The scientific reason we should keep having regular sex as we get older

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Moya Crockett
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We already know that sex is good for us. Scientific research has shown that people with healthy sex lives (that means having sex just once a week, according to a study released in 2016) have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure and feel less stressed.

Now, a new study by psychologists at the University of Oxford and the University of Coventry suggests that having sex more often could even make us more intelligent – particularly as we get older.

Researchers surveyed 73 participants between the ages of 50 and 83. They found that those who had sex most often had better “verbal fluency” than the others, and also did better on visual tests.

“Sexual relationships in later life… are not just important for sex per se, [they are] impacting on other factors, in this case cognitive function,” says lead researcher Dr Hayley Wright, from Coventry University’s centre for research in psychology, behaviour and achievement.

Wright and her team asked the participants – 28 men and 45 women – about their sexual activity. 37 said they had sex weekly, 26 monthly and 10 never.

Watch: The science behind the post-sex ‘afterglow’

Individuals’ brain function was then assessed through a range of cognitive tests. The study, published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological and Social Sciences, concluded that regular sex was most related to improved performance in verbal fluency tests (such as naming as many words or animals beginning with the letter F as possible in one minute).

The most sexually active people were also better at visual tasks, such as copying from a complex design or drawing a clock face from memory, suggesting improved mental agility.

It’s not yet clear why there might be a link between sexual activity and brainpower, and more research needs to be done on the subject. However, researchers suspect it might be because sex is linked to the secretion of neurohormones such as dopamine and oxytocin, which transmit signals in the brain.

“Every time we do another piece of research we are getting a little bit closer to understanding why this association exists at all, what the underlying mechanisms are, and whether there is a ‘cause and effect’ relationship between sexual activity and cognitive function in older people,” Dr Wright tells the Independent.

“People don’t like to think that older people have sex – but we need to challenge this conception at a societal level and look at what impact sexual activity can have on those aged 50 and over, beyond the known effects on sexual health and general wellbeing.”

Image: Channel 4