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How Sex Is Linked to Your Brain as You Age

Sexual activity and cognitive function are related in older adults.

Erika Witlieb/Pixabay, used with permission.
Source: Erika Witlieb/Pixabay, used with permission.

In 2016, researchers at Coventry University in the UK published the results of their research showing older men and women who are sexually active consistently score higher on cognitive function tests than those who are not active. In June 2017, the same researchers published the results of a follow-up study designed to identify which cognitive functions, specifically, were improved and whether more frequent sexual activity was related to a higher level of improvement. For the purposes of these studies, sexual activity was defined as petting/fondling, intercourse, or masturbation.

Seventy-three study participants (aged 50 to 83 years) completed questionnaires involving health, lifestyle, and sexual frequency, as well as Addenbrooke’s Cognitive Examination III (ACE-III) to measure attention, memory, fluency, language, and visuospatial ability. The results of this second study confirmed the general findings of the first and went further to show that sexually active men and women had increased scores specifically in the areas of verbal fluency and visuospatial ability.

In verbal fluency tests, participants are given a specific category and must come up with as many relevant words as possible within a limited time. For instance, coming up with as many words as they can that begin with F in 60 seconds. One’s verbal fluency measures specific areas of executive function in the brain. Visuospatial ability can be measured by tasks such as drawing or recalling the placement of items from memory.

The researchers suspect the biological reason for this link between sexual activity and specific areas of cognition is related to dopamine, the neurotransmitter that regulates pleasurable emotions and pushes us to seek out activities that make us feel good. Sexual activity is known to increase the production of dopamine, which also moderates working memory, focus, and attention, and controls the flow of information throughout the brain.

The potential cognitive advantages of remaining sexually active are in keeping with the benefits of maintaining other social, physical and mental activities as you age, the researchers point out. However, there’s also good news for those who don’t have active sex lives: The study participants had similar scores on attention, memory and language tests, regardless of whether or not and how often they engaged in sexual activity.


Wright H, Jenks R, Demeyere N. Frequent sexual activity predicts specific cognitive abilities in older adults. The Journals of Gerontology Series B. June 21, 2017.

Wright H, Jenks R. Sex on the brain! Associations between sexual activity and cognitive function in older age. Age and Aging. March 2016;45(2):313-317.

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