HomeLifestyleDating & Relationships

Can sex really prevent dementia?

Can sex really prevent dementia?
Monica Karpinski explores the facts behind the claims that sex can help to prevent dementia
You don’t need to be a scientist to know that sex makes you feel good. But thanks to a growing body of research, we’ve now got proof that sex is good for you, too.
One of the most exciting findings from the past few years is that sex is linked to better cognitive function—that is, how well our brain can process and make sense of information.  
"Staving off brain disease by having fun in the bedroom? It sounds too good to be true"
This has been widely interpreted to mean that sex can help prevent dementia. Staving off brain disease by having fun in the bedroom? It sounds too good to be true.  
But is it? Well, yes and no.  
Dating Web 960x200_2

So, can sex prevent dementia?

The paper responsible for much of this buzz was written in 2016 by Hayley Wright and Rebecca Jenks from Coventry University. From survey responses of 6,833 adults aged 50–89 years, they found that sexually-active folks scored higher on number sequencing (inputting the number that’s missing in a sequence) and memory recall tests than those who weren’t.  
Interestingly, among those who did have sex men scored higher on both tests whereas women only had better scores when it came to memory. Per the study authors, this could be because different bodies respond to chemicals released during pleasure in particular ways, but we can’t say for sure.  
Woman doing cognitive function test to prevent dementia
A 2016 study found sexually active participants scored more highly on cognitive tests
These tests are measures of cognitive function. When this dips, there’s an increased risk of dementia developing.
A year later, the same researchers (plus their colleague Nele Demeyere) replicated the results by surveying 73 people aged 50–83. This time, they looked more closely at how often people were having sex, and found the those getting frisky weekly scored the highest on cognitive tests. Folks having sex monthly were next, while people who never had sex scored the lowest.  
"We’ve got evidence to support a link between sex and improved cognition, but not that one causes the other"
OK, so this tells us that people who have regular sex are more likely to have better cognitive function. And because in itself this can reduce the risk of dementia, people (but not the researchers) have drawn the conclusion that frequent sex can also keep the disease at bay.  
Now comes the part where we must tread carefully. We’ve got evidence to support a link between sex and improved cognition, but not that one causes the other.  
We don’t know whether it’s the act of sex, rather than other effects that come with it, that’s having this impact on our brains.  
For example, sex is a form of moderate exercise, comparable to brisk walking. Physical activity can improve memory and brain cell function, and so lower the risk of cognitive decline. 

What are the other possible explanations?

So is it sex or the exercise it requires that we’re benefitting from? Scientists are still trying to figure this out, note the 2017 study authors.  
When we’re experiencing pleasure, chemicals are released that have a positive effect on our brains—like the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine, which increases when we orgasm and promotes cognitive function.
Plus, when we get that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes with intimacy, we release the hormone oxytocin, which can enhance memory.
Happy senior woman
Brain benefits are associated with dopamine and oxytocin
But while sex can be a great way to boost these chemicals, we can also get them elsewhere. Being praised at work and enjoying our hobbies will do the trick in triggering dopamine; oxytocin can rise from hugging or simply feeling cared for.  
So what does this mean for our sex lives? That we should do what makes us happy. After all, a lot of the brain benefits that come from sex are due to pleasure, so they’ll only happen if you’re having a good time.  
"While sex can be a great way to boost these chemicals, we can also get them elsewhere"
If you like sex, having the sex life you want can contribute to better brain health—which theoretically could reduce your risk of dementia.  
But if you don’t like sex, you aren’t “missing out”. It’s not the only way to be kind to your brain.  
Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter
*This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.