Having sex by older men once a week or more will put them at higher risk for heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems but not for older women, who may live a healthy life with less hypertension due to the same sex life, said a startling new study reversing the age-old belief just opposite to that.
The first large-scale study of how sex affects heart health in later life, led Michigan State University scholar Hui Liu, that was published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, shows that older men who had sex once a week or more were much more likely to experience cardiovascular events five years later than men who were sexually inactive, the study found.
“These findings challenge the widely held assumption that sex brings uniform health benefits to everyone,” said Hui Liu, an MSU associate professor of sociology whose vast research on the link between health and relationships has been featured in many news outlets.
For the current study, Liu and colleagues analyzed survey data from 2,204 people in the National Social Life, Health and Aging Project. Participants were aged 57-85 when the first wave of data was collected in 2005-06; another round of data was collected five 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… 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,” said Liu.
She said the strain and demands from a sexual relationship as they get older, become increasingly frail for men and they suffer more sexual problems.
“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.”
Testosterone levels and the use of medication to improve sexual function may also play a role. “Although scientific evidence is still rare,” Liu said, “it is likely that such sexual medication or supplements have negative effects on older men’s cardiovascular health.”
Ultimately, while moderate amounts of sex may promote health among older men, having sex too frequently may be a risk factor for cardiovascular problems, Liu said.
For women, it was a different story as female participants who found sex to be extremely pleasurable or satisfying had lower risk of hypertension five years later than female participants. “For women, we have good news: Good sexual quality may protect older women from cardiovascular risk in later life,” Liu said. The female sexual hormone released during orgasm may also promote women’s health, she said.