- Many men experience declines in erectile function, sexual satisfaction, and cognition in middle age.
- Researchers found a connection between decreased sexual satisfaction and a decrease in cognitive performance.
- Monitoring sexual satisfaction could help physicians identify increased risk of experiencing memory loss.
A recent study led by researchers at Penn State University has tied a decline in erectile function and sexual satisfaction in middle-aged men to a future decline in cognitive skills and memory loss. While it is well known that men generally begin to experience changes in erectile function, sexual satisfaction, and cognition in middle age, this is the first time any study has linked sexual health and satisfaction levels to cognitive health and performance.
Rather than focus on the quantifiable aspects of male sexuality, such as how often the participants engaged in sexual activities or with how many partners they had in a given period of time, the researchers were interested in understanding how the men felt about their own sex lives. They found that decreases in erectile function resulted in psychological distress and sexual dissatisfaction and were associated with memory decline.
The researchers looked at survey data from more than 800 older men in order to assess whether and, if so, how physical and psychological changes related to their sexual ability were connected to changes in cognitive performance. The study participants were surveyed at mean ages of 56, 61, and 68. The researchers assessed erectile function and sexual satisfaction using the International Index of Erectile Function. At the same time they assessed cognitive performance with standard testing of episodic memory, executive function, and processing speed.
Over the 12-year study period, the researchers charted relationships between erectile function/dysfunction and sexual satisfaction alongside increased or decreased cognitive function to determine whether there was a connection. Since many men could have similar sexual situations but different attitudes toward them, the researchers were most interested in individual participants’ state of mind and level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their sex lives and how their individual levels of satisfaction affected their cognitive functions.
The results of the study showed that lower erectile function at initial assessment was associated with poor cognitive performance and faster decline of memory processing speed over time. During initial assessment, however, the researchers also found that baseline sexual satisfaction had no bearing on cognitive performance. Only a decline in sexual satisfaction over the course of the study was associated with a decline in memory,
While it turns out that the connection between decreased sexual satisfaction and decreased cognitive performance is strong, researchers have yet to determine the specific cause. But they say that monitoring erectile function in middle-aged men could help physicians identify, counsel, and treat men who are at increased risk of cognitive decline before they reach the age of 70.
When it comes to preserving men’s physical and mental health and quality of life as they age, the researchers suggest, ongoing sexual satisfaction could be as important as maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine.
Slayday RE, Bell TR, Lyons MJ, et al. Erectile function, sexual satisfaction, and cognitive decline in men from midlife to older adulthood. The Gerontologist. March 2023; 63(2): 382-394.
Penn State. "Low sexual satisfaction linked to memory decline later in life." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 May 2023.