UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Does a poor sex life lead to memory decline? Researchers at Penn State have discovered a potential connection between low sexual satisfaction during middle age and future cognitive decline.
The study, which focused on erectile function, sexual satisfaction, and cognition in men between 56 and 68 years-old, found that decreases in sexual satisfaction and incidents of erectile function displayed a connection with signs of memory loss later in life.
“What was unique about our approach is that we measured memory function and sexual function at each point in the longitudinal study, so we could look at how they changed together over time,” says Martin Sliwinski, professor of human development and family studies at Penn State and co-author on the study, in a university release.
“What we found connects to what scientists are beginning to understand about the link between life satisfaction and cognitive performance.”
The study examined the relationship between physical changes, such as microvascular changes relevant to erectile function, and psychological changes, including lower sexual satisfaction, to understand their connection to cognition. Middle age was chosen as the starting point due to the emergence of declines in erectile function, cognition, and sexual satisfaction during this transition period.
Although the study revealed a strong correlation between these health factors, the exact cause of the relationship remains speculative. Low overall satisfaction has been associated with a higher risk of health problems like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease, and other stress-related issues, all of which can contribute to cognitive decline. Conversely, improvements in sexual satisfaction may potentially lead to better memory function.
The researchers analyzed survey data from 818 men participating in the Vietnam Era Twin Study of Aging (VETSA), an ongoing longitudinal study funded by the National Institute on Aging. Neuropsychological tests were conducted to assess cognitive changes in participants between 56 and 68, with adjustments made for their cognitive abilities in young adulthood. Erectile function and sexual satisfaction were measured alongside cognition using the International Index of Erectile Function.
Interestingly, the study found that decreases in erectile function and sexual satisfaction correlated with memory decline, highlighting the connection between psychological and physical health. Previous research has identified a link between microvascular changes and erectile function over time. The active ingredient in Viagra, sildenafil, was initially developed to address cardiovascular issues, underscoring the established association between vascular health and erectile function.
The researchers emphasized the importance of sexual health and urged increased attention to erectile function as a vital sign of overall health. Monitoring erectile function could potentially help identify individuals at risk of cognitive decline earlier, before reaching their 70s. As the older adult population in the U.S. is expected to double in the next 30 years, twice as many people will likely experience declines in erectile function and sexual satisfaction during their 60s.
The study suggests that focusing on sexual satisfaction and overall well-being, rather than just treating the symptom of erectile dysfunction, may lead to improved memory function and overall health. While there is currently a pill available for treating erectile dysfunction, effective treatments for memory loss are still lacking. The findings underscore the importance of considering sexual health as a crucial aspect of overall well-being and highlight the need for further research in this area.
The study is published in the journal The Gerontologist.