Sex better for older women, less so for men, study suggests
Important for older people to understand the risks and benefits of sex, researcher says
"The results for women are consistent with our expectation, but the results for men were surprising," said lead author Hui Liu, an associate professor of sociology at Michigan State University in East Lansing.
"Another possibility is that men are more likely to use sexual medication or supplements to improve sexual function," she said. "Moreover, having quite a high frequency of sex may indicate problems of sexual addiction, sexual compulsivity or sexual impulsivity, related to psychological states such as anxiety or depression, which may lead to negative cardiovascular health."
The researchers used survey answers from more than 2,000 people aged 57 to 85 in the U.S. National Social Life, Health and Aging Project, which began with one survey wave in 2005 and followed-up five years later. Events like heart attack, heart failure and stroke during those five years were recorded, and participants' blood pressure, heart rate and inflammatory proteins were measured.
At the start, 70 per cent of men and 39 per cent of women said they'd had sex with a partner over the previous year. A quarter of men said they had sex once a week or more, compared to 11 per cent of women.
Men who said they had sex at least once a week in the first survey were almost twice as likely to have experienced a heart attack, heart failure or stroke five years later than men who said they were sexually inactive. Those who felt sex was extremely satisfying were even more likely to suffer one of these events, according to the results in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
"Moderate frequent sex is good for older men, although high frequency of sex is risky for older men. For older women, good sexual quality is good for them," Liu said.
The researchers acknowledge that the study cannot prove a cause and effect relationship between the participants' sex lives and their heart health. They also note that future studies are needed to better understand the links and identify the mechanisms by which sexuality may affect heart health.
A review of existing research found that specifically penile-vaginal intercourse, and corresponding orgasm, is tied to better physical and psychological health as well as better intimate relationship quality, Brody told Reuters Health by email.