In a recent study conducted by Penn State researchers found that experiencing low sexual satisfaction during middle age could potentially indicate future cognitive decline.
A study followed hundreds of men aged 56 through 68 to track the links between their erectile function, sexual satisfaction, and cognition. The results showed that decreases in both sexual satisfaction and erectile function were linked to future memory loss.
According to researchers, a recent study published in the Gerontologist Journal is the first to track sexual satisfaction, sexual health, and cognition over time . The study reveals a possible new risk factor for cognitive decline.
Martin Sliwinski, a professor of human development and family studies at Penn State and co-author of the study, explained that their approach was distinctive because they tracked memory and sexual function throughout the longitudinal study, allowing for an analysis of how they changed together over time.
“What we found connects to what scientists are beginning to understand about the link between life satisfaction and cognitive performance.”
The study investigated how physical changes, specifically microvascular changes that affect erectile function, and psychological changes, such as decreased sexual satisfaction, are related to cognition. The researchers analyzed the changes that occur during middle age because this period marks the start of a decline in erectile function, cognitive abilities, and sexual satisfaction.
According to Sliwinski, the team found a significant connection between the three health factors, but they are still determining the exact cause.
“Scientists have found that if you have low satisfaction generally, you are at a higher risk for health problems like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular disease and other stress-related issues that can lead to cognitive decline,” he said.
“Improvements in sexual satisfaction may spark improvement in memory function. We tell people they should get more exercise and eat better foods. We’re showing that sexual satisfaction is important for our health and general quality of life.”
The researchers utilized survey responses from 818 men who participated in the Vietnam Era Twin Study of Aging (VETSA). This ongoing research project investigates the factors contributing to cognitive and brain aging.
The VETSA project began in 2002 and is funded by the National Institute on Aging . Co-authored by William Kremen and Carol Franz at the University of California San Diego and Michael Lyons at Boston University, the recent study was conducted as a part of this project.
The researchers conducted neuropsychological tests to evaluate memory and processing speed changes in participants aged 56 to 68 over 12 years. The study took into account the participants’ cognitive ability in young adulthood.
The researchers measured the erectile function and sexual satisfaction of male participants using the International Index of Erectile Function, which also assessed their sexual health. Additionally, they created a statistical model to analyze how these three variables changed as participants aged.
According to Riki Slayday, a doctoral candidate at Penn State and co-lead author of the study, research on sexual health has typically concentrated on measurable aspects of sexuality, such as the number of sexual partners or how often people engage in sexual activity.
“We were interested in the perception of that activity, how someone feels about their sex life, and how that influences cognitive function, because multiple people could be in the same situation physically but experience completely different levels of satisfaction.”
According to the study, memory decline is linked to reduced erectile function and sexual satisfaction. This suggests that there is a connection between our psychological and physical health.
Slayday adds that after analyzing the relationship over time, they discovered that changes in erectile function and sexual satisfaction were connected to corresponding changes in cognitive function.
“These associations survived adjustment for demographic and health factors, which tells us there is a clear connection between our sex lives and cognition.”
Previous research has established a connection between alterations in microvessels and the decline of erectile function as time passes. Sliwinski explained that the substance known as Sildenafil, found in Viagra, was initially created to address cardiovascular issues. Thus, there is a clear understanding of vascular health and erectile function. Moving forward, it would be beneficial to investigate how erectile function correlates with other health factors.
Tyler Bell, a post-doctoral scholar at the University of California San Diego and co-lead author of the study, emphasized the significance of sexual health when considering aging.
“Our results show that neglecting aspects of sexual health, especially erectile function, can harm our memory.”
Sliwinski adds, tracking erectile function can be a valuable way to detect cognitive decline before someone reaches their 70s. This is especially important since the number of older adults in the U.S. is predicted to double in the next 30 years, meaning that more people in their 60s will likely experience declines in sexual satisfaction and erectile function.
“We already have a pill for treating erectile dysfunction. What we don’t have is an effective treatment for memory loss,” Sliwinski said.
“Instead of the conversation being about treating ED, we should see that as a leading indicator for other health problems and also focus on improving sexual satisfaction and overall well-being, not just treating the symptom.”
The paper has additional co-authors including Teresa Warren from the University of California San Diego, Rosemary Toomey and Richard Vandiver from Boston University.
This work received support from the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health.