysfunction, which is the most common contributing mechanism to erectile dysfunction overall.
Sexual Satisfaction and FrequencyIn an article whose title asks the question, “Sex and death: are they related?”, researchers from the University of Bristol describe findings from 918 men who were between the ages of 45 to 59 years upon enrollment in the Caerphilly Cohort Study.5 Over a ten year follow-up period, men who reported a low frequency of orgasm, defined as less than one per month, had double the age-adjusted risk of dying from any cause than men whose frequency was reported as high at twice per week or more. The adjusted risk of coronary heart disease mortality was more than twice as high among those with a low frequency. An increase in 100 orgasms per year was associated with a 36% reduction in the risk of death over follow up.
In their summary of the study’s key messages, authors G. Davey Smith and colleagues remark that “These findings contrast with the view common to many cultures that the pleasure of sexual intercourse may be secured at the cost of vigor and wellbeing.”
Among women, a 25-year longitudinal study of aging found that the strongest predictors of longevity were health satisfaction, physical function rating and past enjoyment of intercourse.6 These combined predictors were associated with a difference in longevity of 23 years.
The Bottom LineThese recent studies contradict traditional beliefs that associate sexual activity with weakness and ill health. While a causative role for sex in longevity has not been identified, a number of suggestions have been offered. These include the benefits of exercise, such as improved circulation, blood pressure, immunity and cholesterol, lower stress levels and better sleep. Oxytocin, a hormone released during sexual activity and orgasm by both men and women is associated with relationship bonding, improved wound healing, less anxiety, and more.7
While science has yet to confirm causation for sexual activity in longer life, many people would be happier to face a lifetime of regularly engaging in this potential contributor than, say, consuming kale or running on a treadmill. Although, of course, sex isn’t a replacement for a healthy diet and exercise. Rather, sex can be an enjoyable addition to a healthy lifestyle.
If you choose to explore this option, please do so safely to help create the best conditions to enhance your own longevity and that of your partner.
- World Health Organization, “World Health Statistics 2016.” http://www.who.int/gho/publications/world_health_statistics/2016/en/ Accessed January 13, 2016.
- Rothenbacher D et al. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015 Sep 29;66(13):1516-1517.
- Lindau ST et al. Am J Cardiol. 2012 May 15;109(10):1439-1444.
- Smith GD et al. BMJ. 1997 Dec 20; 315(7123): 1641–1644.Palmore EB et al. Gerontologist.
- 1982 Dec ;22(6):513-518.
- Gouin JP et al. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2010 Aug; 35(7):1082–1090.
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