The English may have a reputation as prudes, but, living in modern Britain, it can seem almost impossible to get away from sex. From tabloid newspapers to reality television, everything seems geared around sex: who’s having it, how often they’re having it, and who they’re having it with. And here at the Wellman Clinic we’ve done our bit to promote a healthy sex life – we’ve often extolled the virtues of keeping active in the bedroom as you get older. But there’s always someone out there eager to poop even the friskiest party, and a recent study seems to call into question the health benefits of getting down and dirty…for older men, anyway.
The study, which was conducted by researchers at Michigan State University and published in the Journal of Health and Behaviour, examined the medical records of 2,204 individuals aged between 57 and 85 from a ‘social relationship and life course perspective’ to determine how partnered sexuality ‘shapes cardiovascular risk’. And though the study did acknowledge the health benefits of sex, it also raised areas that might be cause for concern.
The study’s conclusion starts off rather promisingly – ‘for women, partnered sex of good quality seems to promote cardiovascular health, specifically reducing the risks of hypertension’ – but this positivity is soon tempered: ‘Unfortunately, good sexual quality does not protect men’s cardiovascular risk….Strikingly, we find that having sex once a week or more puts older men at a risk for experiencing CVD [Cardiovascular Disease] events that is almost two times greater than older men who are sexually inactive. These findings challenge the assumption that sex brings uniform health benefits to everyone’.
On the other hand, this is but one study among many – and the literature undeniably has many positive things to say about the benefits of sex, especially as you start getting on in life. For example, a study published in Biological Psychology found that having sex has an effect on your susceptibility to stress, with participants who had recently had sex handling stressful situations better than those who hadn’t. And getting regular exercise continues to be important as we get older – the government recommends 150 minutes of moderate erobic exercise a week into our sixties, and sex really can help to meet that target.
So should we take all this to mean that older men shouldn’t be having sex? Well, no. Firstly, the study explicitly stated that ‘moderate frequency of sex may also bring some health benefits’. It didn’t specify what ‘moderate frequency’ is, but this was a study specifically geared at determining cardiovascular implications – and in much the same way as running is good for your heart yet bad for your joints, there are very few activities which are a universally suitable, all-rounder when it comes to health. Secondly, it’s never a good idea to draw definitive conclusions based on a single study – it’s simply too difficult to control all the possible variables. So don’t give your “getting lucky” pants away to charity just yet – after all, what’s the point of living to 85 if you can’t even get your rocks off when you feel like it?