Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock
Source: Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock

You’re probably familiar with the standard prescriptions for longevity: Don't smoke. Exercise daily. Eat a low-fat, low-calorie diet. Get at least seven hours of sleep a night. Don’t abuse alcohol or other drugs. And cultivate emotional closeness with friends and family.

But there's one more recommendation that should be added to the list—make love regularly.

English researchers surveyed the sexual frequency of 918 reasonably healthy male residents of the Welsh village, Caerphilly, who were 45 to 59 when the study began (1979-83). A decade later, they checked back with the men, when they were aged 55 to 69. Of the group studied, 150 had died—67 from heart attack and 83 from other causes. The researchers then correlated the men’s sexual frequency as reported in the original survey with their death or survival 10 years later. Compared with men who had had sex just once a month, those who reported having it twice a week had only half the death rate. For the entire group, as an individual's sexual frequency increased, his risk of death decreased.

When this study was published, critics pounced, arguing that sex is a sign of good health, so it probably wasn’t the sex that extended the men’s lives, but the fact that they were healthier to begin with, and as a result, had more sex.

Perhaps, but among the men with the highest and lowest sexual frequencies, there were no significant differences in smoking, weight, blood pressure, or heart disease. So compared with the least sexual men, the most sexual did not appear to be significantly healthier.

The only health difference involved cholesterol — some men were high, others low. But we would expect the men with the highest cholesterol to have a higher death rate from heart attack. In fact, high-cholesterol men in the group with the greatest sexual frequency had among the lowest death rates from heart disease. The researchers’ conclusion: In middle-aged men, regular sex helps prevent death.

This conclusion contradicts a good deal of traditional advice about health and well-being. The Apostle Paul wrote: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” In traditional Indian and Chinese culture, ejaculation was viewed as a drain on a man's vitality. As men grew older, they were told to ejaculate less and less. In French, orgasm is called, “le petit mort,” the little death.

But the medical literature sides with the British study, and two other studies show that greater sexual frequency is associated with healthier, longer life. Swedish researchers studied 392 elderly residents of Gothenburg (166 men, 226 women) from age 70 until 75. There was a significant association between death and cessation of sexual activity. In another study, researchers compared the sex lives of 100 women who'd had heart attacks and 100 who hadn’t. Prior to their heart attacks, the women with heart disease had been much less satisfied with their sex lives.

Why would sex prolong life? There are several possible explanations:

• Frequent sex means an intimate relationship. Many studies show that close personal ties enhance health and extend longevity.

• Sex is exercise, and regular exercise is a cornerstone of health.

• Sex is relaxing. Many studies show that a regular stress-management regimen is good for health.

• Frequent sex improves immune function. At Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, researchers surveyed 111 young adults about their frequency of partner sex, and then tested their saliva for a key component of the immune system, immunoglobulin A (IgA). Compared with participants who reported partner sex less than once a week, those who had sex once or twice a week had significantly higher IgA levels.

This research adds new spin to the slogan Nike uses to promote its sneakers: “Just do it.” Yes, do it. Sex is good for you—and it just might prolong your life.

References

Charnetski, C. and F.X. Brennan. “Sexual Frequency and Salivary Immunoglobulin A (IgA),” Psychological Reports (2004) 94:839.

Davey-Smith, G. et al. “Sex and Death: Are They Related? Findings for the Caerphilly Cohort Study,” BMJ (1997) 315(7123):1641.

Persson, G. “Five-Year Mortality in a 70-Year-Old Urban Population in Relation to Psychiatric Diagnosis, Personality, Sexuality and Early Parental Death,” Acta Psychiatr. Scand. (1981) 64:244.

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