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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 one another.

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.

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