July 3, 2008 -- Men who don't use their erections lose them, Finnish researchers find.
Aging men who have sex at least once a week have only half the risk of developing erectile dysfunction as do men who have sex less often.
But once-a-weekers shouldn't gloat. More sex means even less ED risk. Men who have sex at least three times a week are only one-fourth as likely to get erectile dysfunction as are men who have less-than-weekly sex.
"Regular sexual activity preserves potency in a similar fashion as physical exercise maintains functional capacity," conclude Juha Koskimaki, MD, PhD, and colleagues at the University of Tampere, Finland.
The findings come from questionnaires mailed to Finnish men aged 55 to 75. Only the 989 men who did not have erectile dysfunction at the beginning of the study -- and who returned a second questionnaire five years later -- were included.
Men with erectile dysfunction obviously have sex less often than do more potent men. But by including only men who did not have erectile dysfunction to start with, Koskimaki and colleagues believe their study strongly suggests that sexual intercourse lowers the risk of ED.
The average man in the study was 59 years old. Four out of five of the men were married or cohabitating. More than half of them were overweight, and nearly half had at least one chronic medical condition.
For such men, Koskimaki and colleagues find, sex less than once a week significantly increases the risk of erectile dysfunction. And compared to sex once a week, sex at least three times a week significantly decreases risk of erectile dysfunction.
Interestingly, the study found that men who have less than one morning erection per week are 2.5 times more likely to get erectile dysfunction as are men who have two or three morning erections per week. But having a morning erection every day did not lower a man's risk of erectile dysfunction.
One major limitation of the study, Koskimaki and colleagues note, is that they did not ask the men about masturbation, which might conceivably have the same salubrious effect on erectile dysfunction as intercourse. So as far as the researchers can tell, the study findings apply only to sex with another person.
"Doctors should support patients' sexual activity," they conclude.
Koskimaki and colleagues report their findings in the July 2008 issue of The American Journal of Medicine.