According to the first large-scale study of how sex affects heart health in later life, having sex frequently – and enjoy it – may actually lower the risk of hypertension for older women. However, good and frequent sex puts older men at a higher risk for heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems.
The federally funded research, which was led by a Michigan State University scholar, was published online Sept. 6 in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.
According to Hui Liu, MSU associate professor of sociology, “These findings challenge the widely held assumption that sex brings uniform health benefits to everyone.”
Liu and colleagues analyzed data collected from 2,204 people in the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project. The participants in the project were aged from 57 to 85 when the first set of data was collected in 2005 to 2006 and another set of data was collected six years later. Cardiovascular risk was measured as hypertension, rapid heart rate, elevated C-reactive protein and general cardiovascular events: heart attack, heart failure and stroke.
“Strikingly, we find that having sex once a week or more puts older men at a risk for experiencing cardiovascular events that is almost two times greater than older men who are sexually inactive,” said Liu. “Moreover, older men who found sex with their partner extremely pleasurable or satisfying had higher risk of cardiovascular events than men who did not feel so.”
According to Liu, the findings suggests that the strain and demands from a sexual relationship may be more relevant for men as they get older, become increasingly frail and suffer more sexual problems.
She said, “Because older men have more difficulties reaching orgasm for medical or emotional reasons than do their younger counterparts, they may exert themselves to a greater degree of exhaustion and create more stress on their cardiovascular system in order to achieve climax.”
It was a different story for female participants. The female participants who found sex to be pleasurable or satisfying had a lower risk of hypertension five years later than the female participants who did not feel so. “For women, we have good news: Good sexual quality may protect older women from cardiovascular risk in later life,” Liu said.
Moreover, the female sexual hormone that gets released during orgasm may also promote women’s health, she said.