A lot of us will be happy to know sex makes us smarter. This intellectual enhancement was tested in very specific ways. Scientists performed studies that tested participants’ ability to remember the listed words and number sequences. Most of these studies were done in older demographics because their natural decline in memory made a better assessment setting. It’s important to note that these participants did remember less as they aged, but they consistently outperformed peers with inactive sex lives.
As with many studies, tests were first performed on rats before they were replicated in humans. In 2010, PLoS ONE published a study based on sex in male rats. One set was given access to daily sex for two weeks. The second set was only allowed once-a-week sex. A follow-up study by the same researchers (Leuner, Glasper, and Gould) was published in 2013 by Hippocampus. In both studies, the rats that had sex more frequently showed enhanced neuron growth and better cognitive performance.
Then, in 2016, the study moved to humans, with an adult study pool of almost 7,000 participants. Their age range was 50 to 89 and they were tested in two main areas. Executive function (e.g. problem-solving) was assessed by arranging numbers in the right order. Memory was tested by asking them to recite lists of words they had previously read, seeing how many they could recall. Participants who had had, quote, “any kind of sex” in the previous year remembered more words than their ‘celibate’ peers.
Among the men, sexually active participants showed better executive function, though there was no discernible difference in number sequencing among the women. In 2017, a separate study focused on women aged 18 to 29. The Archives of Sexual Health published it, and the study was carefully calibrated to account for variations in menstrual cycles, oral contraceptives, and GPA scores. All participants were heterosexual, and the study measured how often they had sex against how well they did on basic recall tests. The women who had sex more often remembered more abstract words, and found the task easier.
Another study wanted to see if this effect continues over time. They studied an additional 6,000 participants aged 50 or older. These subjects received episodic memory tests two years apart and both times, participants with higher sexual frequency did better on their recall assessments. The study was published in a 2018 edition of the Archives of Sexual Health. The study did factor in an age-based decline in memory, but active sexual participants still performed verifiably better than their un-sexed counterparts.
This third study covered both men and women and was informative because patients in this age bracket more frequently seek early ejaculation treatment. The study made an interesting observation – that intimacy plays a factor. While it’s hard to picture casual sex in older people, it does happen, and increasingly so, especially in today’s world of longer, healthier lives and more empty-nest divorces. Still, the study showed participants who felt emotionally closer to their partners did better than casual sex partners.