Sexually active couples perform better on memory tests in middle age, new research reveals.
Researchers analyzed two years of data on more than 6,000 adults aged 50 and over, tracking everything from their diet to their sleeping habits.
It involved a questionnaire – recording how often they engaged in kissing, sexual touching and intercourse – and a series memory tests.
Overwhelmingly, those who had more sex and a closer emotional relationship with their partner were better at recalling recent events.
However, this effect was only temporary: it faded over time, and by old age there was no correlation between sex and memory.
As scientists have seen in rodent studies, people who had more intimate experiences on a regular basis appeared – at first – to fare much better when it came to recalling memories
The researchers said this study, and previous studies in mice, suggest sex boosts memory by stimulating the growth of neurons in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is activated when episodic and spatial memory tasks are performed.
The new study by the University of Wollongong in Australia builds on previous experimental work conducted on animals.
Past research had established that sexual activity enhances rodents’ ability to recognize objects, and ultimately their episodic memory workings and overall brain health.
For the first time, lead researcher Mark Allen wanted to explore this correlation in humans.
His team analyzed and compared data from 2012 and 2014 contained in the English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA).
The data set includes information about the health, diet, well-being and socio-economic status of adults older than 50 living in England.
The participants completed a memory test and a questionnaire where they reported how often they had sex with, kissed, or sexually touched a partner.
There were also questions about emotional intimacy.
As he saw in the rodents, the humans who had more intimate experiences on a regular basis appeared to fare much better when it came to recalling episodic memories.
However, Allen noted that there was, ultimately, less of a connection than he had suspected. Overall, there was a general decline in all participants’ score on the memory test over time – regardless of their sexual activity.
‘Decline in memory performance over time was unrelated to sexual activity or emotional closeness during partnered sexual activity,’ Allen said.
The study was published in Springer’s journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.