Can Good Sex Keep You Young?
How Sex May Keep You Young
One of the first longitudinal studies of aging begun at Duke
University in the '50s and reported in the December 1982 journal
Gerontologist found that the frequency of sexual intercourse (for men)
and the enjoyment of sex (for women) predicted longevity. Other studies have
found that sexual dissatisfaction was a predictor of the onset of
cardiovascular disease. A study published in the November-December 1976 journal
Psychosomatic Medicine compared 100 women with heart disease (acute
myocardial infarction) with a control group and found sexual frigidity and
dissatisfaction among 65% of the coronary patients but only 24% of the
controls. In these studies, though correlations were found between the
frequency and/or enjoyment of sex and longevity or other outcomes, they do not
answer the "chicken and egg" question.
In a long-term study published in book form as Secrets of
the Superyoung, David Weeks, MD, head of old age psychology at the Royal
Edinburgh Hospital in Scotland, found that "the key ingredients for looking
younger are staying active ... and maintaining a good sex life." In a study
of 3,500 people, ages 30 to 101, Weeks found that "sex helps you look
between four and seven years younger," according to impartial ratings of
the subjects' photos. Theorizing on his findings, Weeks, a clinical
neuropsychologist, attributed this to significant reductions in stress, greater
contentment, [and] better sleep.
Michael Roizen's reading of the research and his clinical work
have led him to believe that sex keeps us younger because it "decreases
stress, relaxes us, enhances intimacy, and helps ... personal
relationships." Although no study has yet proven a cause-and-effect
relationship between good sex and longevity, there seems to be a beneficial
system at work here -- a sort of virtuous cycle of sex and health reinforcing
Sex and Seniors
Although it may gross out 20-year-olds to hear it (especially
about their parents), older people do continue to have sex, according to the
MacArthur Foundation report "Successful Aging" by John W. Rowe, MD, and
Robert L. Kahn, PhD. They cite a Duke University study published in the
November 1974 Journal of the American Geriatrics Society that found that
"at age 68, about 70% of men were sexually active on a regular basis"
but that this number dropped to 25% by age 78.
A more recent study, published in the January 1990 issue of the
Archives of Internal Medicine, reported that nearly 74% of married men
over 60 remain sexually active, as do 56% of married women. And an April 1988
study on "Sexual Interest and Behavior in Healthy 80 to 102-year-olds"
published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that 63% of men and
30% of women were still having sexual intercourse. "Given that by the age
of 80 or older there are 39 men for every 100 women, lack of oppportunity may
well account for a large portion of such gender differences," says Cindy M.
Meston, PhD, in her paper on "Aging and Sexuality," published in the
October 1997 issue of the Western Journal of Medicine.